Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

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


5:05 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and all Deputies for facilitating the debate on this urgent legislation before the summer recess. I wish to record my thanks to the Chief Whip and members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage for enabling the Bill to be read a Second Time here today.

I am asking the House to pass the Bill to enable its early enactment to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to provide, in the case of student-specific accommodation, SSA, tenancies, licences and arrangements, to permit advance payment of rent exceeding an amount equivalent to one month’s rent, only where a person is paying both rent and tuition fees to the same relevant provider. That would be in the instance of a public or private educational provider. Very importantly, it will limit the duration of such a tenancy or licence, other than at the request of the prospective tenant or licensee, to not more than 41 weeks. It will apply Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, sanctions to improper conduct by a landlord or licensor for exceeding that duration of 41 weeks. Furthermore, the Bill will provide for the referral of disputes to the Residential Tenancies Board where a landlord or licensor requests or requires a student to enter an SSA tenancy or licence that exceeds a duration of 41 weeks. It will enable a fixed-term tenant or licensee of student-specific accommodation to serve a notice of termination during the period from 1 May to 1 October, inclusive, in any year, whether or not the landlord or licensor has failed to comply with any obligation of the tenancy or licence.

My Government colleagues and I have noted with some alarm that a number of private student-specific accommodation providers have moved exclusively towards a 51-week occupancy model. While there may be a market for 51-week leases among some members of the student population, it is neither desirable nor affordable for the vast majority of third-level students and their families, who rightly wish to pay for accommodation only during the academic term, when it is used. A move of this nature will only increase barriers to accessing higher education.

In addition, some private SSA providers are currently not operating within the spirit of the Residential Tenancies Act, RTA, insofar as it restricts the amount of any advance rent payments and of any deposit that can be required to be paid upfront. Some private providers are currently operating booking portals that seek payments of amounts that exceed those that can be legally required under the Residential Tenancies Act to secure a tenancy or licence agreement, as an alternative to, but not exclusive to, the option of paying the amount that can legally be required. I urge that small but not insignificant number of providers to immediately amend their booking portal to seek and require only lawful upfront payments.

Section 19B of the Residential Tenancies Act restricts the total amount a tenant is required to pay upfront to a landlord or student-specific accommodation licensor by way of a deposit or an advance rent payment to secure a tenancy or student-specific accommodation licence to no more than the equivalent of two months' rent. That would ensure any deposit or advance rent payment cannot exceed one month's rent. We have done this in previous legislation to include student licensed arrangements under this and it is very important that it is adhered to. A restriction of the equivalent of one month's rent is also placed on the amount that a tenant or licensee is obliged to pay as a regular advance rent payment to a landlord or licensor during a tenancy or student-specific accommodation licence.

In some instances, the pressure on students and their families to secure student-specific accommodation is resulting in upfront payments being made to private providers that far exceed those that can be legally required. This practice impedes access to education, circumvents the requirements of the Residential Tenancies Act and counters the spirit of the legislation I previously brought forward.

The Government decided last week to publish the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024, which we have before us today, with a view to its early enactment to urgently deal with the matter of 51-week leases or licences. We can work together today and tomorrow in this House, and on Thursday in Seanad Éireann, to deliver for students. I appreciate the work done by everybody, including officials in my Department and officials in the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science along with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, in addition to staff here in the Houses of the Oireachtas, to give us the chance to debate this urgent Bill. We must act swiftly to safeguard students from creating tenancies or licences that exceed the academic term or make excessive upfront payments to secure a tenancy or licence. The protections in this Bill will provide assurances to students and their families on costs when planning for higher education.

As Members will appreciate, the Government is very active in increasing the supply of student-specific accommodation to help alleviate the rental pressures in that sector and throughout the wider rental market and to reduce rents. Under Housing for All, the Government has committed to improve the supply and affordability of rental accommodation and the security of tenure for renters, including students. Work is ongoing with the higher education institutions, HEIs, to ensure that more accommodation is built on and off campus, using cost rental and other models. Housing for All provides Government support to technological universities to develop purpose-built student accommodation where such a requirement exists, through access to appropriate funding. The Government recently confirmed the investment of €100 million to deliver more than 1,000 student accommodation beds. This State funding will allow 493 new beds to be developed in University College Dublin, and the progression of 405 new beds in Dublin City University through tender stage, and 116 new beds in Maynooth University to construction. Any State funding will be in return for 30% of the newly built beds being made available for use by students in the national access plan priority groupings, or categories of students eligible for support via SUSI, at a discounted rate of rent.

The Higher Education Authority, HEA, is currently assessing tenders for the provision of an expert multidisciplinary team to develop new design standards for State-supported purpose-built student accommodation. This project will be key to establishing best practice and value for money for the State, ensuring affordability of additional supply for students, and to delivering modern purpose-built student accommodation facilities that are functional, sustainable, maintainable, flexible and safe, with high quality architectural design. I have been involved personally in those discussions and the genesis of establishing the multidisciplinary team. We have also done research into other designs across Europe and in Britain to see what we can bring forward there as an optimum design. A cross-departmental oversight group has been established to oversee, manage and advise on the project. The group will engage, as required, with higher education sectoral experts, local authorities, expert student representatives, and industry and professional bodies. The project will commence after the awarding of the contract to the successful tenderer in mid-July of this year, with the report to be completed by the end of 2024.

Short-term activation measures have been successful in reactivating projects with planning permission already in place that otherwise could not progress without State funding. However, there is a lot more to do. While the short-term activation measures are progressing, the longer term plans have been in development. The agreed longer term approach will include a focus on balanced regional responses for additional student accommodation, including with the technological universities, utilising a standardised design approach for new student accommodation. This policy will also focus on refurbishment and vacancy to deliver additional supply. Flexible and affordable supply through digs accommodation will also continue to play a key role in supporting new and additional supply for students.

Importantly, Government action to deliver under Housing for All over the period to 2030 in line with a clear multi-annual, multibillion euro plan is improving Ireland's housing system and helping people with different housing needs across the country, including students. The increasing number of new homes being built since the publication of Housing for All in September 2021 shows that the plan is delivering results. We know we need to do more. The number of new homes delivered last year was the highest in 15 years, with just short of 33,000 new homes completed in 2023, 10% higher than in 2022. A total of 110,000 new homes have been built since this Government came into office. There have been 52,000 housing starts in the past 12 months alone. On student-specific accommodation and student accommodation, it is crucially important that we ensure that where accommodation is provided, providers adhere to the law, hence the Bill before the House.

I will now briefly outline the provisions of the Bill, which contains seven sections. Sections 1 and 7 contain standard provisions. Section 1 defines "Principal Act" to mean the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. Section 7 provides for the Short Title, commencement, collective citation and construction of the Bill.

Section 2 amends section 19B of the principal Act to clarify that a person cannot seek or require an advance rent payment that exceeds one month's rent. A new section 19B(3A) provides that a student or tenant may agree to pay an advance rent payment of greater than one month's rent only where such a payment is part of a combined payment, in respect of rent for accommodation and tuition fees, to the same relevant provider, within the meaning of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012, which includes both public and private education providers.

Section 3 inserts a key new section 19C into the principal Act to ensure that students cannot be requested or required to pay for student-specific accommodation during the summer months when it is not required by students. The aim is to ensure that these tenancies and licences are limited to the academic year - a maximum of 41 weeks. However, this section does not prohibit a student from requesting and agreeing with a provider to rent for a longer term.

Section 4 amends section 58, which deals with the termination of tenancies restricted to means provided by this Part, that is, Part 5 of the principal Act, to allow students who are bound to a fixed-term tenancy or licence to serve a 28-day notice of termination, NoT, at any time during the period from 1 May to 1 October each year, whether or not the landlord or licensor has failed to comply with any tenancy or licence obligation. This provision allows a student who does not need student-specific accommodation during the summer months to serve a NoT in respect of their fixed-term tenancy or licence on 1 May each year.

It also allows a student who switches course shortly after the commencement of the academic term, possibly on foot of a further college place offer, to break their fixed-term licence or tenancy agreement up until 1 October each year.

Sections 3 and 4 together provide significant power to students. There will be a prohibition on tenancies and licences of longer than 41 weeks unless the student requests a longer duration. As a student can serve a 28-day notice of termination at any time from 1 May to 1 October to end that agreement, students will be legally protected from having to pay against their will for student-specific accommodation during the summer months.

Section 5 technically amends section 78 of the principal Act to include a contravention by an SSA landlord of the new section 19C, which limits the duration of tenancy to a maximum of 41 weeks, in the list of matters that can be referred to the RTB for dispute resolution.

Section 6 technically amends Schedule 2 to the principal Act to clearly provide that persons, including student-specific accommodation landlords, who seek or require payments in contravention of section 19B of the principal Act, or who request or require tenancy or licence durations in contravention of the new section 19C, are engaging in improper conduct for the purposes of Schedule 2 to the principal Act. Consequently, such improper conduct is liable to an RTB administrative sanction under Part 7A of the principal Act.

The intention is for persons, including SSA landlords or licensors, to be liable to sanction by the RTB if they request or require a student to sign up to a student tenancy or licence arrangement of longer than 41 weeks in respect of their accommodation. A sanction may be imposed by the RTB following an investigation on foot of a complaint about improper conduct, or of its own volition, and may comprise one or more of the following: a financial penalty of up to €15,000, payment of RTB investigation costs up to €15,000 and-or a written caution. A student can seek redress by referring a dispute for resolution by the RTB or making a complaint of improper conduct for investigation, and possible sanction, by the RTB. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will engage in an awareness campaign following the enactment of this legislation to ensure that students, their parents, SSA providers and those working in the sector are well aware of the new laws. The RTB will provide relevant information to the sector.

The Department has already notified SSA providers, both public and private, of the publication of the Bill and requested that its measures are adopted without delay in respect of new and existing tenancies and licences. Today, I again call on SSA providers to contact individual students with existing tenancies to ask them if they are happy to update the terms of their existing licence or tenancy agreement in line with the provisions of the Bill. Students cannot be expected to pay for accommodation that they are not using during the summer months. To be fair to students, any SSA tenancy or licence created from today should align completely with the terms of the Bill. Providers should not need to be compelled by law to treat their customers fairly and with respect. That said, here is the Bill to do just that. Together, we can help students to rent and pay for a home for the duration of their studies only, and not during their summer holidays unless it suits them.

As the Minister responsible, and one who wants to see the supply of student-specific accommodation and general rental accommodation increase, I seek only to place legally sound Bills onto the Statute Book. The Bill before us today is balanced and takes in account the legal advice of the Attorney General. Every action the Government takes in the rental sector causes a reaction and we all need to recognise that making the wrong policy choices can cause more harm than good for the renters we are trying to help. The Bill strikes the right balance, and I call on SSA providers to recognise that it is simply wrong to charge students for accommodation during the extended period of the summer months when they do not need it. It is also wrong to ask students to pay far greater upfront payments than is lawful. Other renters pay no more than one month's rent in advance and this is the law.

