herald

Tuesday 15 October 2019

'Cynical' colleges sneak in rent hikes before cap

Housing minister Eoghan Murphy
Housing minister Eoghan Murphy

The country's universities were able to engage in widespread rent hikes because new caps introduced by the housing minister do not take effect until next week.

Eoghan Murphy has been accused of "incompetence" after colleges pre-empted his clampdown, rendering it useless for the coming academic term.

The Herald 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 designating student residences as Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs) were passed by the Dail last May, but the start date was set to coincide with next week's CAO offers.

As a result, third-level institutions had nearly three months to increase their prices before the 4pc cap was applied.

It is understood this lead-in period was deemed necessary so that the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) could be sufficiently staffed to register 30,000 student places.

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."

Promised

However, the main opposition parties have rounded on the minister for allowing the hikes to go ahead.

Fianna Fail's housing spokesman Darragh O'Brien said the Government had promised rent caps would be in place by last September.

He said they are now "a year too late".

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

Labour's Jan O'Sullivan noted the legislation for the 4pc cap on rent increases was rushed through before the summer break on the understanding it would protect students for the coming academic year.

She called on Mr Murphy to clarify the situation, saying: "If that is not the case, there is a serious failure on the minister's part."

Sinn Fein's Eoin O Broin accused the 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 €629 more 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 upping the rents ahead of the introduction of caps, UCC said in a statement: "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 last September.

The statement said: "Rates are significantly below the rates charged by private student accommodation complexes."

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

It said the rent increases were decided on in 2017 for the following years.

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

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