(a) A rental referral agency shall not charge or attempt to collect any fees or other consideration from any prospective tenant except where rental housing is in fact obtained by such person through the assistance of that agency. For the purposes of this Article, such housing is obtained when the prospective tenant has contracted to rent the property.
(b) Deposits to be applied toward fees may be required by a rental referral agency pursuant to a written contract which includes provisions stating:
(1) The specifications of housing sought by the prospective tenant, including maximum rent, desired lease period, geographic area, number of bedrooms required, number of children to be housed, and number and type of pets;
(2) That the deposit will be refunded within 10 days of the prospective tenant's request should the specified housing not be obtained through the agency's assistance within 30 days of the date of the contract;
(3) That the rental referral agency will maintain a trust account or bond in compliance with G.S. 66-145, and identifying the depository institution or bonding company by name and address.
(c) Notwithstanding subsections (a) and (b) of this section, a rental referral agency may charge or retain from any deposit a fee, not to exceed twenty dollars ($20.00), even if the prospective tenant fails to obtain rental housing through its assistance, provided that the following conditions are met:
(1) Any and all advertising for the rental referral agency discloses in a clear and conspicuous manner the agency's name, the fact that it is a "rental referral agency" using that term, and the fact that it charges a fee; and
(2) If a prospective tenant contacts the rental referral agency in response to an advertisement for a specific property listed by the agency and inquires about that property, the rental referral agency shall neither collect a fee nor obtain the prospective tenant's signature on a contract without first verifying that the advertised property remains available and disclosing to the prospective tenant whether or not it is still available.
(d) Prospective tenants shall apply in writing for a refund no sooner than 30 days after the date of the contract and no later than one year after the date of the contract. If the prospective tenant does not apply for a refund before one year has elapsed, the fee shall be deemed earned by the rental referral agency and may be removed from the trust account. (1981, c. 610, s. 1; 1991, c. 737, s. 1.)