The Government is fully committed to ensuring that the tenancy protections under the Residential Tenancies Act are implemented and applied in the sector, in accordance with the intentions and spirit of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Student specific accommodation was brought under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Act in 2019 for good reasons. These were to protect students; control their rents and provide recourse to the RTB's dispute resolution service for both parties. The Government has also helped students and their parents by providing a rent tax credit that stands at €750 per student, or up to €1,500 for parents who pay rent for a student this year. The Government also extended from 28 days to 90 days the period during which a dispute case can be referred to the RTB in relation to the validity of a notice of termination. We will continue to give every chance to students and other renters to secure their tenancy protections through the RTB.

I thank colleagues across the House who attended the briefings on the Bill. All of us aware that this is an issue we do not want to see grow. There are many good SSA providers who have not engaged in this type of behaviour. We want to make sure students in particular are supported and that we provide more student accommodation, which we are doing. We need to do more in this regard. These protections, with the co-operation of all parties and Independent Deputies in the House, can pass through the Dáil today and tomorrow and then go to the Seanad, so we can have the early enactment of these protections for students before the next academic year. I thank colleagues for their support in this regard, the interest they have shown in this and their engagement with the officials in the Department.

5:25 pm

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the fact that the Bill is before the House. It is timely and absolutely necessary. I acknowledge the work done by the students' unions in raising this issue and by so many students impacted by this who have come forward. I am conscious this is the last week before the Dáil goes into recess and I have two concerns as a result. One concern is that this is something we should have had before the Dáil a number of months ago. I first raised this in February. Unfortunately, people have already signed contracts and will not be able to avail of this. I am also concerned that the timeline for passing the legislation is quite tight. I will be interested to hear whether the Minister can advise when he thinks the President will be in a position to sign the Bill into law.

Especially for those people who might be at a point when they are looking at signing contracts, I am concerned that providers will put pressure on them to sign the contract before the Bill comes into law. We do not want to have people put under increasing pressure. The Bill is scheduled to go through all Stages in the Seanad this week also. I hope it will have become law before the majority of students have accepted their offers for accommodation for the coming academic year. I understand the difficulty in making retrospective a new law such as this when we are dealing with contractual issues. However, it is essential that as many students as possible can forego 51-week lease requirements starting in September.

The Minister is aware this is an issue I have been raising consistently for the past six months because it seemed so unfair when it had arisen so often. When we look at the work done on this by students, students' unions and many others, we can see the impact of this activism has paid off in terms of having the Bill coming before us. Some of the work I have done on identifying the vulture-fund-owned student accommodation providers operating here has been important, including calculation of the average rents they have been charging students and demonstrating where 51-week lease requirements were in place. This helped to place the issue in the public domain and debate and, as a consequence, put it on the legislative agenda. I am very happy to see the Government is moving on this but I would like to have seen it happen in February.

We know that rents charged by these vulture-fund-owned student accommodation providers are astronomical, even despite the 51-week lease requirements. I will give some examples from my county of Galway. I am sure other TDs will be able to speak to examples in their own counties. The cheapest single occupancy room in the Westwood complex in Galway, which is owned by the asset manager GSA, is €8,502 for a 39-week lease but if a 51-week lease requirement can be imposed it would increase the rent to €11,118.

Another provider, Hubble Student Living, which is owned by the Swedish private equity group EQT, tried to increase rents by 30% this year - that did not relate to the increase in the duration of the leases - until it created such a public backlash that it was forced to back down. The public understands that this is not the way to deliver student accommodation.

Another proposed development on the Coolough Road in Galway has caused much consternation. Few people are in any way in favour of it. Planning permission was first granted for 248 single bedrooms divided into two separate blocks, comprising 37 clusters up to four storeys in height. Despite multiple objections, permission was granted. Now, however, the developer wants to increase the development to 257 beds by adding another level bringing the buildings to five storeys, with an additional plant room on the roof. We know what is likely to arise from this: extortionate rent for students and parents. Local people are enraged about this and about the fact that their concerns and queries were completely ignored, while an investment fund makes fantastic returns.

My feelings on the vulture fund model of student housing delivery have been set out on multiple occasions in this House. It is not a model that has affordability at its heart. It does not have affordability as a feature at all. Why would it? If you want to turn student accommodation into an asset for investment funds, you build into it an entirely different financial logic, one based on maximising rental yields and minimising tax payment. It will be based on increasing distributions to shareholders, interest payments, increasing asset values through the creation of artificial scarcity and so on. The use of 51-week leases by these investment funds was just another effort to increase rental yields.

The fact that investment funds have approximately the same number of student beds as our universities highlights the major imbalance that is being created. I said in February that if this issue was not tackled head-on, it would prove to be the thin edge of the wedge. In other words, this practice would creep into non-vulture-fund-owned student accommodation. That is exactly what we witnessed recently in the now notorious Rhebogue complex of the University of Limerick where 51-week leases are now being sought. I hope the swift passing of this legislation will put an end to this practice once and for all. However, we need to recognise that stamping out one bad practice in a bad delivery model does not change the model itself. Only Government can do so.

If we do not make student accommodation affordable, we are saying one of two things to students and families. Either parents will have to fork out for major additional costs for their children who live out of home for college - this means we have a situation that is much like childcare, where parents are required to pay the equivalent of a second mortgage when their children go to college - or the students will be forced to take on almost full-time hours of work to cover the cost of keeping a roof over their heads. They will be forced to miss classes and tutorials due to work commitments. Their mental health will suffer due to an awful work-life-study balance. Then when they qualify, they think about heading to Australia or wherever because they do not feel listened to.

The way this legislation is being dealt with shows how well this place can operate when we all try to get to the end of one thing and have one goal in mind. I hope the Minister recognises that by waiving pre-legislative scrutiny, we have tried to facilitate efforts to address the issue of 51-week leases. I acknowledge that the Minister is willing to do this. As I said to other Ministers I have dealt with on legislative matters, good legislation is good legislation, no matter who brings it before the Dáil. Regardless of the motivation behind it or how it came to pass, good legislation is good legislation. Considering that my party and I were willing facilitate this Bill on the basis that it could help students, it would be good to try to do this going forward. I brought forward a Bill on student digs which the Government did not oppose and it is now proceeding to Committee Stage. Although it is likely to go to the housing committee rather than the education committee, I hope that in the spirit of working together to improve the housing crisis for students, the Minister might give a commitment to work together to see that Bill become law as quickly as possible, in the same manner as we are doing with the Minister's Bill. The sooner both Bills are enacted, the sooner we can begin to tackle the student housing crisis and look at making sure students' lives are put first in student accommodation.

Feicimid timpeall na tíre go bhfuil go leor lóistín ag na investment funds seo do mhic léinn tríú leibhéal. Mar gheall go bhfuil daoine ag brath ar an gcineál lóistín sin, tá go leor airgid i gceist. Tá na mílte euro i gceist. Tá sé feicthe agam in mo chontae féin, i nGaillimh, go bhfuil €8,000 nó €11,000 á lorg ag roinnt acu in aghaidh na bliana. Tá sé sin i bhfad ró-chostasach. Tá sé fíormhaith go bhfuil an Bille seo ag dul tríd an Dáil agus go gciallaíonn sé sin go mbeidh stop leis an gcraic seo de mhic léinn ag fanacht agus ag íoc ar feadh 51 seachtain, nuair nach bhfuil siad ar an ollscoil chomh fada le sin. Ach caithfimid breathnú ar an lóistín seo in iomláine. Caithfimid cinntiú go bhfuil mo Bhille in ann dul tríd an Dáil chomh tapaigh agus atá an Bille seo agus go bhfuilmid ag cur infheistíocht cuí isteach i lóistín atá ag na hollscoileanna atá ar phraghas réasúnta agus nach bhfuilmid ag braith ar na investment funds seo, na creach-chistí seo atá ag teacht isteach agus díreach atá i ndáiríre ag lorg brabús seachas go mbeadh na mic léinn mar chroí lár ar an gceist.

5:35 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I acknowledge that this Bill has been brought forward quickly and in a constructive manner. We have worked with the Government to ensure that what is proposed in the Bill will happen as swiftly as possible in order to try to make sure students are not forced into these leases in September. We need to make sure that the President will be in a position to sign the Bill into law as soon as possible. I commend my colleague Deputy Mairéad Farrell on the tireless work she has done in highlighting this issue and on how instrumental she has been in this legislation being brought forward.

It is clear, however, that this has only become an issue because successive Governments have opened their arms, welcomed vulture funds into the State and let them take control of areas of the housing market. I looked at figures for Cork that Deputy Mairéad Farrell provided. For a single-occupancy room in the Lee Point complex, these funds are charging €1,000 per month. They are taking in well over €6 million euro for one apartment block. Another vulture fund is making €3.7 million at a minimum for another apartment block in Cork, Nido Broga House. There are difficulties with applying law retrospectively, but I checked today and two types of rooms in the Lee Point complex are sold out. That means students have already signed 51-week leases and will be stuck paying for accommodation for months for which they do not need it. This Bill will save students in Cork thousands of euro. It will mean they are not forced to pay rent in the summer months when they do not need accommodation. In the Lee Point apartments, this is equivalent to a saving of €3,000 per year.

We now need to see more done to tackle the vulture funds that are running riot in our communities and making huge profits. In my constituency, Cork North-Central, a vulture fund is looking to convert ground floor commercial units in Blackpool that were supposed to house a bank, crèche, gym, doctor's surgery, dentist and many more services. Instead, the units are now being turned into apartments. When planning permission was obtained, these services were supposed to be included, but now vulture funds are coming in. In these blocks, they are charging €1,800 per month for a one-bedroom property. There are vulture funds in Cork city charging €3,500 per month for three-bedroom apartments. The Minister may claim these vulture funds have an impact on housing and he would not be wrong. They are destroying communities, affecting young people's ability to access education and making the housing crisis worse.

This Bill is important and I welcome it. I do not dispute it will have a positive impact on students and save them large sums of money but the Minister should have moved on this months ago. Without real regulation of vulture funds, they will continue to cause havoc in our cities, towns and villages, to speculate and strip communities of services, to charge eye-watering, unaffordable rents and to rip off ordinary people. They will continue to let homes rot where they can make it profitable and they will continue to do all this without paying one cent in tax. How is this allowed? Vulture funds were brought into this country by Fine Gael but Fianna Fáil has let them run wild and here we are. We welcome this legislation but it needs to go much further. They are destroying our communities and preying on people's need for housing. Something needs to be done.

