Report Belfast letting agents continuing to charge unlawful fees
Estate agents across Belfast are charging pre-tenancy application fees that have been ruled unlawful, according to reports.
When applying to rent a property, prospective tenants are being charged between £15 and £60 each upfront for administration costs, such as credit history checks, the BBC reports.
Even if an application is unsuccessful, these charges are non-refundable.
In 2017, a Belfast student challenged the fees in court after being charged by two letting agents. The judge ruled the charges were unlawful and they should be billed to landlords.
"In paying the administration fee, the tenant was contributing in part towards the cost of the services the letting agent had been commissioned by the landlord to do," the judge said.
The judge ordered the fees should be refunded, potentially opening the door for letting agents being asked to pay back thousands to current and former tenants.
A total of 52 Belfast letting agents were asked about pre-tenancy fees and 35 said they were imposing the charge.
Elsewhere in the UK, letting fees have been banned outright, while in the Republic they were outlawed in 2001.
The 2017 ruling that tenants could not be charged upfront fees in Northern Ireland was based on the Commission on Disposal of Land Order 1986.
With no functioning government in Northern Ireland however, no new legislation can be brought forward in relation to the charges.
Ellie Evans of housing charity Shelter NI said tenants are often too scared to refuse to pay or ask for their money back.
"[Tenants] don't have the same structural power that estate agents have. If they say 'this fee is illegal I don't want to pay it', [letting agents] might say that you might not get the property," she said.
"Or people might still be in the property and don't want to ask for their money back in case they get evicted. It's just about power and, right now, the power is in favour of the letting agents."
Belfast Telegraph Digital