USI Student Accommodation Legislation

Today in the Dáil, I moved the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Residential Tenancies (Student Rents and Other Protections) (Covid-19) Bill 2021.

The Bill, which has been signed by 56 opposition TDs would enable students to be legally entitled to get accommodation refunds in the event of them being unable to occupy the accommodation because of public health guidance or legislation.

The pandemic has exposed the severe economic injustices students face in the rental market. Thousands of students and their families have been forced to pay for accommodation they were prohibited from using.

It is no longer acceptable for governments to act as spectators while this wholesale financial exploitation of students continues.

The speedy and successful passing of this legislation is vital to ensure that students of third level institutions are protected. It is incumbent on all Oireachtas members to right the wrong that has facilitated the fleecing of students and their families.

Many students and their families faced financial difficulty during the lock downs this past year as they struggled to get refunds for rental costs from student accommodation providers.

Time and time again, when I have raised this issue with Minister Harris, he has said there is nothing that he can do in relation to private accommodation providers failing to give refunds. In this Bill, he is being provided with the tools to address this appalling situation.

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.

I want to thank the USI for their hard work on this Bill together with my Sinn Féin colleague, Eoin O’Broin. It is our hope that the government parties can also support the sensible proposals in this Bill and work with us to make it law as soon as possible.