5:45 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Fáiltím roimh an mBille seo. Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil sé os ár gcomhair inniu. Tá sé ríthábhachtach go ndéileálann muid le ceisteanna mar seo nuair a thagann siad chun cinn. Bíonn siad ró-mhinic sa chúlra agus ní phléitear leo chomh tapa is a bhféadfaí. Molaim gach éinne a bhí gafa leis an mBille seo a thabhairt chun tosaigh. Molaim iad siúd atá ag déanamh iarracht a chinntiú go mbeidh sé rite roimh an samhradh agus achtaithe chomh tapa agus is féidir ionas nach mbeidh sé de dhíth ar níos mó mic léinn íoc as 51 seachtain in áit an 41 a bhí ann go dtí seo. Is costas breise atá ansin. Ní gá go mbeadh costais breise curtha ar mhic léinn anuas ar na costais atá curthu orthu cheana féin. Ní hé go bhfuil na lóistín seo saor in aon chor - ní gá ach féachaint ar na figiúirí a bhíonn á lorg i mo cheantar féin chun é sin a chruthú. Go minic bíonn breis is €1,300 nó €1,400 i gceist. Níl an t-airgead sin ag na mic léinn. Tagann a lán acu ó thar lear. Nuair a bhíonn siad anseo, uaireanta bíonn orthu obair níos faide ná mar ba chóir go mbeidís i rith na seachtaine, le déanamh cinnte go bhfuil an t-airgead acu le híoc as a gcuid lóistin.

Sa deireadh thiar thall, tá an locht ar na vulture funds atá ag iarraidh níos mó airgid a tharraingt as na mic léinn ná mar ba chóir. Ní gá dóibh é seo a dhéanamh. Thuig siad i gcónaí gur 41 seachtain a bhí i gceist, ach d'aithin siad seans níos mó brabúis a dhéanamh agus thapaigh siad an deis léasanna 51 seachtain a bhrú ar na mic léinn. De bharr an easpa spáis atá ann - an easpa lóistín atá ar fáil do mhic léinn sa chathair seo agus i gcathracha eile - go minic bhí orthu siniú le haghaidh 51 seachtain. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil sé go maith go bhfuil sé seo ag tarlú, go bhfuilimid ag cuidiú le mic léinn agus sa deireadh thiar thall go bhfuilimid ag tabhairt teachtaireacht do na vulture funds nach bhfuilimid sásta glacadh leo. D'fhéadfadh teachtaireacht i bhfad níos tapúla a chur amach trí cháin ceart a chur ar na vulture funds, deireadh a chur le haon lascainí cáin atá á fháil acu, agus cinnte a dhéanamh de go bhfuil siad ag íoc an cáin céanna is atá gnáthphobal na hÉireann agus na gnáthchomhlachtaí atá ag obair in Éirinn. Tá sé go maith go bhfuil an t-aitheantas sin ann. Tá sé go maith freisin, i roinnt cásanna ina bhfuil mic léinn ag iarraidh fanacht sa lóistín ar feadh 51 seachtain nó fiú níos faide, go dtuigeann siad go bhfuil an seasmhacht sin i gceist nuair atá siad ag lorg lóistín. Aithníonn an reachtaíocht seo é sin agus rudaí eile chomh maith.

Aithnítear sa reachtaíocht seo freisin gur ghá cosaintí breise a thabhairt do mhic léinn ionas nach féidir le haon ceann de na vulture funds seo bogadh ina gcoinne. Luaigh an tAire nach féidir leo breis airgid a lorg nuair atá an léas ag tosnú, agus nach féidir leo dhá mhí, trí mhí nó ceithre mhí de chíos a lorg chun tosaigh. An t-aon fáth go mbeadh aon duine ag déanamh sin ná chun tarraingt ón airgead atá ag mic léinn faoi láthair. Tá fhios agam go bhfuil brú ann i ngach uile áit i mBaile Átha Cliath le haghaidh lóistín do mhic léinn agus níl aon rud difriúil i mo cheantar féin. Tá an choimhlint sin idir ionaid lóistín do mhic léinn agus an gnáthphobal sna Liberties. Tá an iomarca lóistín ar fad tógtha do mhic léinn, seachas tithíocht don ghnáthphobal. Tá an teannas sin ann idir lóistín do mhic léinn agus an éileamh ar ghnáth-thithíocht don phobal toisc go mbíonn an pobal sin ag iarraidh go bhfuil sustainable housing i gceist seachas go mbeidh daoine ag bogadh an t-am ar fad, rud a tharlaíonn nuair atá mic léinn ann. Tá gá le lóistín mac léinn i go leor ceantar, áfach. Tá leithéidí Griffith College agus NCAD i mo cheantar féin agus tá gá le níos mó lóistín dóibh. Níl mé go hiomlán ina choinne ach caithfear pleanáil cheart a dhéanamh agus struchtúr ceart a bheith ann. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil sé go maith go bhfuil brú á chur ar na hinstitiúidí féin faoi dheireadh thiar thall tógáil a dhéanamh agus lóistín a chur ar fáil ionas nach mbeidh siad ag brath ar na vulture funds atá ann.

Más féidir leis in aon chor, molaim don Aire tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille atá mo chomrádaí anseo tar éis a chur chun cinn, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2024, a dhéileálann le ceist na digs agus é sin ar fad. Tá sé thar am againn cinnte a dhéanamh de go bhfuil seasmhacht agus cosaintí ar fáil do mhic léinn, rudaí nach raibh ann i gcónaí ach a bhfuil gá leo sa domhan ina bhfuilimid.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Bill. It is appropriate to see these changes made to the Residential Tenancies Act in order to align student-specific accommodation leases to the academic year. I commend the Union of Students in Ireland and student unions generally across the country. They have been campaigning and looking for this change for some time.

I think we all agree it is nothing more than gouging for student accommodation providers to insist on offering 51-week leases, thus increasing cost barriers to participation in higher education. The change proposed in the Bill gives welcome flexibility, so that student accommodation will now follow the traditional academic year of September to May unless a student requests a tenancy in excess of that. The Minister acknowledged that there will be students - postgraduate students on 12-month timeframes, for example - who will look for that but for most students this will be a welcome move.

It is also welcome that landlords will be prevented from operating booking portals seeking payments exceeding those that can be legally sought under section 19B of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to secure a tenancy or licence agreement as an alternative to, but not exclusive to, the option of paying a deposit of one month’s rent plus one month’s rent in advance. The existing state of affairs has a negative impact on many students, not only in terms of income and class background but also in terms of geography. Patently, those living outside of university and college towns and cities are most severely impacted.

We in the Labour Party will not oppose the Bill; indeed, we support and welcome its necessary and timely provisions. That welcome has been expressed by Deputy Farrell and I am sure will be shared across the Opposition. However, I will raise some creeping issues which intersect and serve to heighten the barriers to participation for those looking to go to third level.

Appropriate accommodation for students is very difficult to access. All of us hear in our constituencies how difficult it is for those without an easy college commute to access accommodation. We have all heard horror stories of students sleeping in their cars or commuting long distances to access third level education. This is at a time when the cost of living continues to rise, with high rents and a lack of availability in the private rental sector meaning many students cannot predict if they will be able to attend college each year.

The lack of protections for renters can disrupt exams and study timetables. Difficulties with public transport can mean that commuting is not an option even where students live within what might be considered an easier commute. The SUSI grant does not fully cover the cost of accessing education and limits students' ability to work for a living.

Education is a right but many students find themselves unable to vindicate this right because of the cocktail of failures across the free market which have left students and their parents struggling to cope.

Colleges and universities are experiencing difficulties in getting funding to expand their accommodation offerings. I welcome the Minister's commitment to funding more on-campus accommodation across different colleges and universities.

This Bill is welcome but deep-pocketed private operators, many of them backed by international capital, continue to dominate the student-specific accommodation sector. We routinely see these private operators building so-called "luxury" student accommodation facilities, often fitted with all sorts of extras like cinemas and so on but they are always unaffordable. The reality is that most students need the basics. They need affordable accommodation, somewhere they can meet with friends and the facility to have some disposable income left over at the end of the month. Often these luxury sites are under-occupied which is a waste of land that was purchased solely to enrich the owners and not to deliver the basics for students and young people.

While there has been a relative decline in private investment in this sector in recent years, international property groups are expected to remain significant players, as outlined by recent reports by Mr. Ian Curran for The Irish Times. NAMA properties were snapped up as lucrative investments during the recession and, struggling with funding cuts, third-level institutions could not keep up with making such investments. Now it is important to see more investment made in public, university- and college-owned accommodation to stop the further marketisation of that sector of our education system. Again, I welcome developments in that regard. However, I have been surprised to see other Departments and State bodies attempting to dispose of State assets at a time when there is more public wealth and public funding available. I am thinking of the proposed sale of the post office in Rathmines, for example, which is in my own constituency. It is an iconic building which should be retained in public ownership, ideally to continue to provide postal services but it could be also repurposed for citizen's information services, for example. Just today the public accounts committee visited Baggot Street Hospital. My colleague, Deputy Kelly, has shared publicly some photographs of the interior of that building and the deterioration that has been allowed to occur in what is a State-owned building is shameful. I am conscious that it is outside the Minister's brief as it is owned by the HSE but it could and should be repurposed to provide public and community facilities and amenities. Myself and the Labour Party local councillor, Mr. Dermot Lacey, have long called for it to be repurposed to provide accommodation, community facilities, or as a primary care. We want to see that iconic building put to use in this way.

The trend of selling off State assets to the private market and of facilitating private interests in taking over and dominating the student accommodation market, for example, is not what want to see. We need to reverse that trend and this legislation is important in addressing what is clearly a gap currently but it will not end the pernicious behaviour of private operators who are extorting and overcharging students. We need to call out that and recognise that steps must be taken to weaken their hand in the market. It is not tenable for the Government to just continue chasing them. We know that for young adults coping with an unsupportive learning environment is a huge difficulty and it creates a real obstacle to accessing education. Those students who enter education in their late teens and early twenties are doing so at a pivotal time in their lives. It should be the best of times and we should be ensuring that there is support for them to have the best time while they are at college. This is often a time when interpersonal challenges are experienced by students but it should not be an inevitability that financial worries and David versus Goliath battles with pension fund-backed landlords will form part of that learning curve but for far too many students and for too long, that has been the case.

