Closing Contribution on SF Private Members’ Bill

Private Members’ Bill

Sinn Féin Eoin Ó Broin, T.D., and Kathleen Funchion, T.D.

 Residential Tenancies (Student Rents, Rights and Protections) Bill 2018

 Closing Contribution by Minister of State, Damien English, T.D

Tuesday, 29th May 2018

Ceann Comhairle,

  • On behalf of the Government, I wish to thank Deputies Ó Broin and Funchion for tabling their Private Members Bill to propose extending the protections of the Residential Tenancies Acts, which currently apply to dwellings under certain tenancies, to also apply to dwellings provided under a licence agreement for student accommodation.
  • While the Government cannot at this juncture endorse this specific legislation, as it is premature until such time as the legal considerations and implications are more thoroughly evaluated, we can readily acknowledge and welcome the broad spirit and objective of the Bill, as a genuine attempt to improve the situation for students at a time of under-supply in the residential rental sector.
  • It is in the interest of Government to ensure student accommodation is affordable, and not subject to excessive increases.
  • The existing Government financial support for students is finite in terms of taxpayers’ money. Do you propose cuts to the maintenance grant? Do you propose cuts to grants and funds for mature students in third level education? Or do you propose to cut the wages of our lecturers in the third level sector?.
  • Equally, parents’ or students’ own resources are hard earned and should not be swallowed up either. Students should not have to face entering the work-force with a massive debt to re-pay. We need affordable rents across the country and not just for students.
  • Unreasonable accommodation costs have the potential to prohibit individual students from pursuing studies in their preferred field because their choice of course might not be on offer close to where they live. Location comes into play and for some, an educational course in Dublin is becoming less attainable for financial reasons, predominantly because of high accommodation costs.
  • We need to provide certainty to students whose finances are tight and finite and help limit their financial burdens.
  • As Minister Mitchell O’Connor highlighted earlier, the Government published its National Student Accommodation Strategy (NSAS) to increase the supply of student accommodation and increase the take-up of digs accommodation. The Government has set a target to see an extra 7,000 bed spaces built by the end 2019 and a total of 21,000 additional beds by 2024. We are currently on track to exceed these targets.
  • A greater supply of student accommodation to meet demand has the potential to ease overall pressures on the rental market, including moderating rent increases, on the basis of increased competition and choice.

Sinn Féin’s Private Members Bill

  • However, I do not believe that Sinn Féin’s Private Members Bill will achieve the outcome of having all student accommodation subject to ongoing regulation. I do believe that this is the right outcome to seek, but this Bill won’t deliver that.
  • The Sinn Féin Bill proposes to apply the protections afforded to tenancies under the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2016 to students living in student specific accommodation under licence agreements.
  • The Bill focuses, in particular, on ensuring that the annual rent increase limit of 4%, as it applies to certain dwellings in Rent Pressure Zones, will also apply to student specific accommodation provided under licence.
  • However, a licensing framework might best suit the business model of student-specific accommodation providers, rather than trying to bring them in under the provisions of Residential Tenancies Acts which do not naturally fit with students, who generally occupy their accommodation for around 8 months of the years.
  • There is a risk that the expected supply of student accommodation coming on stream could be negatively affected by the proposed application of the Residential Tenancies Acts to student specific accommodation provided under licence agreement.
  • We need to explore how we can legally protect all students from high accommodation costs, whether they live in public or private accommodation and whether they have signed a tenancy or licence agreement.
  • We need to provide students with a choice on where they wish to live during their college life. Students should not be forced to take whatever accommodation they can get, come August. They should get value for money and reasonable accommodation that best suits their needs.
  • It’s also worth pointing out that the 4% RPZ limit, if applied to student accommodation, would not be retrospective and would not cover new properties.
  • The measures proposed by Sinn Féin cannot be supported at this juncture, on the basis that a more thorough analysis of the impacts by the Department of Education and Skills and the Minister’s Department, as to whether amending the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2016 is the best approach to regulate student specific accommodation provided under licence.
  • It may well be that bespoke legislation, subject to further legal advice, might better achieve the intended purposes of the Bill, without adding significantly to the already very heavy workload of the Residential Tenancies Board.
  • The Department of Education and Skills (DES) is liaising with officials from my Department, including through the forum of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Student Accommodation which is convened by the DES, to examine the wide range of student accommodation types (and ancillary services) available with a view to considering how best to regulate pricing arrangements.
  • While Government is not in a position to support the Sinn Féin Bill at this stage, we do not oppose it. The Departments of Education and Skills and Housing, Planning and Local Government will consider the Bill’s proposals further.
  • In the event that it is considered that there is a policy-based case for legislation in this area, proposals will be brought forward, either in a standalone Bill or in the context of the second of two Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bills envisaged this year.

Thank you.

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