Rent pressure zones to be applied to student accommodation

Tadgh McNally & Aoife O'Brien

The Rent Pressure Zone amendment will be law from July 1st.

Rent caps for student accommodation are set to be introduced on July 1st 2019, a year on from the Shanowen Shakedown protests.

The rent caps, which will no longer allow hikes of more than four per cent in Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA), are part of an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Bill.

The amendment presented by the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, will also allow for students to avail of support from the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). Minister Murphy also clarified that accommodation owned by colleges would also be covered.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) welcomed the news, with President Síona Cahill explaining how students have had to suffer increasingly expensive accommodation since the housing market began to rise again.

“It is despicable that some of the most vulnerable people in society have been taken advantage of to the point where 429 students had declared themselves homeless on the night of the 2016 census, that number does not include the students who are couch surfing with friends or spending six hours a day on public transport just to gain an education at third level,” said Cahill.

We still have a long way to go until the student accommodation crisis is over once and for all, and the national student movement will continue to fight on this issue,” added Cahill.

DCU Students’ Union’s Vice President for Education and Placement Craig McHugh also spoke about the developments, saying that it was “great, but a bit late”.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg” and doesn’t address the core issue of university funding which is worsening the epidemic according to McHugh

“The entire higher education system is drastically underfunded… so all the institutions are trying to fill that funding gap by attracting international students who pay in excess of three times the amount of a domestic EU student,” he said.

According to McHugh developers have spotted this market of students who can afford to spend €10,00 or €11,000 a year.

“Under the government accommodation strategy a certain amount of beds have to be built each year but they are only building these luxury builds,” so while this cap will stop them raising their prices above four per cent per year they are already as expensive as you can get, he said.

Until now, PBSA’s referred to students as “renting under license”, making them licensees rather than tenants. The USI has campaigned to extend the tenancy protections to students, as licensees are in what the USI calls “legal limbo”.

According to the RTB, a majority of the licensing agreements are actually tenancy agreements and that students should have the same rights as tenants.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney revealed to the Dáil that a number of changes would also be made to the law regulating RPZs.

“One of the qualification criteria of having to be over the national average is a criteria that needs to change for outside of Dublin,” he said.

Rent prices in Dublin are pushing the national average so high that areas outside of Dublin with lower rent prices – but where people are still having difficulty finding affordable accommodation – are not currently meeting the criteria for RPZs. Coveney believes that new criteria would allow for greater roll out of RPZs.

In his address to the Dáil, Minister Murphy stated that: “We need to be aware of the political force we have unleashed with students because they have asked for something, and they got it.”

These developments come just a year after the massive price hikes that started the Shanowen Shakedown protests. Both Shanowen Halls and Square increased their costs by 23.5 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin was among those celebrating the announcement. “This is a huge victory for all those students across the State, who were very vocal in their opposition to these unfair rent increases and firmly placed the issue of rent gouging on the political agenda,” said Ó Broin.

However while this legislation is welcome for students living in PBSA, those living in digs accommodation are still without protection.

While it is great that people have been letting out rooms in their homes and it has taken some pressure off the accommodation market “if someone wants to avail of a tax free allowance and give their room out to people they also need to sign up to a number of rules and regulations and those rules and regulations don’t exist at the moment,” said McHugh.

Although the government are working alongside the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to part fund the USI Homes for Study campaign this is only a “pothole filler” according to McHugh and more action needs to be taken to ensure students in all accommodation are protected.

Tagdh McNally & Aoife O’Brien

Image Credit: Mark Carroll