Res rights soon?

As the Students’ Union campaign kicks into gear, Cian Carton looks at the potential benefits to students living on campusThe UCD Students’ Union’s (UCDSU) #ResRightsNow campaign reached the pinnacle of its exposure last week. Its effects have resonated with students, to a degree, and it continues to garner attention due to the SU successfully highlighting to student and national media alike the importance of securing fair rights for those living on UCD Residences.The key issue in this debate rages around UCD’s Licence to Reside agreement that students must sign in order to secure accommodation in one of the UCD Residences. This document does not recognise students as being leaseholders, which would confer upon them certain legal rights as private tenants. Instead, it is alleged that this is leaving students open to exploitation under the contract.UCDSU President, Mícheál Gallagher outlined that this campaign would be a crucial part of his year in the job. He stood by his pre-election promises last March and brought the rights of the students he represents onto the agenda, seeking nothing less than a renegotiation of the License to Reside.The system for appealing fines was what originally drew Gallagher into the conflict, after it was revealed that several students were terrified of appealing a fine due to the threat of increased fines for a failed appeal.The renegotiation would result in some form of a lease agreement being drawn up that would definitely benefit students and allow them to engage with the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) if they are involved in disputes with UCD.Last year, then Chairperson of the UCD Student Legal Service (SLS), Patrick Fitzgerald said, “This would ensure greater transparency than we have now and ensure students enjoy rights as tenants. The present situation where the appeal process is operated by UCD has led to an arbitrary system that truly lacks proper procedure, transparency and independence.”The sheer amount of money that UCD Residences has withheld in deposits has also come in for criticism, with UCD amassing €200,000 during the 2010/11 and the 2011/12 academic years.While different claims about the Licence to Reside continue to arise, the situation of Clause 23, which states, “In the event of an actual or potential risk of injury to people or of damage to property, enforcement may include the use of CCTV or other recording devices which may record the activity of the occupier and any other persons attending at the premises,” seems to have accelerated the conflict. Can anyone blame UCDSU for being up in arms that Residential Assistants (RAs) are allowed to walk into a student’s room and film them without prior consent? Gallagher’s assertion that this practice breaches the fundamental rights of students to privacy as guaranteed in the constitution shows exactly what the debate now encompasses.If UCDSU succeed in their campaign, how will this affect UCD? An argument can be made that lease agreements for students would leave the University widely exposed to legal challenges, for it would be forced to comply with the likes of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, but is this such a bad thing?UCD is a centre of education, not a private business out to make a profit. Services like UCD Residences should be what they are: services. They should be brought in line and be answerable to basic tenants laws that are there to protect the rights of Irish citizens.Surely the University must recognise on-campus accommodation as being part of the overall university experience, that students can get on with their education without the fear of being fined for simple misunderstandings in their residences?This campaign has highlighted that although students may not care if their SU is fighting for their rights, they should be happy that their representative body is standing up for them. UCDSU have followed through on their promise that after leaving USI, they would focus on matters closer to home and focus on campus issues rather than national agendas.There is no official statement from UCD Residences that they are now willing to negotiate the terms of residence, despite accepting the petition from Gallagher following the Student Union’s march to Merville Residence Offices. At present, this conflict is at a stalemate, but with the issue very much on the agenda the ultimate goal is not far out of reach.