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Students ‘pay thousands to live in room the size of parking space

Students should complain to the Residential Tenancies Board if they feel the minimum 30% hike in rents to be imposed in a privately-run complex is in breach of rent pressure zone laws.

That was the advice of one Government minister in response to queries from Sinn Féin’s Mairead Farrell about what the Coalition could do to address overpriced housing for students, which was driving them out of third level education or forcing them to commute long distances.

The Galway West TD said Galway was rapidly following the trend in Dublin where there had long been an over-reliance on vulture funds to build student accommodation instead of directly provided student accommodation by the Government.

Hubble Living, which operates the complex on the Headford Road formerly known as Cúirt na Coiribe, told students earlier this month there were only two options now open from September – a deluxe room for €10,070 and a deluxe room ensuite for €11,045, which was a minimum €283 a week.

For the current academic year they offered six different room rates, ranging from €6,163 to €8,484 for nine months depending on the room type. The new rates would be 63% (up €3,907) or 30% (up €2,561) more expensive than the cheapest and dearest rooms now available.

A petition calling on Hubble to reverse the rent hike by the University of Galway’s Students’ Union has so far attracted almost 1,200 signatures.

Describing the hike as “completely and utterly outrageous” Deputy Farrell told the Dáil that Galway students needed basic, affordable student accommodation, without the addition of cinemas, bowling alleys and “Instagram-able views”.

“They end up paying thousands of euro to live in a room the size of a car parking space. To see that level of increase is simply unimaginable. It looks like it will affect more than 500 students in Galway, who are already paying some of the highest rents in Europe.”

She pointed out that Galway City is in a rent pressure zone where rent increases are capped at a maximum of 2%.

Replying on behalf of the former Higher Education Minister Simon Harris – who became Taoiseach-elect last weekend –  Minister of State Peter Burke said his colleague “would encourage any student who has a specific concern or believes their landlord is in breach of rental law to contact the RTB as soon as possible to submit their query or complaint.”

To qualify for exemptions to the rent caps, a property would be required to have undergone a “substantial change in the nature of the accommodation”, as defined in the Residential Tenancies Act.

“Residential Tenancies Board as powers to investigate and sanction landlords who engage in certain breaches of rental law called improper conduct, including raising the rent unlawfully in a rent pressure zone. If landlords are found to have committed improper conduct, they can be sanctioned with a written caution and-or a sanction of up to €15,000 and up to €15,000 in costs.”

Simon Harris was “actively pursuing” the issue of securing affordable accommodation.

“The Department of further and higher education is working on a number of projects to activate on-campus accommodation. The University of Galway has submitted a proposal for a long-term student accommodation leasing project. This proposal is currently being examined by the Higher Education Authority.”

However, Deputy Farrell stressed that the Minister did not put any money in the budget to build that student accommodation.

“The Government is a tenant in this particular building also. Is the Government going to be submitting anything to the RTB on that price increase, or is it happy with an increase of 30% without questioning it?”

The University of Galway has also decided to increase rents in 43% of rooms in its newer accommodation complexes next academic year and reduce or freeze rents in 57% of its beds next academic year.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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