Housing Department calls on local authorities to safeguard purpose-built accommodation for student use

The circular issued on Friday night said that student accommodation should not be used for short-term residential accommodation “indefinitely”

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has called on local authorities to safeguard purpose-built accommodation for student use.

A circular issued to the chief executives of all local authorities last week highlighted the “critical need for purpose-built student accommodation” as Covid-19 restrictions lift and face-to-face teaching returns.

This was confirmed today by Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien, and Minister with responsibility for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins.

Sent by the Chief Planning Advisor for the Department of Housing Paul Hogan to An Bord Pleanála, the chief executives and senior planners of the City and County Councils, the circular addresses the “temporary change of use of student accommodation”. 

The circular said that when considering planning applications for the conversion of existing student accommodation, planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála “must be satisfied that there are compelling non-Covid related grounds to grant permission for any such proposed change of use, while demand for student accommodation remains high”. 

“The removal of student accommodation from availability for student use runs contrary to the National Student Accomodation Strategy”, the circular letter continued. 

“The onus must be on any applicant for change of use from existing purpose-built student accommodation to demonstrate that there is no longer a need for such use in the area in question.”

“Otherwise, student accommodation should be retained, where appropriate.” 

Friday’s circular highlighted that certain criteria for student accommodation, outlined in a previous 2016 circular, remain “applicable”.

These requirements are that student accommodation is “not used for residential accommodation of a permanent nature” and “safeguarded for use by students and other persons related to higher education institutes during the academic year”.

Student accommodation is only “capable of being used for legitimate occupation by other persons/groups during holiday periods, when not required for student accommodation purposes”.

Over the coming days, both Departments are to hold meetings of Universities to discuss the issue of student accommodation.

Commenting on the circular in a press release, Minister O’Brien said: “Minister Harris and I have been liaising on the issue of student accommodation and the challenges students are facing.”

“We have introduced safeguards to protect students in rented accommodation.”

O’Brien referred to the Residential Tenancies Act passed in July that restricts upfront accommodation payments to a maximum of two months’ rent, provides that the maximum notice period in student accommodation is limited to 28 days, and caps rent increases to general inflation. 

“This much-needed measure means that students and their families are no longer required to pay a lump sum each term” O’Brien said.

“This restriction applies to all tenancies including for students residing in student specific accommodation”, O’Brien added. 

The minister continued: “I am acutely aware that inflation is increasing and my Department is working on legislation to cap the overall amount at which rent can increase.”

“The circular issued by my Department on Friday leaves local authorities in no doubt that purpose built student accommodation should be retained for that use where that is appropriate.”

Minister Collins also commented: “Student accommodation should be safeguarded for students during the academic year”.

The Dublin Inquirer reported earlier this month that from January 2019 to May 2022, student accommodation providers have been granted permission by Dublin City Council to convert up to 1,055 student beds into short-term lets for tourists and professionals. 

The circular follows two recent protests on accommodation, endorsed and attended by Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) and other student groups. Launching its “No Keys, No Degrees” campaign, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) led a sleep out outside the Dáil on  September 23. 

This demonstration took place a week after the “Winter of Discontent” housing rally outside Leinster House, organised by the National Housing and Homeless Coalition. 

Jamie Cox

Jamie Cox is current News Analysis Editor for Trinity News and previously served as Higher Education Correspondent. He is a Junior Sophister Ancient and Medieval History and Culture student.

Sarah Emerson

Sarah Emerson is currently a Deputy News Editor of Trinity News. She is a Senior Sophister English Literature and Jewish and Islamic Civilizations Student.