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Students vacating Trinity-owned accommodation to be refunded - but private renters face uncertainty

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin called for clarity to be given to those in rental accommodation at this time of national crisis.

File. Trinity College Dublin.
File. Trinity College Dublin.
Image: Shutterstock/Rob Wilson

STUDENTS WHO’VE BEEN told to vacate their student accommodation at Trinity College Dublin will be refunded for the period they don’t actually stay there.

That is according to university Provost Patrick Prendergast who yesterday responded to a set of queries by Sinn Féin’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin.

Ó Broin told TheJournal.ie that during this “unprecedented” crisis brought about by Covid-19, it is incumbent on authorities to provide the best levels of communication possible.

Students at Trinity received an email on Monday evening stating that eight new cases of coronavirus were confirmed at the university.

As a result of this risk of the virus spreading further, students living in Trinity Hall, the Binary Hub and Kavanagh Court were ordered to leave – although there were some exemptions based on a person’s circumstances, such as those at risk of homelessness or faced travel restrictions.

A statement from the university said: “Many more students and staff are self-isolating. As the news about coronavirus changes, we continue to take tough decisions.”

The students were told to leave by today, Wednesday 18 March, but Prendergast clarified to Ó Broin that “no student will have to leave who has no other accommodation”. 

“Students have been told to go home if they can,” he said. “For travel, it can indeed be extended, but of course a travel ban may come into force.”

Prendergast said there would be no issue of taking a student at their word if they feel they meet the criteria to stay in their campus accommodation.

“We accept the student’s word and bone fides in this matter,” he said. “We will not ask for evidence.”

Ó Broin also asked about refunds for students on their accommodation – which is often very expensive and paid for in advance.

“Yes [they will be refunded], from Trinity-owned accommodation,” Prendergast said. “We believe that private providers should also do this but of course that is ultimately a matter for the private providers.”

Ryan Ó Giobúin, assistant secretary of Scholars at Trinity, said they made contact following the statement on Monday night urging the Provost to address their concerns as a matter of urgency. 

“It was obviously a sense of panic,” he told TheJournal.ie. “Many of us have immuno-compromised relatives or may be immuno-compromised ourselves.”

 

Ó Giobúin said the short notice left many students with a sense of uncertainty. For the likes of international students studying in Ireland, it left them wondering if they’d find themselves homeless.

“We communicated our concerns with the Provost and credit where it’s due, he’s addressed them.”

Private renting

Sinn Féin TD for Dublin West Ó Broin said that he has concerns about students renting in private accommodation settings who, like those in halls owned by Trinity, would have been paid up for the semester in advance.

“I’ve been contacted by some students,” he said. “They are making the choice to return home but their private accommodation providers aren’t committing to refunding them the time they don’t spend living there.

I think it’s unconscionable if a private provider – many of whom avail of tax breaks – don’t refund students at this time. They need to accept the spirit of the times and fully refund students for rent paid.

Ó Broin said he urged any students who find themselves in such a situation to contact the Residential Tenancies Board.

More broadly, the housing spokesperson called for more supports to be given to renters and particularly those who are now facing financial uncertainty.  Yesterday, Retail Excellence Ireland warned of the loss of 200,000 jobs in that sector, with the tourism and hospitality sectors also badly hit as the country reels from Covid-19.

At the weekend, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy urged landlords to show forbearance in this “time of national crisis”. 

Ó Broin pointed to other jurisdictions who’ve introduced moratoriums on rents, mortgages as well as other supports but added that people who suddenly find themselves out of a job could be facing into a tough few weeks. 

“In fairness to the government, they’re dealing with an unprecedented situation,” he said. “But I’d be concerned about renters. One in four households in Dublin rent. For lower-income workers, you may have been always over the threshold for Hap or never applied.

Now, you could be getting €203 a week. It’s obviously welcome, but it’s not going to pay rent of €1,000 or €1,500 a month. They need supports and I’d call on the government to provide that.

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Sean Murray

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