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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Over 50 agents found charging fees - but are they acting illegally?

A BBC investigation of 52 lettings agents has found that two thirds were levying charges on tenants, but it is uncertain whether they are acting legally or illegally.

The agents - all in Belfast - were probed by BBC Northern Ireland and were levying fees of £15 to £60 on applications to rent a property. The agents say these cover administration costs including credit history checks and employment references.

Of the 52 letting agents, 35 told the BBC they were charging and 17 explained they were not, to fall in line with the ban that was introduced in England.

However, while a ban on lettings fees in England came into force a month ago today and while landlords and agents in Wales will be banned from charging extra fees from September, there is no such legislation in the north of Ireland.

In Scotland, letting agent fees were banned in 1984, and in 2001 in the Republic of Ireland.

The BBC says that with no devolved assembly sitting in Northern Ireland - because of a long-running dispute between political parties - no new specific legislation has been introduced in relation to the charges.

However, there was a judgement in 2017 which suggested tenants could not be charged upfront costs in Northern Ireland; this was based on the Commission on Disposal of Land Order 1986, applying specifically to Northern Ireland.

The campaigning charity Shelter, which has made clear its distaste for letting agents in the past, says the fees now being levied by Belfast agents are therefore illegal.

A Shelter NI tweet on Friday said: “These fees are ILLEGAL and we must push letting agents to stop this unlawful practice which places an additional financial burden on those who can afford it the least.”

Ellie Evans, of the housing charity Shelter NI, told the BBC that letting agents "know they can get away with it" and tenants "are too scared of retaliation".

She continued: ”[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, [agents] might say that you might not get the property. 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."

  • Paul Smithson

    Shelter- making people homeless should be the tag line.

    So the tenant needs a reminder email/letter/visit is it right the Landlord pays towards the administration when it’s the tenants fault.

  • Simon Shinerock

    Shelter is a self interested organisation that puts its socialist agenda before the good of the people they were created to protect. Everything they say has a political motive, contains no balance and is aimed at destabilising the market.

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    The sooner Shelter is made homeless the better.

  • wil gan

    " it is uncertain whether they are acting legally or illegally."

    I think if the court had held it was legal to charge fees we'd be happy enough to accept its verdict as binding. The fact that we didn't get the result we wanted does not make the decision any less binding.

    The verdict might also encourage us to get our clients decent long term tenants first time around.

    Given that the majority of people are only three pay cheques away from losing their home (irrespective of tenure), perhaps we should desist from making pejorative puerile remarks about a reputable housing charity which was at least prepared to comment on this matter, unlike our own august trade bodies.

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    Shelter has charitable status, which means it does not pay tax on the profits from its contracts with central and local government.

    However, despite its heart-wrenching adverts asking the unaware public for donations, Shelter is not a charity in the sense of doing charitable deeds like housing the homeless. It stopped raising money for housing over 40 years ago. All it does for the homeless is give advice. In that respect it is just like a small version of the Citizens Advice Bureau, which could take over that role.

    But Shelter spends millions every year from donations on lobbying against landlords and letting agents, and now it has started to bully them using rentamobs. It recently declared that it wants to become a mass movement half a million strong. Who does it plan to bully with them?

    In the last few months its senior members have made a series of false claims on TV programmes. To see how Shelter has lost its moral compass, google Boycott Shelter!

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