The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and national housing charity Threshold today warned students against committing to accommodation in the absence of clarity on what college attendance will look like in September 2020. The organisations aim to protect students from accommodation deposits not being returned if they can no longer take up the accommodation due to Covid-19. The two groups have been working jointly to secure refunds for students for accommodation they could no longer avail of due to the pandemic since the closure of colleges in March, with varied success. They have also been supporting students concerned about retrieving the belongings they left in their rented accommodation, and secured clarity from the Gardaí that this could be considered essential travel, provided a copy of an expiring lease is offered to authorities if stopped.
USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick described the housing issue as concerning for many students and said that a large number of students had contacted the USI for help with this matter. She advised students to be cautious amid reports that some accommodation providers are offering 2 months free accommodation if students pay upfront for the upcoming academic year. She questioned whether students would even need this accommodation given the current unknown situation, and she was concerned that refunds had not been forthcoming in the past months. She further called on the government and third level institutions to provide some clarity on how they expect colleges to operate next year.
John-Mark McCafferty, CEO of Threshold, echoed that advice in urging students to hold off on committing to any rental agreement until their college has provided clarity as to when they will be required to attend anything on campus. He also advised students not to pay a deposit until they are entirely sure they will be renting the accommodation and warned that deals that seem too good to be true are likely to have some hidden pitfalls. Mr. McCafferty further pointed out that social distancing measures are likely to still be in place by September, raising questions over how students would maintain social distancing in communal areas in their college rental accommodations. He said that this may result in suppliers of accommodation having to reduce the occupancy of the units depending on current public health, therefore causing supply issues for students. He too called on universities to provide clarity as to how they will operate so that students can assess their accommodation situation and decide accordingly; he also called on landlords to show flexibility for students who may be required to be on campus much less than previously.
It is still unclear how third level institutions will operate this coming academic year due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic; some colleges have already informed returning students that the first part of term will be taught mostly online apart from labs and tutorials. DCU President Professor Brian McGrath has already said that the normal booking of on-campus accommodation for the upcoming year will not apply this year.
As the College Tribune recently reported, students now face the dilemma of whether to secure accommodation now and risk losing out on money if circumstances change or wait for clarity from colleges and the government and risk losing out on accommodation altogether. Jim Miley, IUA Director General, doubted the likelihood of colleges (including UCD) returning for all lectures and tutorials. So far UCD has provided rental rebate to students who cancelled their rental agreement since March, honouring existing rental agreements and extending them for students who require it. However, this issue may be further complicated by the incremental 12% cost increase of on-campus UCD accommodation commencing this coming year, and the €400 million acquisition of five purpose-built student accommodation properties in Dublin to UK property management firm Global Student Accommodation Group.
Phase 1 of UCD’s 2,200+ bed masterplan is due to introduce an additional 924 beds for use on-campus from September 2020. Phase 2 would introduce approximately 1,250 more beds to Belfield campus. The new residences are currently due to be completed by 2024. The university has not responded to requests for information on the progress of the new residences on-campus in light of recent restrictions on the construction industry in Ireland.
In 2006, a room in UCD’s cheapest accommodation block in the Belfield campus cost €3,544 from September to May, with an additional fee of €353 for utilities and insurance. The base fee has increased by 88.57% to €6,683, a raw increase of €3,139. By 2022, the most expensive accommodation facilities will cost over €12,000 for a nine-month tenancy during the academic year.
Amy Doolan – Reporter