The Labour Party welcomes this legislation but I want to make an appeal on a related matter. If the Government is serious about abating and addressing the accommodation crisis in the private rental sector then it should pass the Residential Tenancies (Tenant's Rights) Bill which I brought forward on my election to this House in 2021 and which the Minister did not oppose at the time. It is a Bill that seeks to address issues around insecurity of tenure for renters and would bring Ireland in line with other countries where we see stronger protections for renters. Improving renters' rights across the board would also improve conditions for students and would provide greater supports for them, given that so many are in the private rental sector because there is still relatively little accommodation being provided on campuses across the country. Our Bill seeks to link rent increases with inflation, to improve transparency on previous rents paid and to end no-fault evictions. As I said, the Minister did not oppose that Bill progressing at Second Stage but in every subsequent engagement on the issue since then, I get the same stock response from the Department which speaks about the temporary evictions moratorium which was lifted last year. The response has not even been updated in the past year. I would appreciate it if the Minister would address that issue in his response. Does he intend to make any progress with our Bill or with the provisions within it? Does he believe that protections for those in the private rented sector can be improved further? Given the testimony we continually hear from constituents, including students and others who are renting in the private sector, it is clear that we need to see more protections built in for renters generally.

As I said earlier, we support this Bill but we believe the Government has failed to ensure that students have a safe and affordable place to live during the college term. While the provisions of this Bill will undoubtedly improve things for students, and we welcome that, not enough has been done to ensure an adequate supply of accommodation for students. That is the crux of this, as it is the crux of the housing crisis more generally. There has been a failure to ensure adequate supply. Research and advocacy by the USI and the Irish Second Level Students Union has shown us, if we needed to be shown, that students need a greater supply of accommodation, as do all communities. We need to see more affordable and purpose-built housing. We need to see greater availability and greater delivery. In his speech, the Minister alluded to that broader issue of supply. He spoke about the number of homes that have been built since the publication of Housing for All in September 2021 but the homelessness figures speak for themselves. There are now more than 4,000 children in emergency homeless accommodation. We all hear, every day, from our own constituents about how the current level of delivery is simply not enough. The Government's own experts in the Housing Commission have all spoken of the need for increased housing targets and delivery. The Housing for All targets fall well short of the level of need that exists. We have been promised increased housing targets for some time now. The latest indication from the Minister was that the increased target would be published this Autumn. We need to see a ramping up of ambition and urgency in the delivery of accommodation because that is the only way to address the real shortage of accommodation for students and for all in our communities right across the country.

5:55 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputy Murnane O'Connor is next.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Thank you. I did not realise I was sharing time.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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You are not sharing; you have a slot of seven minutes.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Oh, I have my own slot - that is perfect. I just saw eight minutes on the clock-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The clock will be changed now.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I will take the eight minutes. That is fine.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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They have taken a minute off. They are brutal.

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

6:05 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Bill. I also commend my colleague and our higher education spokesperson, Mairéad Farrell, on her work in this area and on, in my view, putting this issue on the political agenda in the first place by identifying the total amount of vulture fund-owned PBSA, identifying the average rent charged and identifying where 51-week leases were being demanded, but also by identifying and highlighting the seriousness of the issue and ensuring then that action was taken by the Government. All of that, in my view, highlighted deficiencies in the data collection of both Departments: the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Department of housing. It also, as we know, and as evidenced by this Bill, identified the need for greater regulation and oversight. I would have preferred to have seen the Bill brought forward earlier, as my colleague has said, because there is a chance that some people may have taken or may still be offered 51-week leases in the current academic year. We understand the difficulty in making legislation retrospective. It of course creates difficulties, which is why there was a need for speed and haste in bringing forward this Bill. My colleague has already identified that we will not bring forward any substantial amendments bar a single amendment. We want the Bill passed as soon as possible.

I will raise briefly the issue of student accommodation in my constituency. Like the previous speaker and the Minister of State, I live in the south east. We have the South East Technological University, and it is great to have that university for the first time, but there is a crisis in student accommodation. The Minister of State will be aware of a site that was purchased - part of it, at least - by the State, the former Waterford Crystal site, that will now be used for educational and academic purposes. There are some plans for that and, in my view, there needs to be a substantial plan for affordable student accommodation. That is the most important part of it. I have met with the former president and the current president of SETU in relation to this, and they talk about student accommodation. I think a lot of universities are hedging their bets and are hesitant about going into this space because they will say it has to wash its face and has to be financially sustainable. That is where the State has to come in and underwrite some of this and support universities and what were the technological universities in providing this accommodation. It needs to be subsidised. It is one of the areas where the State has to come in and play a role, so there should not be that hesitancy.

I know that a call has been made by the former Minister, Simon Harris, who is now Taoiseach, for universities to come forward with plans. I am sure that SETU will do so, but if we want to grow the campus - there are very ambitious plans to grow both the campus in Carlow, as the Minister of State will know, and the campus in Waterford and increase the footprint - we will need more purpose-built student accommodation. That needs to be a real part of any capital plan for the Department going forward.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I also welcome the Bill, which the Social Democrats will support. The issue of the Bill is very much tied into what has been happening around students' accommodation needs. This example has been highlighted very well by Deputy Mairéad Farrell but it is one of many examples of exploitation of students when it comes to housing. Perhaps it is not intentional, explicit or anything like that, but if you look at student accommodation across a number of sectors, you will see that it is open season for students to be exploited when it comes to the housing crisis. It was perhaps inadvertent, but last week, when we were discussing the Bill brought forward to regulate student digs, the Government in its response actually reinforced that because it put forward the case that maybe we should not regulate this area because it might affect supply. The Government would not put forward the case not to regulate in areas to protect people if it took the rights of students to protection seriously, like in other sectors. It just would not put forward that argument. Regulation and protection of rights are good enough for others, but somehow the Government and others think, "When it comes to students, maybe not." It has been pushed into introducing this Bill. I welcome that it is being done, but the Government has been pushed into doing it nonetheless.

We have been raising for a considerable amount of time issues that are affecting students in terms of housing and their exploitation. One, for example, is the flouting of RPZ rules by a number of student accommodation providers, which effectively get around the limits on rent increases by bringing forward additional charges - service charges and whatnot - as a way of jacking up rents and flouting the rent pressure zone rules on legal rent increases. I brought that up with the senior Minister but we have not seen proactive action from the Government on this.

In fact, the response from the Government has been to leave it to students who have problems to bring them to the RTB. It really is not good enough to place the burden of dealing with breaches of the law on individual students. Those students may be in first year in college and renting for the first time or in this country for the first time. The idea that they have to be the one to go up against a corporate landlord who is breaking the law and circumventing it by imposing these additional charges and that the Government will not be proactive on the issue again reinforces this attitude that it is open season to exploit students and shows that protecting their rights is not taken as seriously as it should be.

This whole area has been very well documented by Lois Kapila of the Dublin Inquirer. It should not be up to good independent journalism to expose these things. There should be a proactive response from the Government.

We have seen serious exploitation of students by way of rental scams and fraud. The Irish Council for International Students, ICOS, has documented a lot of the exploitation that is going on. We have seen issues around sex for rent exploitation. International students are one of the groups affected by this. A survey by ICOS found that 5% of international students have been offered accommodation in exchange for sex or have seen advertisements for rooms in exchange for sex while 55% of international students have had their mental health impacted by the accommodation crisis.

Those of us on this side of the House have been raising the need for robust legislation in this area for a number of years. The Government has promised to bring forward robust legislation but we are now probably only weeks away from this Government leaving office and there is no sign of that legislation. It simply has not been done. It has not been a high enough priority for this Government despite the promises it has made to act on the issue and the fact that it has seen fit not to allow legislation from our side of the House to progress sufficiently. We have correctly seen talk from people in leadership positions in this country about zero tolerance of sexual attacks, sexual violence and sexual exploitation and I believe it is genuinely meant. However, that must be followed up. For example, talk about zero tolerance of the exploitation of students through sex for rent arrangements has to be followed up with strong and robust legislation. At this rate, by the time this is dealt with legislatively, the students who are being exploited in this way may well have finished their college education. Of course, it also affects people's ability to stay in education. Unfortunately, people do drop out as a result of the different forms of exploitation.

As I have said previously, when it comes to addressing the issue of student accommodation, rather than having all of these private providers that are exploiting students in this way - some colleges have also done this as they see student accommodation as some sort of cash cow in meeting deficits in their funding - it would be much better to have strong provision of affordable student accommodation by the State, the not-for-profit sector or colleges, although on an affordable basis and not on one of charging the maximum rents possible to help with the college's income. That is what needs to be done. While Deputy Harris promised and announced 4,500 beds when he was the Minister responsible for this area, we have seen a real lack of delivery.

I have previously raised the need for the Government to establish a borrowing framework for colleges so that, where there is land, planning permission and a clear need for student accommodation, such accommodation can be put in place. Without such a borrowing framework from Government, we are not getting shovels in the ground. Alongside the measures in this Bill, this would also help to alleviate some of these forms of exploitation. There is no sense of urgency from the Government on this matter. I have previously made reference to the 358 beds Trinity College wants to bring on stream at Dartry. There has been a lack of engagement from the Government on the financing of that proposal. If we had those kinds of actions in tandem with the measures in this Bill and regulations regulating digs - students who pay money to stay in digs deserve some protection under law and the Government's failure to act in this area is not acceptable - the situation would be considerably better. If the Government were to do that, it would also send a message to wider society that it is not open season to exploit students' need for accommodation. This lackadaisical approach from the Government, which has finally been pushed into action in this area, has not helped.

All of this comes at a cost and not just to students who need accommodation. A strong not-for-profit or affordable student housing sector would take pressure of the private rental sector, meaning that people in that sector would be less likely to be evicted into homelessness. We heard the reports over the weekend of the dire situation facing children in particular. A leading paediatrician in Ireland has given a detailed account of what she is now seeing. She is seeing children presenting with rickets, malnutrition, stunted growth, that is, simply not growing at the level they should for their age, and skin diseases including scabies. She particularly noted the effects on children with intellectual disabilities or autism who are in emergency accommodation, where there is a lot of noise and disruption. This has a particular effect on such children and traumatises them. Failing to deal with the student accommodation crisis more comprehensively is not only affecting students, but is also having a wider effect. It is one of the contributory factors to children ending up in those dire situations of homelessness and it needs to be addressed.

6:15 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We very much welcome this Bill. This issue was put on the agenda because of the very significant amount of work done by Sinn Féin and Deputy Mairéad Farrell. It has been brought up for a considerable amount of time. It was first a matter of identifying the number of these places owned by vulture funds and the average rents charged. There was then the question of 51-week leases, which are a major imposition on students. We all understand how modularisation works as regards students and that they would have had no need for the 51 weeks. We are now seeing an element of fairness.

We spoke about Deputy Farrell's legislation previously. It was not opposed. The idea was to ensure a greater level of support, protection and tenure for those who are in digs accommodation. Many of us have spent time in digs accommodation, albeit at a very different time and at a very different price. We all know the horror stories. We have all heard multiple examples. As I have told the Minister of State before, we need that sort of action to be taken at speed.

