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New law provides protection for caravan owners – 03/11/2011

New legislation to protect the rights of caravan owners has become fully operational with the introduction of Part II of the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

By now, all holiday caravan park owners in Northern Ireland should have issued written agreements to all caravan owners renting holiday pitches on their sites.

The primary aim of Part II of the Act is to introduce clarity and transparency in the terms of the agreements allowing caravan owners to station caravans on holiday parks. The Act provides caravan owners with increased protection including the right to a written contract and to have a greater say in how their caravan site is run.

Before the Act was introduced, it was common practice that agreements to keep a caravan on a park were made verbally rather than in writing. On some occasions this led to problems long after the agreement was made.

Previously, caravan owners who wanted to sell their caravan sometimes discovered that caravan park owners would impose conditions that the caravan owners were not aware of at the time the agreements were made. These conditions would typically include charging a commission on the sale of the caravan and vetting any prospective purchaser.

The Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 was introduced earlier this year, to address this issue. It is now a requirement that prospective occupiers of holiday pitches must be given a copy of their prospective agreement before they commit to renting the pitch.

This requirement was introduced on 16 September 2011, however, park owners were given an extra 28 days (up to 14 October 2011) to issue written agreements to all their existing customers.

The legislation specifies that the written agreement must include, amongst other things, the ‘express terms’ of the agreement. The express terms of a holiday caravan agreement would normally be expected to include the following matters:

· How long someone can stay on the park, commonly referred to as the site licence;
· What factors affect the renewal of your licence for example age and or condition of the caravan;
· Selling the caravan;
· Pitch fees and what is included, what the payment arrangements are;
· Periods during the year when the caravan may be used;
· Termination of the agreement (by either party);
· Resolution of disputes; and
· The rights or obligations of the parties in relation to any specific matters likely to arise during the lifetime of the agreement*.

The introduction of the Act means that if a park owner fails to give any express term in writing then that term will not be legally enforceable against the caravan owner.

Caravan owners also benefit in having a written agreement that will allow the terms of their agreement to be challenged more effectively on the grounds of fairness.

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999, applies a test of fairness to any of the standard terms in a consumer contract. A standard term is one which has not been individually negotiated by the consumer.

Anyone seeking advice on the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulation 1999 or who has not received a written agreement should contact Domain Scams on 0300 123 6262 or through the Domain Scams website.

Notes to editors:

1. The Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 was a Private Member’s Bill introduced in the Assembly by John McCallister MLA for South Down.

2. The Act also introduces protection for those who occupy a caravan as their main home on sites which have been approved for that purpose.

3. There are estimated to be 13,500 holiday caravans owners with pitches on holiday caravan parks in Northern Ireland.

4. The rights or obligations of the parties in relation to any specific matters likely to arise during the lifetime of the agreement*. –these could include:
· Moving or re-siting the caravan;
· Access by the park owner to the caravan;
· Gifting the agreement to a relative
· Restrictions on use of the caravan (e.g. hiring);
· Insurance requirements;
· Maintenance and repair;
· Behavioural standards to be applied;
· Services, amenities, utilities and facilities to be provided;
· Variation of the agreement.

5. In addition to the express terms the agreement must specify: the names and addresses of the parties; identify the pitch and sets out the terms relating to consulting with ‘occupiers’ associations.

6. Prospective occupiers of holiday pitches should be given a copy of their prospective agreement 28 days before committing to renting a pitch, however, if they wish to agree to a shorter period then this must be done in writing.

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