Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024: Second Stage

 

5:55 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)

Absolutely.

A 51-week tenancy does not suit most students, including post-graduate and medical students. As more and more landlords look for such agreements, we need to put in place rules now to keep everything fair. Most students study during college terms and then take work during the summer months, which subsidises their education. They work to help to pay for their education, which reduces the burden on their parents and provides a degree of balance. Many of them return to their home towns to work, leaving their accommodation unoccupied but still being paid for. I am firmly in support of this Bill which provides for student-specific accommodation leases in line with the academic year.

I must mention my own home town of Carlow and the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency. Carlow is now home to the South East Technological University, SETU, which, while excellent, has brought a lot of challenges too. We need more buildings, more student accommodation and more housing generally. I wish to raise an issue with the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, in the context of the Government's plans going forward and our county development plan.

We need to look at zoning, and there needs to be zoning there for student accommodation and housing, particularly given that Carlow now has become a university town and county and has so many extra students coming into the town. That is excellent, but we have to accommodate them. The only way we can do so is if we now start zoning land not only for student accommodation but also for houses in order that we make sure that for any student who comes into a university town, the accommodation is there. That will be crucial in this.

I do not agree, as I said, with the 51-week leases for students. I think preventing them will open up the market. The short-term rentals which tourists and seasonal workers are demanding could be looked at. There are other options that need to be looked at. Having to pay rent while not in your accommodation is a particular issue for students. We saw that during the pandemic, when they had to leave or did not require student accommodation as a result of the public health measures. This measure would have stopped that kind of thing. We therefore need to make sure that this legislation goes through. It is excellent.

I have been speaking to parents. I have four children myself, and my four kids went to college. Unfortunately, at the time, they had to leave Carlow because ours was not a university town. I remember having three children in Dublin at one time studying. The money I had to try to manage to pay for accommodation was significant. I am like many parents in that I have my children close so I know what it is like to put children through that. I was lucky. My last chap went to Piltown, in County Kilkenny, and could commute, but my other three could not. While this affects the students, it plays a huge part for parents as well because parents are struggling when it comes to accommodation. Students are trying to work during the summer and the parents are trying to do extra jobs to help because it is costly now to go to college. It is great, however, that we are giving our young people an opportunity to study if they want that. Some may want to do apprenticeships. Others have their own way of doing whatever they choose in life. However, to be able to give someone such an opportunity is life-changing, if they want to do something. It is so important that it is within their means, that they can afford it. That is why this is so important.

The timescale on this is important. May I ask the Minister of State about that? Will this be ready for September? It is important. While I totally agree with this, rents cannot be increased now for any student accommodation if the landlord or whoever owns the particular building realises that he or she will be so many weeks down a year. We need to make sure that across the board, for everybody, there is the balance and there are no extra rent costs for students. Everybody needs to work together because this is important and, as I said, we need to act on it really quickly. How do we work on getting it out there? In what way will we advertise it and communicate it and have proper information? I think that will be important because we are working in the different areas. Communication will be key here. The only thing I will ask is that we build more accommodation, more houses.

In County Carlow, we have grown. According to the latest census, as the Minister of State will be aware, we have one of the fastest growing populations in the country. We grew by 9%, which is really good and important, but with that comes challenges. We need to make sure we work with local authorities. People are looking for the HAP and looking to rent. We need to ensure we have houses there for them as well. We have to find the balance, we have to build more accommodation, more houses, and we have to make sure that anyone who is in a position to rent a house is able to do so.

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