This is an outworking of the absolute disaster and dysfunction of the housing crisis. I do not know how many times I have brought up Cois Farraige in Blackrock in Dundalk when speaking about affordable housing over the last while. I had an interaction with the Taoiseach on the matter and I believe he is bringing it to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I would also like to put it on the agenda here. I do not believe €305,000 is affordable for a considerable number of people but the shocking thing is that, while there were meant to be ten units, of the 26 people who initially applied and the many more who applied later, only five reached the criteria. That tells you there is an issue. That has to be investigated.

There is also an issue in respect of the tenant in situ scheme. We have all seen it saving people from homelessness but we understand that some of the moneys that were provided to local authorities for this purpose have been used up and that people must now deal directly with the Department. I am told that this is somewhat more difficult. We need to look at those particular issues.

In the little time I have left, I will mention something that came to me and that I brought up with the Taoiseach earlier. It is from a constituent. She says it is outrageous that it is €5,000 a month for a four-bedroom house in Dundalk. She asks what our TDs and other politicians are doing to stop this.

She asks how the younger generation will be able to stay in Ireland and have a home, whether buying or renting. She speaks about the need for a housing cap and the need for representatives across the board to do this. This situation is unacceptable. We know our proposals on this. We need to see action.

6:25 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Bill is welcome in that it addresses the scandalous problem of student accommodation providers charging for 51 weeks when the students' term is only 41 weeks. It is positive that will be prevented and that students cannot be required to pay more than a month's rent and deposit in advance, other than their fees, if they happen to be paying their fees, to the provider. Those are welcome measures, as is the ability to take to the RTB a landlord who is behaving improperly. Those are positive developments for which the student unions have been campaigning. Well done to the students for getting the Government to take these steps.

However, there is a hell of a lot more to be done and that is what I want to focus on in the time available to me. I was talking to the new Union of Students Ireland, USI, vice president for campaigns before I came in here. I asked what the situation is going to be like for students in September or October. He said it is going to be an absolute shambles, a disaster, for thousands of students. He informed me that last year there was a shortfall of 30,000 student accommodation units. The consequence of that is that students sleep in their cars, sofa surf or commute for several hours in order to get to college. UCD, among others, has produced reports about the mental stress that imposes on students. A serious crisis still persists in regard to the availability of student accommodation. For those who can find accommodation, the rents are exorbitant in many cases.

I phoned the former campaigns officer for UCD before I came into the Chamber. I asked how much the rent is for the newly-built student accommodation in UCD. He reckoned, off the top of his head, that for 41 weeks, which is the actual term, it will cost between €11,000 and €15,000. That is extraordinary. This is for accommodation provided by UCD. For a national university to charge those sort of rents is outrageous. UCD has done surveys showing the mental health impact on students struggling to pay those rents, the pressure it puts on them and the impact it has on the quality of their student experience. Many private providers building student accommodation charge similarly extortionate levels of rent.

The measures in the Bill are welcome and we are happy to support them but a hell of a lot more needs to be done. It is absolutely crazy that we are making it difficult for people to get through college. Many students drop out because of the lack of student accommodation or the mental health pressures that are put on them through trying and failing to get accommodation, or struggling to pay extortionate rents, along with all the other financial burdens that students have. Students have repeatedly called for the complete abolition of registration fees in order to remove that financial burden which, along with rents and the cost of accommodation, puts such pressure on students. We should be doing everything we can to remove financial or any other obstacles to people accessing and completing higher and third level education, particularly at a time when there are chronic skills shortages in multiple sectors of our society, such as health, construction and education. The idea that we continue to allow financial and other barriers that make it difficult for people to access or complete higher and third level education is irrational. We need to take far more bold measures to remove those financial and other obstacles, among which the question of student accommodation is key.

One of the other consequences of the lack of sufficient supply of affordable student accommodation is that people are being pushed into digs accommodation. The USI asked me to ask the Minister to move forward the digs legislation that was discussed here last week. This concerns the situation for people who have to go into digs but often have great insecurity in terms of their accommodation and often face lack of access to facilities in the accommodation because of the whims of the landlord who is providing that accommodation. This includes such issues as the right to lock one's own door in the accommodation. Another ask from the student union movement is for that legislation to be done as quickly as possible.

USI also asked when the student accommodation strategy plan will be published. According to USI, it was promised last July but it still has not been published. That is another request. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister of State as to when that will actually happen. Given the scale of the student accommodation crisis and the fact that we will soon be entering into that crisis again, there should be a far greater level of urgency from the Government in producing that student accommodation plan and addressing the lack of supply of affordable on-campus student accommodation directly provided by the colleges and the Government. At the very least, it should show the urgency to actually deliver that promised plan.

Connected with the issue of student accommodation, there is one issue that sums up the problem we have in terms of the over-reliance on private for-profit providers of student accommodation and how that is not the way forward for delivering the affordable student accommodation we need. In my constituency there is an iconic site called Baker's Corner, in Deansgrange. There was a pub on the site, which the Minister of State probably knows. A developer got that site and obtained planning permission for a strategic housing development, SHD, on it to build student accommodation. The student union at the time opposed that SHD. It lodged objections to it, as I did. It is often thrown against me, in the soundbite politics here, that Richard Boyd Barrett objected to this, that and the other. I objected, along with the student union at the time, because we believed the developer was only putting in the planning application to maximise profit out of the site. He got SHD permission for 276 apartments.

They finally got through after objections. There was a judicial review and so on and so forth. As soon as they got the permission, guess what they did. They put the site up for sale for €7 million. This is private property speculators getting strategic housing permission for student accommodation right beside IADT, which is an ideal site. I want to make it absolutely clear that the students, myself and People Before Profit support the provision of student accommodation on that site. We want to see student accommodation but what we actually got was property speculation by a private property speculator. Of course, even if they or some other private operator moves in on that site, if they have had to pay €7 million, what sort of rents are they going to be charging on that site? We will be talking about similarly unaffordable rents at the level I have described. That is, about €1,000 or 1,500 a month, maybe €2,000 a month, on a site that is right beside the college.

What should happen there? It does not take a rocket scientist to work out what should happen. That site should be taken over by the college - that is, by the Government - to build the student accommodation. Another reason they objected to the developer's proposal was that Bakers Corner was one of the very few social spaces for the students. They would like to see it developed with some social amenities for the students and affordable student accommodation. That is what should happen to that site. Frankly, if it were a socialist government, we would just flipping seize the site off that property developer. However, even now, at this late stage, there should be some sort of compulsory purchase, and the developer should not even benefit from the speculation on the site. This is absolutely outrageous when they got a strategic housing development permission for that site. There should be some way of clawing back the profiteering that, clearly, that developer was engaged in on this strategically important site for the provision of student accommodation.

That sums it up because, as we know, a lot of these developers are speculating with permissions, and if they do build, they are charging extortionate rents. That is not the way to solve the student accommodation crisis. What is actually necessary is for the Government to provide, on State-owned sites on the college campuses, affordable student accommodation. If we are talking about an announcement in the summer economic statement of budget surpluses of €8 billion and so on, the Government certainly cannot plead that it does not have the money to put in the capital investment to build the affordable student accommodation required.

I have one other thing to mention from the USI. According to USI, DCU has announced on - I think it said - three occasions, plans to build new on-campus student accommodation in DCU. Not one sod has been turned. They keep making the announcement but they do not build it. I suggest that this issue should be addressed.

Finally, I would say that even with all these measures being taken, and if the Government did ramp up to the level necessary to provide for that shortfall of 30,000 affordable student accommodations that are lacking, it will not happen by this October. We are going to face into the crisis, one way or another, this September or October. In my view, the Government should be looking at emergency measures to deal with that, providing emergency funding for emergency accommodation for students, and looking at repurposing empty buildings near college or university campuses. If the Minister of State takes UCD, I can think of multiple empty office blocks in the vicinity of UCD. If what we are facing is a situation of students being homeless, couch surfing, travelling for hours and so on, some of those empty buildings should be purchased or taken over in some shape or form and repurposed to provide the emergency accommodation that may be necessary for many students who cannot find the student accommodation they need. I will leave it at that. We are happy to support the Bill but there is a hell of a lot more to be done.

6:35 pm

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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Movement is definitely needed on facilitating the needs of students who are facing sky-high rents. Addressing the situation whereby students find themselves having to sign a contract that would lock them into paying for potentially unused accommodation for the summer months has been required for some time. Specifically, this Bill stipulates that specific student accommodation contracts cannot exceed 41 weeks. If a student requests to occupy the accommodation for a longer period, then they can request the landlord's agreement to do this.

Action on this is overdue in light of the impossible task many students face in what is a dysfunctional housing market. The Government has created a scenario in which vulture funds have got their claws into the student accommodation sector so much that they effectively make this type of accommodation unaffordable. In addition, the amount of purpose-built student accommodation that is controlled by vulture funds rivals the amount owned by universities. This shows you the road this Government has taken us on.

Granted, this Bill seeks to address instances in which landlords demand a full year's contract from students who do not need the full year but who are put in an impossible situation. I would also ask the Minister for clarity on contracts that are agreed during the course of the academic year, in other words, when the 41-week period has commenced. While the Bill provides for another measure to enable a student to terminate an agreement between May and October with 28 days' notice, no similar specifics are given about the 41-week period. If a student was to avail of accommodation in, say, December, would that student be required to enter a contract that would last 41 weeks, and therefore be subject to rent payments into and across the summer months?

In essence, more needs to be done. Deputy Mairéad Farrell brought forward an important Bill to get renters of digs accommodation essential rights and protections. Students need the substance of that Bill alongside the key aspects this one seeks to address. I do not know why the Government is cherry-picking in this regard. Students have a lot on their plates, and they need rental protections, affordable rents and the knowledge that somebody has their back. Essentially, we need a properly functioning housing market, not an investment fund's playground that puts tenants last on the list of priorities for them. We need a new approach because the Government, as shown, has failed, and the students are suffering for that. As has been said throughout this debate, we need vulture funds out of student accommodation and we need to build accommodation students can afford.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, and it needs to be implemented as quickly as possible. Education is fundamental to the future of our country. Students going to college should have a good experience, and that includes safe and good accommodation at a reasonable price. This has not been the case in many instances in the past. Now we have a situation where some landlords and others are imposing additional costs on the family of a student going to college by looking for rent for 51 weeks of the year when it should be for only 41. It is important that this legislation is in place as soon as possible to stamp out that. A number of parents who have had to pay for accommodation for the entire year have contacted my office in the past month or two inquiring about this legislation. Will this legislation apply retrospectively to people who got accommodation earlier this year? It is important this is tied down as a matter of urgency.

Speculation in student accommodation needs to be stamped out. The best way to provide it is through State resources and through the colleges so that it is purpose-built with social areas and amenities to give a good experience to students when they go to college.

