Sunday 15 September 2019

'Incompetent' Eoghan Murphy let colleges duck rent pressure zone rules

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. Photo: Collins
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. Photo: Collins

Kevin Doyle, Cormac McQuinn and Gabija Gataveckaite

The country's universities were able to engage in widespread rent hikes because new caps introduced by the Housing Minister don't take effect until next week.

Eoghan Murphy is being accused of "incompetence" after colleges pre-empted his clampdown, rendering it useless for the coming academic term. The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that students are facing rent increases of up to 11.5pc year on year for university-owned and on-campus accommodation.

New laws assigning student residences as rent pressure zones (RPZs) were passed by the Dáil last May - but the start date was set to coincide with next week's CAO offers.

As a result third-level institutions had almost three months to increase their prices in advance of the 4pc cap being applied. It is understood this lead-in period was deemed necessary so the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) could be sufficiently staffed up to register 30,000 student places.

"It was always understood that rent controls would be extended to student accommodation for this academic term," a spokesperson for Mr Murphy said. "We brought the legislation through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. The new law will take affect the same day that students are offered their places in college through the CAO. Funding for universities is a matter for the Department of Education."

However, the main Opposition parties have rounded on the minister. Fianna Fáil's housing spokesman Darragh O'Brien said the Government had promised rent caps would be in place for September 2018.

"The increases that students are going to suffer this year are a direct result of Eoghan Murphy's incompetence."

Labour's Jan O'Sullivan noted the legislation for the 4pc cap on rent increases was rushed through the Oireachtas before the summer break on the understanding it would protect students for the coming academic year. Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin accused universities of a "cynical attempt" to circumvent the new RPZ rules.

Last night University College Cork (UCC) defended hiking the cost of its student accommodation by up to 11.5pc. While all universities increased rents, UCC was by far the highest as students will have to pay an additional €629 to live in its Mardyke Hall accommodation than they did last year. It insisted it is considerate and cautious when setting accommodation rates and added: "UCC is extremely conscious of the financial challenges faced by students."

UCC said the increases are due to refurbishment costs of its campus accommodation.

Asked about raising the rents ahead of the introduction of caps, a UCC spokesperson said: "Consideration to increase the cost of student accommodation commenced in March 2018, some time before the new Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 emerged."

It added that the decision to increase student accommodation costs was made by the Board of Campus Accommodation in September 2018.

Trinity College Dublin also defended its increases of up to 5.57pc for Goldsmith Hall saying they reflect the cost of upkeep and the expense of providing utilities.

DCU said it "maintained its on-campus student accommodation rates at substantially below private market rates".

University of Limerick said rent increases have been an average of 3.5pc between 2016/17 and 2019/2020.

Read more: Revealed: How much your college charges for student accommodation as rents are hiked

Read more: Priced out: 'I'm €3,000 in debt just to pay rent'

Read more: 'I might have to live in a caravan so that I can go to college'

Irish Independent

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