USI calls on Oireachtas to pass student accommodation Bill

Law would compel landlords to refund rental cash to students who cannot take up housing

The Union of Students (USI) in Ireland has called on the Oireachtas to pass a Bill being tabled on Thursday that would force landlords to return prepaid rents to students who cannot live in the accommodation due to public health restrictions.

The Residential Tenancies (Student Rents and Other Protections) (Covid-19) Bill 2021 would also enable students to terminate contracts on accommodation they no longer need because of Covid-19.

Furthermore, it would provide students with access to redress for rent they are having trouble getting repaid.

Other main points of the Bill include banning landlords from withholding deposits, while there would be no penalties for early termination of leases and other rental contracts for Covid-related reasons, and no evictions of students during the pandemic.

Sinn Féin will table the Bill, which will be signed by 56 Opposition TDs, including all TDs from Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats, Solidarity – People Before Profit and the Independent Group.

USI said it was calling on Government and all other TDs in the Dáil to support the Bill, bring it to committee stage and “act on it immediately”.

USI vice-president for campaigns Craig McHugh said: “This is extremely urgent for students, they cannot wait any longer. Action must be taken as soon as possible.

“Due to the lack of legal protections and inflexibility from providers, many students have not been allowed to terminate their contracts with student accommodation providers early as they were in licensee agreements and not tenancies.

“When it comes to purpose-built student accommodation, students have about as many rights as if they were staying in a hotel.”

Mr McHugh said the Bill comes on the back of repeated calls by USI for emergency provisions to ensure student renters are not hit by a repeat of what happened in March when colleges and universities closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But no action was taken by Government on the back of these calls,” he said. “We need them to show support for students now and pass the Bill.”

The Raise the Roof housing campaign backed the call from USI. The group’s campaign co-ordinator, Macdara Doyle, said the student case was “unanswerable” and called for all political parties and Government to support the Bill and the measures it outlines.

“Students should not be left to carry the cost of accommodation they cannot use, due to public health restrictions,” he said. “Students across the higher education sector have encountered enormous and unprecedented difficulties over recent months. It is wrong and unfair that the cost of unused accommodation would be added to that burden. The proposed legislation provides a simple and effective mechanism to address this problem and should be supported by all.”

Financial difficulty

Sinn Féin spokesman on housing Eoin Ó Broin said the Bill, if passed, will provide greater protection for student renters.

“Many students and their families faced financial difficulty during the lockdowns this past year as they struggled to get refunds for rental costs from student accommodation providers,” he said.

“This Bill incorporates key demands from the USI and aims to ensure that students will not be left in this position again. If this Bill becomes law, a student will be able to end a tenancy in student specific accommodation by serving the landlord with a notice of termination of 28 days.

“It also allows for the prompt refunding of accommodation fees if the accommodation is not taken up or vacated due to Covid-19 related public health restrictions.

“The Bill also recognises that many student accommodation providers look for rent to be paid for a full term in advance. The draft legislation prevents providers of student specific accommodation from charging more than one month’s rent in advance.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter