Belfast City Council is to debate a motion that could lead to estate agents being fined for charging tenants "unlawful" letting fees.
Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn's proposal is aimed at clamping down on the practice of letting agents adding charges which are often said to cover holding deposits, referencing checks and other work.
The motion quotes the landmark 2018 legal case of Loughran v Piney Rentals Limited and F5 Property Limited, which ruled that a fee levied by the letting agent to a tenant was actually a contribution towards the cost of services that agents had commissioned the landlord to carry out.
In effect, this means 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.
Back in March last year Finance Minister Conor Murphy and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey issued a joint communique stating that "such a practice is inequitable, unlawful and inconsistent with the normal business principle that he who engages an agent should pay for that agent's services".
"We had hoped that the court judgment would have made clear the lines of responsibility but unfortunately some recent practice show that some agents are not complying with the law."
The Loughran ruling allows renters to challenge such fees in the courts within six years. However, there is no enforcement over the issue.
Mr Flynn's motion, which is seconded by PUP councillor Dr John Kyle, states that the council believes the charging of these fees restricts access to the private rented sector and places a heavy financial burden on low income households.
"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," they added.
"Enforcement of any new legislation regarding the charging of (unlawful) application fees should be carried out by local councils across Northern Ireland with adequate resources provided for by government."
The motion asks the council to agree to write to the Finance Minister and Communities Minister outlining concerns and to pledge its support for the regulation of the private rented sector.
Mr Flynn said: "There is a fear for private renters that if you say no to an agent over these fees, then they'll just say you can't have the house and there's nothing you can do about it.
"The only recourse is to go through the small claims court - that is wrong.
"It shouldn't be on the onus of the applicant to bring their case to court to get their money back. They should be able to go to their local council or councillor and explain their situation and we can sort it out for them."