Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

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

 

7:15 pm

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)

First, I welcome this legislation. It tackles a specific and important issue in regard to student accommodation. This is the requirement that students must be able to rent their accommodation for 41 weeks of the year whereas previously many students had to rent it for 51 weeks of every year. This was an extortionate practice by those accommodation providers who were trying to extract the maximum amount of rent from students and their families. It was an abhorrent practice. I am glad to see that this legislation will put an end to the situation whereby students have had to pay for student-specific accommodation they will not use.

I read through the Bill and it seems to do what it says on the tin: to prohibit the charging of an advance rent payment that exceeds one month's rent and to specify that students cannot be requested or required to pay for student-specific accommodation during the summer months when they do not require it.

It also applies Residential Tenancies Board sanctions to what is termed "improper conduct" by a landlord or licensor for exceeding the duration of 41 weeks. Yet, in this context, we know that the RTB is already overburdened and under-resourced. I wonder if there is any provision to further resource the RTB through staff members or other resources to ensure that this Bill will in fact have the required impact where needed.

Another issue that really matters here is timing. Can we be sure that the President will have signed this Bill into law in time for students who are looking for accommodation for this year? I know of some students who have already signed leases and agreements for this year and next year up to next June, some of whom have been caught with the 51-week requirement. There is nothing that can be done about that, but could the Minister of State do some kind of campaign with the various students’ unions and colleges etc., to let students know that the law is being changed? Also, maybe the Minister of State or the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, could make a statement to all student-specific accommodation providers, alerting them to the requirements of the new legislation and asking that they apply those requirements as soon as this legislation passes through the Seanad. Information is important here so that students do not get caught in that gap, however long it might be.

I have had a look at some websites that were advertising student accommodation in Sligo for last year. One of the issues, and other Deputies have referred to it, is the requirement, for example, for an electricity pre-payment. I see that one provider is looking for €400 upfront for an electricity pre-payment. It is looking for €420 upfront for utilities. This is for the current year and the payments have to be paid in two moieties, which is just impossible for people. While this legislation deals with the latter part of that, issues such as pre-payments for electricity or utilities are not mentioned in the legislation. Could the Minister of State clarify what the situation is there?

While I welcome the legislation, the cost of student accommodation is huge. If you have one or two students in third-level education, let us say one is in Galway and one is in Limerick, or one is in Dublin, the cost for families is phenomenal. This is especially true if a student goes on to do a master's degree, etc. Families are really being hit hard. While this legislation is good, is anything being done to stop landlords increasing the cost of accommodation to counter the 41-week requirement? I am not sure about this, but the Minister of State will know. Are they subject to rent pressure zone legislation?

I believe, as I think many Deputies do, that we need to move to a model of provision of on-campus accommodation. The Minister said in his speech today that the Government has confirmed an investment of €100 million to deliver more than 1,000 student accommodation beds. He said that there are 493 for UCD, 405 in DCU and 116 in Maynooth. I want to hear about some of these beds being provided north of the line from Dublin to Galway. I do not want to hear that most of the money is being spent in our capital city or elsewhere.

Finally, I will take ten seconds to say that this is not all a matter of housing. Public transport is very important. Let us look at Tobercurry to Sligo, which is a distance of 35 km, but the only bus is the expressway, and it has one stop. We need a local link that can pick students up. That would take some of the pressure off the cost of accommodation and the amount of accommodation that is available.

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