Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

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

 

7:15 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The attempt by the private student accommodation providers, Aparto and Yugo, to force all incoming students starting in September 2024 into 51-week tenancies is a blatant money grab. They have attempted to dress this up as a way of accommodating postgraduate and medical students, but if they truly had the best interests of the students at heart, they would have offered the opportunity of extending leases to the small minority who require summer accommodation rather than forcing their entire student cohort into year-long leases that the majority of students do not require and many would not be able to afford.

The current rent these providers charge is already extortionate. A quick calculation shows that the highest rate of SUSI grant would not even come close to covering the cost of renting the cheapest room these private accommodation providers offer. The highest rate of the SUSI grant available is €842 a month for nine months, while the cheapest room is €932 a month. Providers plan to force students into extended leases to cover the summer period, a time when students do not have access to the SUSI grant, at a cost of about €3,000 extra per student, thereby making already inaccessible accommodation far less accessible for young people. This is outrageous and disproportionately affects students from rural communities who do not have the option of living at home and many of whom may be understandably wary of renting from a private landlord, unavailable to attend house viewings at short notice or in unknown areas, or simply unable to compete with working professionals for the very few places available to rent, particularly in Dublin. It is for this reason that I support this Bill and its intention to align student-specific accommodation leases with the college academic year.

Students should then, as this legislation outlines, be given the option to extend their leases should they need to for college, placement or work. They should not be forced into doing this and should be supported in every way possible to secure suitable and affordable student-specific accommodation. Unfortunately, adequate and affordable accommodation is out of reach for many young people in this country who are pursuing third level education. This will not change if we continue to rely on private accommodation providers in the way we currently do.

At the beginning of this year, the Taoiseach was in Donegal visiting ATU campuses in Killybegs and Letterkenny when he spoke about his plans to increase the availability of student accommodation that would put an end to the State’s over-reliance on the private market to deliver student housing. As there is a severe lack of State-funded, purpose-built and affordable student accommodation on college campuses in this country, I welcomed this announcement. Reading further into this new student accommodation policy, however, I was disappointed to realise this plan will not bring about the significant and large-scale change needed to student accommodation but instead details plans for a mere 500 student accommodation beds, in Dublin and Maynooth initially. This will do nothing to address the already high demand, never mind the continuously increasing demand.

In the last ten years, the number of full-time students in Ireland has increased by 18%, exceeding 200,000 in the 2021-22 academic year, and the Department of Education predicts a further rise to over 239,000 by 2031. Universities are expanding their courses and their course lists every year without ensuring there will be proper accommodation for incoming students. Going to college, living independently for the first time and progressing in your life and studies should be an exciting time for young adults, yet young people today are instead faced with the incredible stress and anxiety of trying to exist within this cost-of-living crisis and the housing crisis. Students in courses with a placement requirement, such as physiotherapy, teaching and nursing, are particularly affected by this situation, as they are forced to secure accommodation in their college city as well as where their placements are. Often multiple placements are required, and sometimes just months apart. I cannot imagine the stress these students have had to endure trying to secure accommodation on top of completing their placements.

The lack of available affordable accommodation is an enormous issue. There simply is not enough and this should be the number one priority for all third level institutions. It seems that many colleges care about how many students they can get in the door but not about how they can look after these students once they are actually there. Student well-being seems to be merely a buzzword for colleges and not something they truly care for or strive to improve. Well-being starts with having very basic needs met - a roof over your head and a feeling of security in your home. Colleges and the State refuse to take responsibility for adequately meeting this need, instead leaving it to the private market. We know there are many issues with the private market. Students in this market are forced into accommodation that is not RTB-registered, with many landlords increasing rent far above the allowed percentage simply because they can. Students are so often desperate for accommodation that they will just accept this situation. It is terrible to see some landlords take advantage of people’s desperation in this way.

I have also seen private landlords, as well as large private accommodation providers, charge ridiculous additional fees on top of rent. I was contacted by a constituent recently who was charged a €475 administration fee on top of their deposit and another who was charged a €200 cleaning fee to move in. It has been reported that a growing number of big student housing complexes, including accommodation from Aparto and Yugo, are adding extra fees on top of the rent too. Fees vary from a €5 a week utility contribution to €65 a week for broadly defined “room costs” for some Aparto rooms. Additional fees such as these put extra pressure on students particularly. Fees for utilities and amenities in purpose-built blocks should fall within the rent, especially when purpose-built blocks often provide the very basics. I have been made aware of student accommodation in a Dublin college that does not even provide an oven. These are a few examples from the many I have heard from students in recent years, from all across the country, about the so-called student accommodation private market that the Government is hung up on.

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