In Galway, we are blessed with a fine university, and now a second university in the Atlantic Technological University.

The latter has campuses in Castlebar, Mountbellew, Letterkenny, Sligo and Letterfrack. The problem in all of these places is accommodation. We have willing lecturers and management within the colleges to deliver the education that is required and students who want to avail of it. For families who may have two or three children going to college, this is a significant burden. It is because the cost is so high and the grants are available to people of a certain income level. If you have three or four children going to university, it is a heck of a challenge over a period of four years when they are studying for their level 8 degrees, never mind going further. It is important that people who have the ambition for education are given every opportunity to get qualified as well as they would desire.

Between Galway and Limerick, the railway line which was reopened between Ennis and Athenry has been the fastest-growing railway line in Ireland in recent years. One of the great news stories is that it is being used by many students who are commuting to college because they cannot get accommodation, but the success of that is such that they often have to stand or sit in the aisles when travelling because the trains are full. It is great that Irish Rail is providing the service, that the fares are reasonable and that students are participating, but we could capture all that is good in that and deliver the rail service north from Athenry and up to Tuam and Claremorris, which would then connect the west of Ireland for our students, whether they are going to Castlebar, Sligo, Galway, Limerick or beyond.

We have to be imaginative. We cannot just keep building big blocks and trying to get people into the cities and the traffic. We have to have an innovative way of doing things. The railway line is an opportunity by means of which we can reduce the number of cars on our roads in the future. We will also give a good experience to students who will say that they do not need a car if there is a train service. If you were living in London, you would never need a car because you have all the public transport there. We need to look at not just student accommodation but the ways in which we get students into colleges from wherever they are.

Building houses in rural villages or towns is much cheaper than building them in the cities of Galway, Limerick and Dublin for the simple reason that land is much cheaper. The only problem there is that the land is not serviced. We draw up national development plans, county development plans, regional development plans and local area plans. We are always working under the restrictions of the Planning Regulator's core strategy, which sets out how much land we should designate as residential zoned land for the next five years, or ten years under the new legislation. The trick that is being missed is that sometimes much of that land will never be available for building on. We zone the land on the basis of population increases that might happen in the future. Our thinking is flawed in a way. We should be zoning much more land as residential for the simple reason that if we have plentiful land, we will get it at a reduced price. That would be one way of making accommodation affordable.

Where there are local area plans and where councillors make decisions on zoning, it is very undemocratic when these plans go to the Planning Regulator for comments. If the Planning Regulator makes a recommendation, it follows that the Minister will sign that into law and take the entire process of how councillors have zoned land away from the them. That is totally undemocratic. We were speaking about local democracy in the Seanad Chamber only the week before last. We were talking about how we can do things better. We elect our councillors in local areas. They have experience of those areas and the best interests of the people at heart. In Athenry, where ministerial direction has been given on development, we are now building a factory that will accommodate 1,200 employees of Dexcom. We have another building going up shortly which will accommodate another 145 workers locally in an indigenous business in the town. In Tuam, Valeo employs 1,200 people. However, we have not built a private housing scheme in any of these places since 2008. We do our local area plans. We have consultants and we spend money on doing every kind of presentation. Ultimately, however, we are not building houses for private sale. The affordable housing situation has not really kicked in because it is not affordable yet. There needs to be more Government support for that.

If we are realistic about saving our young people, educating them and keeping them in our country, we need to look at this in a very different way from how we have been looking at it. Right now, there is an emergency with housing. Much of what is in the planning Bill before the Houses will not solve our problems. It is so complicated and intense. Where a local area plan has been completed and where we have areas with residential zoning, the next step should not be planning permission, as such, but a case that the developers go to the local authority with their proposal and get them agreed in consultation with the local authority and the councillors also being involved in order that we can, in a short time, get planning permission to allow people to get on with building houses. The level of stagnation in the market is beyond belief. If you talk to people who work in the construction industry - not speculators or developers but contractors who build houses - you will find at this stage that they are looking at alternatives to the house-building market. That is at a time when we need people to come into house-building. They are withdrawing from it because there is no market for them to work in.

We have many challenges. We need to take a blank canvas and look at what the problem is - the quantum of the problem - and what would be the quickest way to bring about solutions over the next two to three years to turn matters around. We should not engage in significant discussion; we should get on with it and do it in a tangible way to make things work.

We need far greater investment. Irish Water has let rural Ireland down. It has not invested in wastewater infrastructure in the rural towns and villages that everybody wants us to build houses in rather than in rural areas. We cannot do it because we do not have the sewerage system. Galway city and the east of the county has had big plans for the Ardaun corridor since I was on the council 15 years ago. This is land that is designated for industrial and residential development, but we cannot put a house on it because we do not have any sewerage infrastructure. A wastewater treatment project has been discussed for years for the east of the county. It does not have a hope of ever seeing the light of day if we continue on the same pathway with Irish Water. We are not funding it properly or giving it funding to do the job. We should call it what it is and say that we are blaming Irish Water but that we are not giving it the money it needs to do the work.

Wastewater treatment plants in our towns and villages are not being provided quickly enough or far enough in advance of the demand for houses. We are trying to play catch-up, and we are not progressing things in the way we should be. We need to think outside the box when it comes to infrastructure for housing.

That will have a positive effect on student accommodation. We are trying to help our young people. They are the future. By charging such high rent for accommodation, the days of free education are well and truly gone out the door.

We must look at the root of this issue swiftly. There is not a lot of time left for this Government. No matter what, next March, we are out the door. Will somebody inject a new, fresh idea into what the Government is doing in order that we might get tangible results between now and the general election?

6:55 pm

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I spoke in the Chamber last week. The Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, was present. We discussed student accommodation and the fact that people have to rent properties for more than 12 months. The Minister of State said that there would be legislation in this regard. However, the legislation before us relates to student accommodation, not private dwellings. My son goes to college; he and three other people rent a property together. We were told he had to rent the property for 12 months because they are afraid to let anyone into the house; if somebody goes in, because of the RTB, they will not be able to get them out and the students will have no place to go next year. The Government is legislating for student accommodation and NAMA properties. It is not legislating for a situation many people are caught in with rental accommodation. It is rental accommodation for students, but it is private. Something is needed for landlords so that if they give a short let for eight weeks or two months, that person is moved from there and it does not involve the RTB. It is for that time. They get out after that time and allow the students in if it is a short let. There are people with houses are afraid to do that. This Bill does not make provision for that. The Minister of State did not know what he was talking about last week. I tried to explain it to him. I am talking about real people whose children are away and who are trying to make sure they have accommodation for next year. We want to make sure that landlords are not afraid to rent out houses for two months and allow the students to come back for ten months, if they so wish. That is where the problem lies.

We are looking at infrastructure. I do not know how many times I have stated that every place you go, there is a lack of infrastructure. For example, look at Askeaton in County Limerick. A Fianna Fáil councillor there retired after 39 years. Fianna Fáil promised him 39 years ago that there would be a sewerage system; it still had not been done. It may be done by the start of 2027. We need infrastructure in order that people can have places to stay in if they so wish.

I was at a social farm in Kilmeedy yesterday. It is in a small village with a little restaurant and a community place. They help each other in a small community of a parish of around 300 or 400 people. If there is something on the social farm, they get all the stuff from the restaurant and they support each other. The need to comply with the different regulations the Government lays down is making it impossible for them to survive. Students come for training on the social farm because it is all about nature and teaching people. The Government stands in their way with various items of legislation. If we invest in towns and villages, they will support themselves and will not need the support of the Government. The Government must invest in transport and other infrastructure to make sure these areas can grow. If they can grow, people going to college and renting will come back and set up at home. They will not have to leave again. Common sense is not that common. Once there is investment in a place, everybody will support each other. Stop putting obstacles in their way and allow people and communities to grow.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024 aims to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, specifically in relation to SSA tenancy licences. The Bill stipulates that student accommodation will adhere to the traditional September to May academic year, up to 41 weeks, unless a student requests a longer tenancy. It is all about "mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí". We must do that, but many obstacles are put in front of young people. In that vein, I welcome Joey Hawkins to the Gallery. He is a young student from the meánscoil in Clonmel, County Tipperary. All students have be to nurtured and supported. Thankfully, my family has finished going through college. Our last girl finished this last academic year, just a month or six weeks ago. It is a difficult challenge. As with anything, you have to live it to understand it. There is fear every year from the time they come out of college, all summer and into September and the scramble for places. The exploitation of young people is not fair. Chuaigh mo chailíní chun na Gaillimhe, go Baile Átha Cliath, go Corcaigh agus go Luimneach. We have experience of four different university cities. There are some very good student accommodation providers; we can never knock or stop private developments because without them, we would not have many facilities. I am a big supporter of building and public private partnerships. When a contract goes out to private builders and whatever is built is rented back to the State, projects are done quickly. If there are good officials overseeing that, there will be good-quality buildings. We have failed to deliver in the public system. There were wonderful visionaries like Seán Lemass. We got rural electrification. There were many good people involved. Up to the nineties and even the noughties, we built buildings but then everything stopped.

As mentioned by Deputy Canney and the Sinn Féin leader, the price of building in Dublin is not the same as in the country. The price of land, moving waste and everything in Dublin is much higher. The price of labour is higher as well because the cost of living is higher. It is easier in the country, but towns and villages do not have the infrastructure such as sewerage or water schemes. In a town like Clonmel, which has a new university campus, there is no water supply. It used to be the biggest inland town - Athlone might beat it now. We have an intermittent supply of water. Uisce Éireann does not seem to give a toss. Water can be off daily or weekly. It was off all last summer, which was one of the wettest on record. We were without water in our taps every week and at many weekends. The supply is so unsure. We had a good source from the mountains, beyond Clonmel golf club, in Poulnagunogue. It is a gravity supply. Irish Water wants to dismantle it. It has been there for probably 300 years. It wants to dismantle it and pump the water back up the hill to meet it. It beggars belief that engineers would see this - we have to ensure there is infrastructure and policies for private sector people to build, to ensure students and their parents do not have to worry.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Student accommodation is a difficult situation for people in my constituency in Cork who are trying to go to college, or people anywhere. Many people come to my office to see if we can source accommodation for them. It is desperate after spending so many years going through college that they cannot find accommodation. Some people are couch surfing and sleeping in cars. It is a terrible situation for young people to end up in after all their years of education and their parents paying towards their education. They work during the summer to fund their education. The one thing they want is accommodation. We do not seem to be able to provide that. It will follow them throughout their lives.

