Offenders could now face fines of up to £2,500
Two MLAs who own rental properties can be revealed as having failed to register themselves as landlords. Failure to register is an offence which carries a fine of up to £2,500.
By law, all landlords with residential properties in Northern Ireland must sign up to the Landlord Registration Scheme (LRS) and have a landlord registration certificate.
However, two members of the Northern Ireland Assembly — the Alliance Party’s David Honeyford and SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, who both receive rental income from properties — only added their names to the landlords’ register last week, after they were contacted by the Sunday Independent.
13 of Stormont’s 90 MLAs declared they received residential rents
It mirrors recent controversies in the Republic, where it emerged that a number of politicians had failed to register properties which they then rented out.
In the most high-profile case, Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy resigned as junior minister at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment after a series of declaration errors around his property interests.
The Republic’s Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, also admitted last week that he did not register a property for three years with the Residential Tenancies Board, the southern equivalent of the LRS.
In the North, a landlord who is not registered is committing an offence and can be prosecuted by the council in the area where the property is located. Under current legislation, an unregistered landlord can be fined up to £2,500.
Landlords can employ an agent to manage their property, but it is the landlord’s legal responsibility to ensure they are on the register.
Anyone renting a property must have a landlord registration certificate, which costs £70 and is valid for three years.
I have been completely open and transparent in my register of interests
In the latest register of interests at the Northern Ireland Assembly, which were published in July of this year, 13 of Stormont’s 90 MLAs declared they received rental income from residential properties in Northern Ireland.
However, an investigation by the Sunday Independent revealed a number of these MLAs were not registered on the LRS.
There is a limited amount of information available publicly in relation to the scheme, but it is possible to carry out an online search to check if a person is registered as a landlord.
When checked last week, the names of five of the MLAs who said they owned rental properties were not on the register.
Along with Mr Honeyford and Mr McGrath, the other landlord MLAs whose names were not on the register were Paula Bradshaw (Alliance), Joanne Bunting (DUP) and Trevor Clarke (DUP).
In the Assembly register of interests, Mr Honeyford, an MLA for the Lagan Valley constituency, said he co-owns a house with his wife in the village of Aghalee in Co Antrim.
When contacted by the Sunday Independent last week, Mr Honeyford — who was elected to the Assembly in the May election — said he was unaware his name had not been registered as part of the LRS.
“I have been completely open and transparent in my register of interests and have correctly identified myself as a landlord,” he said.
“I employ a company to organise the rental process, including to ensure I was added to the central Landlord Registration Scheme — something that has now become clear was not fulfilled.
“I have always understood that I was listed and have now taken steps to urgently address the issue,” added Mr Honeyford, whose details have since been added to the landlord registry.
South Down SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, who was elected to the Assembly in 2016, declared in the register of interests he is part-owner of three residential properties in Downpatrick, Co Down, from which he receives rent.
However, when contacted last week, he admitted his name had not been entered on the landlord register.
“Since 2019 my Assembly register of interests has detailed part ownership of three properties. It is important to me as an elected representative that I am as transparent as possible in this regard.
"Due to an oversight at the time of registration however, my name was not added to the landlord register.
"I have contacted the Department for Communities to correct and update the register,” said Mr McGrath, whose details have now also been added to the landlord register.
In the Stormont register of interests, Joanne Bunting, who is a DUP MLA for East Belfast, said she received rental income from a residential property in Co Antrim.
However, Ms Bunting’s name is not on the landlord register.
When contacted, the DUP representative said “everything about” the property was managed on her behalf, but added she will “check out if anything needs to be done”.
In the register of interests, South Antrim DUP MLA Trevor Clarke declared ownership of properties in Co Antrim from which he receives rent.
When contacted in relation to the fact his name did not appear on the landlord registry, Mr Clarke said the properties are “of joint ownerships, therefore the registrations are in the other owners’ names.”
South Belfast Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw declared in the Assembly register of interests she is part-owner of a house in Belfast. She stated the rent from the house is paid in full to a third party.
When asked why her name was not included on the landlord register, Ms Bradshaw said her father owned the majority share of an apartment and she had inherited a “small amount” when her mother passed away.
She said her father receives “all/any income” from the rental of the apartment and added she does not “financially benefit” from the property.
The other eight MLAs who declared on the latest Assembly register of interests they receive rental income from a property or properties are all on the landlord registry.
They are: Andy Allen (UUP); Patrick Brown (Alliance); Paul Frew (DUP); Colm Gildernew ( Sinn Féin); Declan Kearney (Sinn Féin); Declan McAleer (Sinn Féin); Michelle McIlveen (DUP); and Pat Sheehan (Sinn Féin).