Ireland’s universities have insisted that the huge rent increases faced by students in recent years “have been in privately owned accommodation” rather than college-owned rooms, defending their decision to lobby for an exemption to new legislation that will impose rent caps on purpose-built student accommodation.
In an email statement to The University Times, the head of communications of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), Lia O’Sullivan, said it was “disappointing” that the government included college-run accommodation in tough new legislation on purpose-built student accommodation.
O’Sullivan said that “the government did not accept our case, in spite of the fact that the recent problems that have been highlighted have been in privately-owned accommodation”.
She said the IUA is now working “to ensure that the implementation of the new regulatory regime is carried out as smoothly as possible and in the best interest of students”.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) condemned the IUA for its attempts to gain an exemption, after the Irish Times reported that the head of the IUA, Jim Miley, had sent a letter to the government opposing new regulations that will mean rent increases in purpose-built student accommodation are capped at four per cent and student tenants can appeal to the Residential Tenancies Board in cases where disputes arise.
In an email statement to The University Times, USI President Síona Cahill said it was “unacceptable that the IUA or any other provider of purpose-built student accommodation would consider themselves above or outside the law when it comes to the need for students to have clarified and strengthened tenancy rights”.
Cahill said USI was “not about to let anyone attempt to weaken” the legislation “based on soundbites or click-bait concerns about students attacking each other on campus in rooms”.
“For too long students were left in precarious conditions when it came to their agreements with on-campus accommodation providers, and with this legislation and the engagement between USI and the RTB, that darkness is now being lifted”, Cahill said.
O’Sullivan said the IUA has “now engaged with the Residential Tenancies Board in this regard”.
“The aim of our university members”, she said, “is to provide safe and affordable accommodation to its students at the lowest possible charges based on a cost-recovery model”.
In the letters to the government, Miley said that the legislation – the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 – could force up the price of college-run student accommodation, as well as making it harder for universities to intervene in cases of alleged sexual assault.
Miley said the cost of registering students with the Residential Tenancies Board would cause a “significant administrative overhead and cost which will ultimately have to be borne by students in the form of increased rents”.
He also said allowing students to appeal to the tenancies board could cause a safety issue in cases of alleged sexual assaults. The new regulations would mean universities could no longer “relocate the students involved to different accommodation blocks” pending statutory investigations.
Under the new legislation, Miley added, students will be able to appeal to the board in cases like these, “potentially putting others including those in residences at risk”.
The IUA also complained that the legislation will impede universities’ efforts to rent out rooms in the summer, robbing them of income and leading “to higher rents for students during the semester”.
The Irish Times reported that a spokesperson for the Department of Education said that exempting college-run accommodation would mean only students in privately built accommodation would benefit from the legislation.
According to the spokesperson, Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor “was insistent that all students must benefit equally from the new legislative measures”.