Stu­dent takes land­mark le­gal case in fees row with let­ting agent

NI stu­dents hit out at agent’s ‘ad­min’ fees for rent­ing prop­erty

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY CLAIRE McNEILLY

A QUEEN’S Univer­sity stu­dent is pur­su­ing a land­mark le­gal chal­lenge against a Belfast let­ting agent for levy­ing what he be­lieves are un­fair and un­jus­ti­fi­able ex­tra charges on tenants.

Paul Loughran took the ac­tion af­ter be­ing charged ‘ad­min’ and ‘ap­pli­ca­tion’ fees by sep­a­rate agents, none of whom could prop­erly ex­plain what those fees meant.

The for­mer QUB Stu­dents’ Union vice pres­i­dent is be­ing sup­ported and rep­re­sented by Hous­ing Rights NI and the Pro Bono Com­mit­tee of the Bar Coun­cil of North­ern Ire­land. The case it­self is up for its fi­nal hear­ing next month, with a writ­ten judg­ment ex­pected in the weeks af­ter.

Should he be suc­cess­ful, it is pos­si­ble that tenants who have paid these fees in the past will be el­i­gi­ble to re­claim them – and it is es­ti­mated that mil­lions have been paid in re­cent times.

“Prac­ti­cally all the Belfast let­ting agents are do­ing it,” said Paul, who is do­ing a Masters de­gree in con­flict trans­for­ma­tion and so­cial jus­tice.

“Some charge more than oth­ers ... if you ever chal­lenge the let­ting agents as to what the fees are ac­tu­ally for, a lot don’t even have a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for it,” he said.

Belfast na­tive Paul and two house­mates were each charged a £30 ‘ad­min’ fee by Piney Rentals LTD in 2014-15 for a prop­erty in Stran­mil­lis.

The 25-year-old was also charged £36 by F5 Prop­er­ties the fol­low­ing year, when he and two friends opted for a house in Stran­mil­lis and, this time, they were each charged what the agency re­ferred to as an ‘ap­pli­ca­tion fee’.

Mary Gill, who is cur­rently study­ing for a Masters in ur­ban and ru­ral de­sign at Queen’s, took out a lease with Prop­erty Peo­ple in July and she was also charged £45 for an ‘ad­min fee’.

Paul, who was a vice pres­i­dent of Queen’s Stu­dents’ Union from sum­mer 2015 to sum­mer 2017, said he started a land­mark test case in Septem­ber 2016 against the £30 ‘ad­min fee’ charged by Piney Rentals Ltd in 2014-15.

“The case is test­ing The Com­mis­sion on Dis­pos­als of Land (North­ern Ire­land) Or­der 1986 which was in­tro­duced in the 80’s af­ter lob­by­ing by stu­dent groups who ar­gued it was un­fair that let­ting agents were charg­ing tenants these fees,” he said.

“The leg­is­la­tion states that if any costs are as­so­ci­ated with the lease then the land­lord who is us­ing the let­ting agency should be the one is­sued with these costs as they are the party re­ceiv­ing the ser­vice from the let­ting agency.

“If my case is suc­cess­ful, it is pos­si­ble that tenants who have paid these fees in the past will be el­i­gi­ble to re­claim them — there are es­ti­mated mil­lions that have been paid in re­cent times.”

Piney Rentals Ltd’s so­lic­i­tor Des­mond Carr, who is a di­rec­tor in the com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion team at Tughans, ex­plained that the case is “about the le­gal­ity of let­ting agent fees in North­ern Ire­land”.

“It is not about whether such fees ought to be banned; that is a po­lit­i­cal is­sue, which is cur­rently be­ing con­sid­ered by the Department of Com­mu­ni­ties,” he said.

“The case is be­ing de­fended on the ba­sis that there is at present noth­ing pro­hibit­ing such fees.

“My client, like many agents, charges a fee in good faith to the ten­ant be­cause they pro­vide a ser­vice to the ten­ant. We de­cided to de­fend the case be­cause of the po­ten­tial sig­nif­i­cant and un­fair im­pact a neg­a­tive out­come could have for a lot of lo­cal busi­nesses.”

Paul Loughran who is tak­ing the test case and Mary Gill who was charged an ad­min fee. Top right: our story yes­ter­day

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