Confusion over new protections for student renters as clock ticks down to new academic year

UL student told he would lose his deposit and be held liable for rent if he vacated property after finishing his studies for the year

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said on Wednesday she did not have “an exact timeline” for the introduction of the new laws around student leases. Photograph: iStock

Student renters may have to pay for weeks of accommodation beyond their requirements next year amid confusion about the Government’s timeline for introducing new rules that would confine student lease lengths to the academic year.

It comes amid reports that a medicine student at the University of Limerick (UL) was told he would lose his deposit and be held liable for rent if he vacated a university-owned property after finishing his studies for the year.

The student, whose case was raised in the Dáil on Wednesday by Sinn Féin spokeswoman on higher education Mairéad Farrell, told The Irish Times that at the start of the current academic year, he was offered a 51-week lease at a student village in Rhebogue, despite his academic year lasting 41 weeks. The development, purchased by UL in 2022, was at the centre of a separate controversy this year when it emerged the university was operating it as student housing without the appropriate planning permission.

During Taoiseach’s questions in the Dáil, Ms Farrell asked whether legislation promised by Taoiseach Simon Harris in his former role as Minister for Higher Education would be in place, as the Taoiseach pledged, before the summer to protect students in the next academic year.


The then-minister committed to changing the laws in April after The Irish Times reported on the issue in January. In May, he said primary legislation would be required to fix the issue and that he had brought forward a joint memorandum with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien to begin the process. His successor, Minister for Education Patrick O’Donovan, and Minister O’Brien then brought a memo to Cabinet last month looking to expedite the process.

Standing in for the Taoiseach during question time on Wednesday, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she did not have “an exact timeline” for its introduction. Nor could sources close to Mr O’Donovan shed any light on the matter.

Ms Farrell told the Dáil that the move to 51-week leases by some private student accommodation operators had proved to be “the thin end of the wedge” with colleges now appearing to adopt the practice.

One medicine student approached UL recently, asking why they had been offered only a 51-week lease when other medicine students housed in Rhebogue were offered leases matching the duration of their academic year, the typical 41 weeks.

In email exchanges seen by The Irish Times, UL said the student would not be able to switch from a 51-week to a 41-week lease unless he cancelled his accommodation altogether. If he pursued that option, he would forfeit his deposit plus the final month’s rent, which was paid at the outset of the tenancy, and “be liable for the rent until we can resell the room”.

However, students are not liable for “any rental fees” provided they issue the required 28-day notice to terminate, a spokesman for UL said on Wednesday. “Rental fees are not charged in the event of a student terminating a 51-week agreement,” he said. “However, in the event where a student terminates an agreement early the deposit is forfeited.”

The final sum for which the student, who vacated the property after his 41-week academic term concluded, is on the hook for remains unclear but could be around €2,000 when the deposit and final month’s rent are taken together. The figure could be higher if they are also held liable for the time remaining on the lease. UL may also rent out the now-vacated room to short-stay students over the summer months, earning more money for the same room in the process.

A UL spokesman said the development was allocated exclusively to post graduate students and researchers only. “This student cohort usually require accommodation year-round, where 51 week lettings are provided for those who require it.” An allocation of some 20 rooms was also set aside for medicine students, he said, “for a 41-week period which is aligned with the course programme calendar.”

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times