USI calls for accommodation protections for students in response to Covid-19

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

On August 25th, the Union of Students Ireland (USI) called on Darragh O’Brien TD, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and the government to introduce six emergency provisions in order to protect student renters. 

The call aims to protect student renters in the case of a second Covid-19 outbreak. Lorna Fitzpatrick, the President of USI, explained that the current campaign is due to the fact many students were left in difficult situations last year as they were paying for accommodation no longer in use, or in some cases were evicted without notice. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increased lack of security for student renters. During lockdown, many students were left paying rent on accommodation they could no longer live in, and now with the move to blended learning and increasingly restrictive public health guidelines in Dublin, students are wary of signing leases.

On Twitter, Minister O’Brien stated that he “strengthened protections” for student renters while in opposition and intends to continue this work. A meeting between Minister O’Brien and Fitzpatrick is due to occur on Tuesday the 22nd of September, and so far no increased protections have been announced. Eoin Ó Broin TD, Sinn Fein’s Housing Spokesperson, also suggested a meeting was needed to draft an opposition bill to support these protections.

The USI was vocal about the issue of accommodation throughout the pandemic. In March, with the support of student unions nationwide, the USI called on providers of large-scale student accommodation to refund the rent paid for housing that could not be used due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In anticipation of the publication of further health measures, on September 18th the USI issued a further call for urgent action to protect student renters. Fitzpatrick said that the Government must act “immediately” to support and protect student renters, to avoid “what happened in March where students were left hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of euro out of pocket due to deposits and prepaid rent not being returned”. 

She outlined that the start times of student leases and contracts must be adjusted to reflect the delay to on-campus learning, stressing the importance of institutions and accommodation providers to allow “flexible” provisions for students. Fitzpatrick stated that standard agreements are not good enough “as this is not a standard year”.

UCDSU has attempted to provide flexible accommodation support in light of Covid-19. The union has engaged in offers with several hotels in Dublin, including Travelodge Rathmines, the Lansdowne Hotel, and the Clayton Hotel. 

Dublin City University and the University of Limerick have introduced flexible student accommodation to cater for blended learning. The arrangement allows students to only book accommodation for the days they are in college.