Rent caps are to be introduced for purpose-built student accommodation following motions from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Both parties introduced private members’ motions in the Dáil, seeking to cap rent for student accommodation.
Student accommodation prices in certain areas have seen increases of as much as 15%, according to the Irish Times. The issue of affordable student accommodation has sparked much controversy, as students across the country have protested rent increases over the past year.
Concern has been expressed that the rental caps could lead developers to cease building student accommodation. Responding to the concerns, Varadkar noted that “what we don’t want to do is throw the baby out with the bathwater”, and thereby cause a further deficit in living spaces for future students.
Instead, the Government has proposed a controlled introduction of caps for purpose-built student accommodation by legislative proposals worked on over the summer, whilst also promoting digs and the rent a room scheme where supply is high.
In March, Dublin City University (DCU) students protested against a significant 27% increase in student accommodation rates, while students from National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway faced proposed increases of 18%.
According to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after a Cabinet meeting yesterday, bedspace for approximately 3000 students has been built in the last two years, with a further 7000 currently under construction. This is following on from a 2015 Higher Education Authority (HEA) report which stated that Ireland had an unprecedented deficit in available accommodation for students, prompting a large number of new accommodation areas to be built.
However, the Taoiseach also addressed the issue that since most student accommodation operates under licence rather than tenancies, rent pressure zones do not apply. As such, rent increases are not capped to 4% as they are in other designated areas, and price hikes of 15% and even 20% have been seen this year.
The new legislation offers the possibility of regulation for student rent prices, and Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the Minister of State for Higher Education, is reportedly set to work on the legislation over this coming summer.
The Residential Tenancies (Students Rents, Rights and Protections) Bill 2018 passed in May, which gives students living in licensed student accommodation “the full protections of the Residential Tenancies Acts, including access to the Residential Tenancies Board and inclusion in the rent pressure zones.” Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin referenced the recent student protests when he first introduced the Bill into the Dáil, saying “I commend the students of DCU on the Shanowen shakedown protest, which brought this matter to the attention of the public.”
The legislation would ensure that students living in such accommodation are classed as tenants and would therefore be granted the same protections as residents in the private rental sector. Indeed, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) publicly announced its support of the bill when it was first introduced by Sinn Féin. Former USI President Michael Kerrigan described the situation as “a landlords’ market”, in which landlords increase student rent whenever they want.