In many cases it means that people just think they want to get out of this country because they cannot cope with the pressure of not being able to have a home, not being able to buy a home or not being able to build a home. It is terrible that this is being inflicted on people. I have a constituent in west Cork who returned to Ireland some time back. He sought planning permission. Unfortunately for him, his wife and their two children, he did not get it. I met his mother during the local election campaign and she told me that when he did not get it, he jumped on a plane and said "To hell with this country; it has gone anyway". He has gone back to Canada. That is terrible. The man in question was able to give full employment locally, but he could not get planning on his own bit of ground down in west Cork. It is embarrassing. The mother said that she did not think she would vote. Even though I believe in democracy and the right to vote it was very hard to blame her when she put her case. I saw where things could have been put right but we did not know it in time. The problem is that we could well understand why a person would be that situation.

There is a crisis in this country. Some Minister must stand up and accept that Uisce Éireann has been dysfunctional from start to finish. It is unable to do whatever it is meant to do, which is simply to supply water to homes and take sewage from them. Consider Shannonvale in Clonakilty. I was at a meeting last Thursday night. I also attended a meeting there 12 months previously. I have had several meetings, and I met with the committee. They have been waiting for 27 years. It is not one year or seven years; the people there have been waiting for 27 years for an upgrade to their sewerage system. There is raw sewage in a public play park that was meant to be for children. Uisce Éireann has it cordoned off. The council has blamed Irish Water and Irish Water has blamed the council. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has come down. He did usual queen mother thing by running around and waving, blaming both of them and then heading up town. He came back to Dublin and nothing happened. We have had non-delivery for 20 years. Councillor Daniel Sexton and I attended the meeting last Thursday night. People are exasperated. Raw sewage is seeping down into River Argideen, which is a main water source for Clonakilty and Timoleague. It is seeping down into the drinking water pipes in Clonakilty. It is an astonishing situation.

7:05 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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What of the EPA?

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The EPA does not care. Nobody cares. It is all brushed under the carpet: say nothing, just block off the play area, nobody runs around there and no children are allowed to because there is sewage all over the ground. It is going into the aquifer. No one is accountable. The senior Minister comes down and then goes back up to Dublin. He will not sit down with Irish Water - or Uisce Éireann or whatever they want to call it - to resolve the matter. The organisation in question has changed their its four or five times to give itself a new identity in order that we might forget all the things it has done wrong.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to get the opportunity to talk about the very important matter of accommodation for college students. Kerry students have a serious difficulties at different times in getting accommodation in places like Limerick and Cork. The Minister of State will appreciate that Limerick is a savage distance from some parts of Kerry. It takes two hours to get from Killarney to Limerick, but there are places farther west such as Lauragh, which is another hour's drive, Cahirsiveen, Valentia Island, Ballinskelligs or Portmagee. Those places are very far away. If you cannot get accommodation, it is a serious problem for a student. Many parents and students find themselves distraught trying to find accommodation. The real pressure starts when the second round of college places are announced. All the student accommodation that was available is gone by then. Students then must travel from Killarney up to Limerick on a bus and then back down again. One can imagine that kind of pressure that puts on students who are trying to do lectures, taking everything in, and then being tired and having to be out again at 6 a.m. the following morning. This is a serious difficulty. I appreciate what the Government is doing with the 41 weeks, but what will happen for the other ten weeks to the landlords who own the houses? If they have mortgages, how will they continue to pay them. Will this mean that landlords will opt out of supplying accommodation for students? This measure could have an adverse effect. I am very concerned at the idea of giving more power and authority to the RTB.

There is a bigger question about all accommodation. I have asked the Tánaiste and I have asked other Ministers too about this. There is a system whereby landlords get €800 tax free to rent houses out to Ukrainians while there are houses all over the place not being rented out. They are everywhere and all over Kerry. We must give some incentive to landlords to rent them out because currently there are two problems: if they are rented out, the RTB makes it very difficult for them and if the landlords need their houses back they cannot get them back. It is, however, different if the landlords rent to Ukrainians because then they could get a house back after one week if they really wanted it. That system should also apply here; perhaps not a week, but within a reasonable amount of time. Landlords have to wait 12 months or two to three years to get their houses back. People are not interested in doing that. On top of that, if they get €700 or €800 for the house per month, they have to pay 52% tax. It is not worthwhile, and that is why the houses are vacant and empty all around Kerry, Cork and other places. If the Government really wanted do something and sort out the accommodation, it could do it overnight by extending this tax exemption to landlords who rent to local Irish people. Goddamn it, they are our own people and it would make a big difference.

What will happen the student accommodation for the other 11 weeks? I can see a problem there. If people are paying mortgages on those properties, how will they survive if this is not addressed? It is only window-dressing. While the intention might be good, the Government must do more and should answer more questions.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State. I first must declare an interest in terms of the provision of student accommodation. We have to make sure that we are talking in a like-minded manner about this issue. With regard to purpose-built student accommodation, there should be no problem in the world with the people who own those properties and especially if they are managed and if they are very near the colleges. In many instances, we are talking about purpose-built student accommodation. Those students should only be asked to engage in a lease for the academic year. As the Minister of State will be aware, during the period those properties are idle they are rented again to foreign students. Whether it is in Cork, Galway, Limerick or any of the bigger places, this is what happens with that accommodation. Of course there is the question of people with private houses and what they will do with them for the remainder of the time if they rent them out for the academic year. Perhaps for some reason some students might actually want to stay where their accommodation was. It is only if they want to. Absolutely no parent or no student should be forced to sign up to something or to a property they do not want. That should not happen. It should be their own free will and their own free choice. They should have the security of knowing that when they go back in September the accommodation would be there for them again.

We have a very large problem in that we do not have enough supply at the moment. The reason the prices are going up is because the actual amount of available accommodation is so small. Every day of the week at a certain period of the year when parents are sourcing student accommodation I and the people working in my office are literally inundated with queries about student accommodation. We try to help families to source it in the different areas, be it in Cork, Tralee or Limerick. County Kerry is affected of course, but we have an additional problem with transport and distance from home. Take, for instance, somebody attending college in Cork. The county bounds are an awful long way from Portmagee. It is an awful long way from anywhere on the Iveragh Peninsula. It is a long way from any place on the Beara Peninsula, back towards Tuosist, Lauragh and Ardea. Those people have an awful long way to travel. If they want to come home at the weekends it is a much bigger expense on them than on other people because of where they live. Whether they are from Cahirsiveen, Killorglin or Glencar, those students are as perfectly entitled to a good education as if they were from Blackrock.

There is no difference between Ballinskelligs and Blackrock. When it comes to the way the Government is handling this whole issue, I firmly believe that many politicians account for much of the cause of the exodus of people from wanting to provide accommodation. It is true that we see local authorities that will not fix a latch in the house of a local authority tenant. At the same time, they will have no problem putting a person out of the private accommodation business by giving them such a doing. We all want standards and want things to be right in properties. If there is one law for local authority standards, however, that should be the same as the standard for private rented accommodation. The Government and the local authorities do not seem to get or understand this point. Year-on-year, those who have been involved in the rental market are getting out of it. That is causing us an awful lot of trouble now.

To be honest, the Minister's Government has been an awful lot to the forefront in being the cause of that problem by not trying to do things to incentivise people involved in the private rental sector, whether for student accommodation or other private rented accommodation, and ensure they stay at the business. I say this because if they do not provide accommodation, you would not want to be relying on the Government to do so. The Minister knows this. I am not blaming this Government. I am saying that this Government and successive governments have not done enough to ensure there is enough suitable student accommodation or private rental accommodation. I always say the crisis is bad, but, my goodness, it is getting really bad now. Every time I am at clinics, including last night, what was coming up was accommodation, accommodation and accommodation. We are simply just not doing enough to ensure we have the supply. If we had enough supply, that would help in reducing the ever-increasing rents. I do not want to eat into other people's time.

7:15 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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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.

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

7:25 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Cuirim fáilte mhór roimh an mBille seo. Níl i gceist leis ach Bille gearr le sé mhír. Tá sé níos lú ná seacht leathanach. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus an Roinn as ucht a gcuid oibre. Is Bille dearfach é. Tá sé beagáinín maol ach cuirim fáilte roimhe. Is bun agus barr an scéil é nach mbeidh ar dhaltaí íoc as bliain iomlán. Ní bheidh siad ach ag íoc as an tréimhse acadúla. Is maith an rud é sin. Beidh siad in ann úsáid a bhaint as an RTB. Is maith an rud é sin ach, cosúil le mo chomhghleacaí anseo, aithním go bhfuil gá le hacmhainní a chur sa treo sin. Tá an RTB faoi bhrú damanta faoi láthair. Níl an bord in ann déileáil leis na cásanna atá os a chomhair so beidh gá le tuilleadh acmhainní. Beidh gá le hathbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an mBille freisin ionas go mbeidh monatóireacht i gceist le fáil amach an bhfuil sé ag feidhmiú.

I will not repeat all that, but I welcome this very short Bill and I thank the Minister of State for his work. Students will only pay for the academic term, which is to be welcomed, as are the other positive things in it. The RTB is under-resourced, under pressure and there are constant complaints about it. I do not like to stand here and castigate an organisation or body, but we are receiving ongoing representations about the delays. Obviously, when that is the case, an analysis should be done on what resources are needed to fund the body so it can function effectively, rather than us giving out about it.

While I have the opportunity to say this, I spoke when Deputy Mairéad Farrell brought her motion before the Dáil. I think that was last week, although I have lost track. I have the opportunity to repeat this point. I did not realise I would be speaking on this section, but I think it is important to repeat for once that we cannot deal with the student accommodation crisis in isolation. It is just not possible. The crisis did not happen overnight, and it has been created. The Minister of State knows that, and I know he inherited this situation. It was market-driven for a long time. I watched in desperation as a local councillor. I did not just watch, but I spoke out and got nowhere when the Corrib Great Southern was sold off by Bertie Ahern after he had promised that he would not do so. It was right beside what was then GMIT but has been demolished since. It was obvious that we should have taken it over, put a bridge across it and used it as student accommodation, but that did not happen. Over and over and over, we threw it onto the market.

The university was a disgrace, and I am on record as saying it was a disgrace, as were most universities. There was huge improvement with the new president. Tá sé ag éirí as. Unfortunately, the new president who made a big change on every level is leaving earlier to do other things. Yet, there has been no attempt to build accommodation on campus. They are doing a deal with a school to transfer up there. These are terrible decisions and this was rather than using the land they had to build student accommodation that was funded by the State. Money should be given to the universities so they can build, so there could be affordable rent for students and so everyone can participate.

We have created an utter horror on the ground and the Minister of State knows that. We hear of details, such as those to which Deputy Harkin has referred, about how there is an announcement of €100 million, but there are no details about it. Again, I watch in horror because we have seen this with the primary care centres. We have seen the primary care centres ostensibly being built for the public, but they are not at all. The only part the public gets to play is by paying the money over to a private contractor so it can lease it back to us for 25 years or whatever term. There are no public buildings. We are gaining no public buildings. I am dreading that this is exactly what we are doing, and I have tabled a series of questions.

