Belfast City Council has unanimously passed a motion that could lead to estate agents being fined for charging tenants "unlawful and unjustifiable" letting fees.
Tabled by Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn, the motion references the landmark 2018 Belfast legal case of Loughran v Piney Rentals Limited and F5 Property Limited, which ruled that a fee charged by the letting agent to a tenant was in fact a contribution towards the cost of services that agents had commissioned the landlord to carry out.
This meant, in effect, that the tenant was paying fees to the agent for work the landlord had already paid for.
The court found the fees charged to the renter were void under The Commission on Disposals of Land Order 1986, and the tenant is entitled to have the money refunded.
"There is a need to strengthen regulation of the private rented sector, including legislation regarding the charging of (unlawful) application fees where adequate penalties and enforcement arrangements are put in place to deter those who seek to continue to charge these fees," the motion reads.
The motion added that councils should have powers around any potential enforcement.
Opening the debate on the motion during last night's monthly council meeting, Mr Flynn said: "Unlawful and unjustifiable fees are still being charged to tenants in the private rented sector.
"While the [Loughran] judgment was a victory for tenants in the private rented sector, there was still a problem.
"There was no enforcement attached to it."
Mr Flynn added: "This meant that tenants who had been ripped off had no recourse other than through a small claims court."
PUP councillor Dr John Kyle, who seconded the motion, added that Northern Ireland has "a loosely and light regulated private rented sector - the most loosely regulated region across all of the UK and Ireland".
DUP council group leader Brian Kingston said such fees are "unacceptable".