Ciara Ferguson uses maiden speech to back protections for tenants reliant on private sector for roof over their heads
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The new Sinn Féin MLA, in her maiden speech at Stormont this week, spoke in support of the new Private Tenancies Bill which is designed in the words of Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, to make the 'private rented sector safer and more secure for tenants.'
"As someone who worked in housing with the Housing Executive while studying housing at Ulster University's Magee campus and as someone who lived in private rented accommodation as a student and as a parent raising three young children in the 1990s, I very much welcome the introduction of the Private Tenancies Bill, which aims to improve standards and enhance conditions for tenants who live in the private rented sector. As we know, that is the second-largest housing tenure in the North after owner-occupation.
"As we also know, the private rented sector has been expanding rapidly in recent years, and it is made up of an increasing number of families, elderly people, those who have retired, people with disabilities or ill health, carers and other vulnerable groups.
"Indeed, in the North, 45% of single parents live in the private rented sector, and one out of every two private rented sector residents require financial support through housing benefit or universal credit to meet their housing costs," she said.
Ms. Ferguson, who signed the Assembly register on Monday replacing the outgoing Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson, said legislators must do all that they can to improve protections for the most vulnerable.
"The right to a good, affordable and secure home is a foundational human right that upholds all aspects of health outcomes for our children and young people and families, educational attainment levels, suitability for work, childcare, social cohesion and so much more. It is fundamental that that is delivered in the private rented sector.
"The Bill, which is aimed at providing good, safe and secure housing, will ultimately amend the 2006 Order and provide private rented sector residents with better protections in relation to their tenancies, such as receipts for payments made in cash and documents covering the detail of tenancy agreements.
"Indeed, a fundamental aspect of the legislation, which, as we know, is just one part of a much larger housing revitalisation work programme, is about ensuring that legal limits are placed on tenancy deposit amounts, alongside restricting rent increases to once per annum. Private rented sector tenants will no longer have to worry that they could face unexpected rental increases in each annual term of a tenancy agreement.
"Tenants in the private rented sector often pay their rental costs while having to save for a deposit so that they can move to another property. Oftentimes, that is not a decision of their own making.
"By limiting the deposit to no more than one month's rent, we would not only help to protect the accessibility of the private rented sector but help to ensure that people are not being faced with extortionate deposits to secure property or being locked out of the private rented sector when prevented financially from accessing further housing tenures."