Northern Ireland student wins landmark case against Belfast letting agent
A landmark court ruling has closed a loophole for letting agents to levy extra charges on tenants, it was claimed today.
Campaigners hailed the final verdict reached in a Queen's University student's action over additional costs on rental accommodation in Belfast.
District Judge Philip Gilpin ordered that F5 Property Ltd to return a £36 administration fee to Paul Loughran.
He held that if the letting agent had not been involved the service paid for would have been carried out by the landlord.
On that basis the fee was void under the terms of the Commission on Disposals of Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.
Judge Gilpin's verdict represents the conclusion in a two-stage action brought by the former Students' Union officer over the allegedly unfair fees.
He declined to make a further declaration that any fees levied by letting agents retained as agents for landlords should be recoverable.
But representatives from Queen's Students' Union and their supporters insisted the ruling at Belfast County Court provides clarity for private rental tenants.
Shelter NI chairman Ray Cashell, who supported Mr Loughran's case, said: "This finally closes any supposed loopholes and tenants will now know they should not pay these fees."
Letting agent fees were banned in Scotland in 1984, and in 2001 in the Irish Republic.
In December 2017 Mr Loughran won his first case over being charged a 'one-off £30 administration fee' by Piney Rentals Ltd in 2014-15 for a property in Stranmillis.
Lawyers representing the postgraduate student on a pro bono basis then proceeded with a second claim against F5 Property Ltd for the £36 charge on accommodation at St Albans Gardens in August 2015.
F5 Property did not defend the case brought against it.
Following the latest ruling Mr Loughran said he was looking forward to further regulation of the private rented sector.
He added: "These fees were unfair and Judge Gilpin had previously commented in December that I was 'in effect contributing towards the costs of services the letting agent had been commissioned by the agent to do and such payment is void under the provisions of the Order'.
"Some students are being charged anywhere from £20-£500 per tenant, per property, when they already face costs of several hundred pounds for first month's rent and tenancy deposits."
Belfast Telegraph Digital