Letting Agent Fees
Using a letting agent
Many students choose to rent their accommodation privately though an estate agent or letting agent. It’s really important to check if the agency is part of a government approved independent redress scheme, like The Property Ombudsman (TPO) or Property Redress Scheme (PRS). The role of such a scheme is to provide fair and reasonable resolutions to disputes with members of the public, which is important should you later have a complaint that isn’t resolved to your satisfaction by the agency. These schemes help to ensure good practice in the sector, so if an agent isn’t a member of a relevant scheme you should think very carefully before agreeing to rent one of their properties.
Letting agency fees
For years, some agencies were passing fees on to tenants, often calling them application fees, admin fees or credit checking fees. Regardless of what they were called, this illegal practice should not have been happening. Way back in the 80s, following lobbying by Queen’s students, a piece of legislation - The Commission on Disposals of Land Order (1986) - was brought in, making it illegal for agents to pass certain fees on to tenants.
The Students’ Union provided support to a former student who had paid this type of fee to letting agencies. The student made a successful legal challenge, with the courts ruling that the charging of such fees to tenants was illegal.
Are all fees illegal?
Not all tenancy-related fees are illegal. An agency can charge reasonable and appropriate fees during your tenancy – for example, if your rent is late or you let the oil in your tank run out and it needs a plumber to fix it. These type of reasonable charges should be clearly set out in your tenancy agreement. (Note that unfair or unreasonable terms in a tenancy can be considered by the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service).
What should I do if I’ve been asked to pay letting fees to an agent?
You should never feel obliged to pay certain fees in order to obtain a tenancy. If a landlord or agent is being difficult at the pre-tenancy stage, it’s possible that they could be difficult during your tenancy too!
If an agent is trying to charge for things that are directly associated with the letting of the property – like admin or application fees, you should remind them of the legal challenge in respect of the above legislation and advise them that these fees should be charged to the landlord rather than the tenant.
If you have already paid such fees to an agent, you should contact the agency in writing stating that you believe the fees were charged unlawfully and asking for them to be refunded. It’s helpful if you have written confirmation of the amount and purpose of any fees paid to the agency, either in your tenancy agreement or by way of a receipt.
If they do not agree to repay the fees, you can claim back fees of up to £3,000 through the small claims process. Note that you’ll have to pay a fee along with your Small Claims Court application, but if your claim is successful the agent will normally be instructed to reimburse you the court fee as well as repaying the illegal fees.
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