A minister has claimed the Government is limited in what it can do after scores of third-level students have had accommodation bookings cancelled with just weeks to the new term.
The students had paid deposits but their purpose-built student housing is now going to be used for long-term lets instead.
Responding on Monday, Minister of State for Further Education Niall Collins has said the Government is “limited” in terms of what action it can take to ensure that corporate developers did not change the use of student accommodation.
“We’re limited in terms of what approach we can take to people who own this private student accommodation because you’re into the whole area of constitutionality and property rights,” he told RTÉ's News At One.
“In relation to State owned student accommodation, we obviously have a direct input into that, a lot of those student accommodations will be coming back into use for students over the next number of weeks.”
It is another example of how the general lack of housing supply combined with sky-rocketing rents are squeezing students further out of the rental market.
The scramble for accommodation has become increasingly difficult, forcing many students to commute long distances, but this year it is even more challenging.
Students prepared to budget as much as €1,400 a month are having difficulty securing somewhere to live in Dublin.
In another blow, accommodation that has been dedicated for student use is being given over to other tenants who can pay higher rents.
Students at Munster Technological University (MTU) Tralee, Co Kerry, received an email advising that a student village of long-standing was to longer available to them.
The Kerry Lee Student Village was one of three privately-built complexes close to the MTU and has been open since 2004. It doubled as student accommodation and summer tourism lets.
The village catered for about 54 students and was such an established part of the accommodation infrastructure that bookings rolled on from year to year.
But the management company has advised students with bookings that from August 31, 2022, the “owners have decided to take back their houses for the purposes of long-term letting”.
“Regretfully, we must therefore advise that Kerry Lee Management will not be letting any houses to students in the coming year.
“We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused at this late stage and we will return all deposits within the next 14 days.”
A management company spokesperson told the Irish Independent that the houses were individually owned and owners had voted to change the use.
Meanwhile in Galway, a private student accommodation operator has told those who booked single rooms that they faced losing a place if they did not change to a twin room.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Beth O’Reilly said the situation was getting worse and one of the big issues was that purpose-built student accommodation was being converted to long-term rentals.
“What little accommodation is there for students is being given away,” she said.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien issued a circular last September advising that purpose-built student accommodation should be safeguarded for use by students.
He told planning authorities that any application for change of use from student accommodation must demonstrate that there was no longer a need for such use in the area in question.
But the USI president said the Government must introduce legislation to ensure that corporate developers did not change the use of student accommodation.
There are currently 14,500 on-campus student beds but it falls far short of demand. Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has announced plans to support colleges in building more campus accommodation but that is of no immediate help.
In the short term, efforts to boost supply are focussing on appeals from colleges to homeowners to rent rooms to students.
UCD Students’ Union president Molly Greenough said they were getting more queries this year than in previous years from students not able to find somewhere affordable to live.
She said, on average, students were budgeting about €1,000 a month.
But even those who were budgeting upwards of €1,400 were not able to source accommodation.
DCU Students’ Union vice president for community and citizenship, Nathan Murphy, said students budgeting €220 and week and more were having difficulty finding a place.
Meanwhile, the Department of Children said that more than 5,700 beds in student accommodation, both on an off campus, contracted for use by Ukrainian refugees over the summer will be returned ahead of the academic year.
Speaking today about the minister’s circular, Junior Minister Niall Collins said it was issued for “for any new permissions or any proposed student accommodation which would be built and applied for into the future”.
“That circular was and is very important but effectively like any piece of legislation it can’t be made retrospective,” he said.
“We have purpose-built student accommodation which is in private ownership which is subject to planning permissions granted at the time and they were built in accordance with those planning permissions and the conditions attached, so that can’t be changed retrospectively.
“Any new planning permissions which are now issued by local authorities they have been directed by circular to ensure that any student accommodation planning permission applications would in the first instance be conditioned for use as student accommodation rather than any other form of letting.”