I was impressed, maybe foolishly, or naively might be a better word, when the current Taoiseach was a Minister because he said he was going to facilitate the building of student accommodation in public buildings on public land. Yet, that is not what is happening, and it is very difficult to follow the intricate trade arrangements that are being made by the market. We have therefore learned nothing. The market is a disaster when it is left unregulated and when it is not balanced with the State.

We know this from the privatisation of refuse services in Galway and elsewhere in the country, as well as all over the world. I mentioned Toronto and the campaign of the unions, but some unions stood idly by when the service was being privatised. I fully support their campaign to remunicipalise all of these essential services. "Public service" became a bad word. Jobs in the tech area were lauded and praised, unlike jobs in public bodies. Members might remember all the debates at the time of the crisis when we were encouraged to disparage the public service. I accept that we must make it more efficient but we must have public service, we must resource it and we must have government policies that recognise that certain services are essential in a civilised society, and in a republic. I will repeat this over and over. We must have public education in public buildings. We must also have public housing on public land. The prices that we hear for affordable houses are just bananas.

I will finish on a point made by Deputy Canney on infrastructure and regional development, because it resonated with me. An Cheathrú Rua has no sewage treatment plant. The raw sewage is going straight into the sea. I have been elected since 1999, when I was a city councillor, and I have been watching matters with utter despair. Irish Water inherited the situation. It went with a site that was not suitable. There cannot be balanced regional development without infrastructure. Similarly in Galway city, there is the Ardaun corridor, which was commenced when I was a city councillor, but there has been no progress on it. I have raised previously the lack of infrastructure, which means we cannot have balanced regional development. Then we have the absence of trains. All of us on this side of the House are imploring the Government to provide rail services. Does the Minister of State remember that? I will not mention their names, but various people said on RTÉ that it would never work. The rail line to Limerick is a great success, but those same people have not come back and said they were wrong. They are still putting obstacles to the roll-out of the full rail service. I am over time, so I will stop.

7:35 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí go léir. I thank all the Deputies. I will try to skim over some of the issues raised before I go to the closing speech. Deputy Bacik made a point as I came into the Chamber about the Labour Party's Bill. A number of aspects of the Bill have been addressed, including the model tenancy agreement, the non-registration of tenancies, tenancies of limited duration, and the rent increases in RPZs following substantial refurbishment. The RTB has a significant role in terms of monitoring unlawful RPZ rent increases and it does take action.

Deputy Cullinane and, similarly, Deputy Murnane O'Connor raised SETU, which is in my constituency as well. It is most welcome to see its evolution, progression and growth in the south-east region. I was a student in Carlow IT myself so it is most welcome to see its progression. The Taoiseach made very positive comments earlier today in response to questions on the Waterford Crystal site, in conjunction with the Minister, Deputy O'Donovan.

Deputy Cian O'Callaghan raised digs accommodation. We responded positively to that last week. In my closing speech in that debate I stated that I wish it to be debated further in the committee. It is important we do that because it has merits. It is an important sector. The Government is being proactive. We take students' rights seriously. I refute any comments to the contrary. He also raised the need to tackle the rent-for-sex issue in legislation. Again, that is something the Government wants to address.

Deputy Canney raised purpose-built, State-led student accommodation, as did some other Deputies. A wider issue was raised by a number of Deputies, including Deputy Mairéad Farrell. The Bill will apply to a tenancy or licence created after the Bill is brought into operation via a commencement order signed by the Minister. He intends to commence the provisions as soon as possible once the Bill is enacted by the President. The Seanad will be asked on Thursday to pass a motion approving early signature by the President. A student would need to carefully examine any legal document he or she has signed, or is asked to sign, before the Bill comes into operation. That is an important point I wish to clarify.

In response to a point that was made by Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, this legislation relates just to student-specific accommodation, so there is no change for other rental properties. We have addressed a number of points that were raised by Deputy Harkin on provisions relating to the RTB. I take on board the points raised on public transport, which the Government is addressing as well.

I thank Members for their contributions and for the points they have raised this evening. From what I have heard, it is clear that Deputies agree that requiring students or their parents to pay for student-specific accommodation during the summer months is not acceptable to this House. It is also very clear that of all renters, seeking or requiring students to pay advance rent payments that exceed the lawful limit of one month's rent is wholly objectionable.

A campaign by the USI in 2021 was influential in having the Residential Tenancies Acts amended for all renters to restrict advance rent payments to no more than one month's rent and to place the same restriction on the amount of any deposit. Provision was also made in 2021 to allow students to pay a greater advance rent payment, if they wished and their landlord agreed. This provision was intended to help students but is being used to their disadvantage by some private student-specific accommodation providers to obtain large advance rent payments from students. Deputies have highlighted cases here this evening. This Bill will stamp out the practice. Under this Bill, an advance rent payment of more than one month's rent is only payable to a public or private education provider where it forms part of a combined payment in respect of both rent and tuition fees. This amendment should not have been required. In fact, it is regrettable that this entire Bill is required at all. The outcry when some private student-specific accommodation providers moved to a minimum 51-week letting was loud and clear. Expecting students to pay for accommodation that they do not need over the summer months is not a step too far - it is beyond a country mile.

An Taoiseach is very clear, and has been very clear from the outset in his former role as Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, as is his successor in that role, the Minister, Deputy O'Donovan, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the entire Government, that minimum tenancies or licences of 51 weeks for student-specific accommodation is unacceptable. Putting the cost implications aside, it is also clearly unsuitable for the vast majority of students.

I, too, express my sincere thanks to the members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I am grateful that the committee waived formal pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill, given the time-critical nature of its provisions. With the limited Oireachtas time remaining in this session, there simply was not enough time to proceed with formal pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill prior to its publication. My Department officials attended the committee to provide a briefing on the Bill, which I hope Deputies found helpful. Their waiver has allowed this House to debate the Bill on Second Stage today and allows the Bill to progress through the Houses of the Oireachtas this week in advance of the summer recess.

I also express my gratitude to the Chief Whip's office and the Business Committee for making time available in the busy schedule at the end of this session to allow this Bill to progress through all Stages in the House this week. As Members are aware, this Bill provides for priority legislative proposals for a quick passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

In addition, I thank the Chair and all Deputies for facilitating the swift passage of this Bill to ensure these protections are in place as early as possible for students. The Government is sending a clear signal that we remain steadfast in our goal to introduce protections for tenants, in this case students, where they are warranted and can stand up to legal and policy scrutiny.

I am aware of the difficulties faced by many students in accessing affordable and suitable accommodation to facilitate access to higher education. The Government is committed to addressing this challenge. I believe we share a common goal of providing quality, affordable accommodation for students where they are secure and protected.

Housing for All commits to improve the supply and affordability of rental accommodation and the security of tenure for renters, including students. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, outlined this in his opening contribution. Last week, this House debated a Bill proposed by Deputies Farrell and Ó Broin regarding digs accommodation. The Government very much values digs accommodation as an integral and distinct housing solution for students and others. Income from digs is very important to those who open up their homes to share with lodgers. The social interaction that both parties enjoy from a digs arrangement is also very valuable and beneficial to society. The Government agrees that everybody, including lodgers, should have a sense of security and protection in their home. I look forward to debates on the Bill. The Government acknowledges that accommodation for those unable to live at home is the largest cost faced by students.

The Government is developing a policy response to stimulate the supply of additional accommodation. This includes activation of projects with planning permission in the immediate term and the development of programmes for delivery of new accommodation through a standardised design process. Additionally, we will focus on vacancy and refurbishment projects and systematic responses to supporting measures to provide sustainable transport and access links to higher education institutions. This issue was also raised by many Deputies. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy O'Donovan, is committed to developing a new student accommodation strategy which will be published this year.

Earlier this year, both Departments became aware that a number of private SSA operators had moved towards a 51-week occupancy model, thus significantly increasing the cost of accommodation by up to 25% for students while attending third-level education. As I have outlined, the Government considers that students should not be sought or required to pay for accommodation beyond what is needed for the academic year, unless individual students request a longer tenancy or licence that suits them and their accommodation provider. We must avoid any cost increase that acts as a barrier to accessing and participating in, and progressing through, higher education. A third-level education should be accessible to anyone who wants it. Equal opportunity is our goal, for the good of all society.

It was also brought to our attention that some SSA operators are seeking advanced payments of more than one month's rent to secure a tenancy or licence, in contravention of section 19B of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2022. To address these issues, the Department and I worked closely with An Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy O'Donovan, and his Department to reduce the barriers to accessing and progressing through third-level education. If enacted, the Bill will ensure that SSA tenancies or licences are aligned to the traditional academic calendar of September to May, up to a maximum of 41 weeks. This does not, however, preclude students from seeking a longer tenancy or licence if they require it for their educational or personal needs.

The Bill will also strengthen the protections for students with regard to advance rent payments to ensure they are not sought or required to make payments of more than what is currently legislated for to secure a tenancy or licence in SSA. As I have said, following the enactment of the Bill, the only exception in which payments of more than one month's rent in advance will be permitted is where a student pays both rent and tuition fees to a single relevant provider, that is, a public or private educational provider. In addition, the Bill amends section 58 of the Residential Tenancies Act, empowering the termination of an SSA tenancy or licence by a student by means of a 28-day notice period between 1 May and 1 October in any year, whether or not there has been failure by the landlord or licensor to comply with any obligations of the tenancy or licence.

The provisions of the Bill will not affect any existing tenancy or licence. However, I do wish to add my voice to those calling for the provisions of the Bill to be given effect in respect of any existing tenancy or licence. I am sure, if asked by providers, students would be happy to alter their existing tenancy and licence agreements to align with the improved protections under the Bill. Student specific accommodation providers have got this wrong and can put this right for the students who are their customers. The customer is always right and the customers are calling loudly and clearly.

I thank Deputies again for their contributions and I commend the Residential Tenancies (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2024 to the House. It is intended as a significant step forward in enhancing tenancy protections, and I look forward to progressing through the remaining Stages of the Bill tomorrow. I reiterate that I find it regrettable that the Bill is necessary at all. That said, the Government has no hesitation in protecting students and their families. The Government recognises that some families have more than one student to fund through third-level education at the same time, and this has also been recognised by some Deputies this afternoon. Every member of a family deserves the same chance to a third-level education and the Government is here to help families to manage their way through. Every person in the country deserves the opportunity to study at third level. The Government will continue to break down barriers. Our well-educated workforce is a credit to the sacrifices made by families the length and breadth of the country. The Bill seeks to ensure that SSA providers cannot cause families to make sacrifices that are unnecessary and deeply unfair.

Question put and declared carried.