Thursday, 25 February 2021
Residential Tenancies (Student Rents and Other Protections) (Covid-19) Bill 2021: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision in relation to certain tenants’ obligations to pay rent in respect of dwellings used for accommodation during academic term times, to make provision in relation to the maximum period of notice required by such tenants to terminate a tenancy, to oblige certain landlords to refund relevant payments in certain circumstances relating to Covid-19, for those purposes to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and to provide for related matters.
I thank the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, and my Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Ó Broin for the work they have done on this important Bill and the 56 Opposition Deputies who have signed it.
The pandemic has exposed the severe economic injustices students face in the rental market. Thousands of students and their families have been forced to pay for accommodation they were prohibited from using. It is no longer acceptable for the Government to act as spectator while wholesale financial exploitation of students continues. The speedy and successful passing of this legislation is vital to ensure students of third level institutions are protected. It is incumbent on all Oireachtas members to right the wrong that has facilitated the fleecing of students and their families when it comes to student accommodation refunds. Time and time again the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, has said that he does not have the tools to do anything. We are providing him with the tools in this legislation and now it is up to him.
I thank the USI and Sinn Féin for tabling this Bill. For too long students have been treated like a cash cow when it comes to rent and rental accommodation. An entire industry has built up which is geared towards the exploitation of students in the context of rental accommodation. This Bill will tackle this issue in a real way and the Labour Party is proud to co-sign and support it. I look forward to its passage and hope the Government will not only give it a sympathetic ear but will prioritise it in terms of debating time.
The Social Democrats support this Bill and we are very happy to co-sign it. This legislation is very important in ensuring that students are not penalised for complying with public health measures, which is what happened last year. Students who could not avail of accommodation they had paid for several months in advance were charged in full for it. In effect, they were penalised for complying with public health measures. This is important legislation and I hope there will be cross-party support for it, including from the Government parties. It is good to see Opposition parties co-operating on this and I thank Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éireann-Union of Students in Ireland for the work it has done to highlight this issue.
I fully endorse this Bill. The fact that a wide variety of Opposition Deputies have spoken in favour of the Bill shows that it is necessary legislation. I hope the Government will take that on board and ensure that young people are not screwed again as they were in the past. This is the second year in a row in which they are facing that prospect. It is an honour for me to support this Bill on behalf of my group and I look forward to its speedy passage.
I thank USI for continuing to campaign on this important issue. It is great that many parties of the Opposition are uniting to support students in order to end the disgraceful situation whereby students do not enjoy the protections to which they are entitled in terms of their accommodation. Indeed, when one looks at all of the purpose-built and extremely expensive student accommodation popping up all over the city, it is clear that a certain group of people think that students' accommodations needs are to be exploited while their rights as tenants are denied. This Bill is an important attempt to address the unfairness and lack of protection that students are experiencing at the moment.