Students are being advised to be careful when signing up to new lease arrangements for accommodation for the 2020-2021 academic year, as no clarity has been provided on how third-level institutions will operate.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and national housing charity, Threshold have joined forces to ensure students are not left out of pocket and fighting for the return of deposits and rent if their circumstances change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the closure of colleges and universities in March, the USI has been campaigning for the operators of all student accommodation to refund students for rooms they could no longer use.
While most colleges and universities agreed to provide refunds for vacated on-campus accommodation, most of the privately-operated Purpose-Built Student Accommodation companies have not provided refunds to students.
The urgency among student representatives to deal with concerns about accommodation in light of COVID-19 is evident at USI Congress which is currently taking place where students are debating housing priorities and a number of emergency motions are expected to be tabled today.
USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick said: “We have been working solidly on this issue as it is a really concerning situation for many students. The USI has been contacted by students from every college and university across the country who have been affected by this situation. We again call on companies and landlords to show some compassion to students that are in difficult circumstances.
“Now we are getting reports of some accommodation providers offering students two months’ free accommodation, if they pay upfront for the next academic year. It is very disturbing to see students being put under this kind of pressure. We don’t even know yet what college is going to look like in 2020-2021 – will students even need this accommodation? The last few months have shown that refunds are not too forthcoming. As well as advising students to be careful, we are calling on government and institutions to provide some clarity on how they expect college to look next year.”
John-Mark McCafferty, CEO of Threshold agreed: “We would advise students to hold off on committing to any lease arrangement until they have clarity from their college or university as to how frequently they will be required to attend on campus. We would also strongly advise students not to hand over a deposit until they are absolutely sure they will be renting the accommodation. If it seems like a great deal, it is probably too good to be true.”
USI has also had contact from many students who are concerned about being able to retrieve their personal belongings from their rented accommodation.
Ms Fitzpatrick explained: “A huge number of students returned home at the time of the outbreak of COVID-19 and of course haven’t yet returned. The Gardaí have clarified to Threshold that students retrieving their personal belongings from their rented accommodation could be considered essential travel. We would encourage students to do this as soon as possible before their leases expire. Of course public health advice around personal hygiene and social distancing should be adhered to on these journeys, and those travelling beyond the current restriction of five kilometres from home should bring a copy of their lease, to show that it is due to expire and as proof of essential travel. Where possible you should also notify anyone currently living in the accommodation that you are coming to collect your belongings.”
USI and Threshold have also highlighted concerns about students’ ability to comply with public health advice amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr McCafferty said: “Currently government advice is that letting activity is not essential. So moving into a new home with people who are not already members of your household would be contrary to public health advice at the moment. While this may have changed by September, social distancing measures are likely to still be in place. This raises concerns around purpose-built student accommodation and its suitability in this regard – how can social distancing be adhered to in shared bedrooms, kitchens, or common areas? Providers of this type of accommodation will likely have to reduce the occupancy of the units according to public health advice at the time, which could result in further supply issues.
“Once there is clarity from colleges and universities on how they will operate, students will be in a position to assess their circumstances and decide what type of lease arrangement works for them, if any. Landlords, crucially, will need to show flexibility in cases where students are required to be on campus less than before.”
Threshold’s helpline remains available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm at 1800 454 454, and via the website at threshold.ie/advice/help for any renter in need of advice or support.