With Some Shared Living, Concerns About a Slide in Rental Standards

Aside from all the slick, new student housing rising in blocks around the city, another type of housing is planned – very similar, but for adults.

“Shared living” envisions single, young adults renting bedrooms they can have to themselves, and sharing cooking, living and recreational areas with neighbours.

Developers say this type of accommodation will be cheaper than renting a nice one-bed, and that it’s just the thing for people who need somewhere nice to live for maybe six months or a year at a time.

But housing experts worry that, given the shortage of homes in the city, these bedrooms may morph from niche temporary boarding for mobile yuppies, into regular housing for people who want to put down roots and build communities.

Owners of these shared-living, or co-living, set-ups say they plan to give residents only licences to stay, rather than tenancies to live – meaning the people who rent them would be in a far more precarious situation than if they were renting regular apartments.

Not only that, but by packing more people into small spaces, the developers of these “shared living” projects will squeeze more money out of smaller parcels of land – helping to accelerate the upward spiral of land prices in the city.

Shared Living

In March 2018, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy’s department issued new design standards for new apartments guidelines.

Among other things, those, it said were “addressing for the first time the concept of shared accommodation, co-living and communal living”.

This, it said, “enables new and exciting ways to meet the housing needs of key sectors of our society including a young and increasingly internationally mobile workforce, as well as older persons who want to live independently”.

This shared accommodation, it says, is similar to student accommodation – and appeals to a special renter cohort with “special needs or requirements from their housing provision”.

In particular, it works for “new employees arriving in urban areas seeking short-term accommodation during an establishment or local acclimatisation period that may be longer than a few weeks”.

Developer Bartra Capital has been leading the way on this. It has two applications pending before An Bord Pleanála: one for 222 shared-living beds in Tallaght as part of a wider build-to-rent development, and one for 208 beds in Dún Laoghaire.

A third application, for 105 beds in Rathmines, was turned down by Dublin City Council, in part for being substandard accommodation.

Bartra appealed that – but then withdrew the appeal, noting on its website that it would redesign and reapply.

Studios or Bedrooms

Bartra’s designs for its “Niche Living” blocks, in Cookstown Industrial Estate in Tallaght and on Eblana Avenue in Dún Laoghaire’s town centre, are similar.

In Dún Laoghaire, the plans show corridors of private single rooms of 16.25 sqm, up to 42 rooms per floor, each with a double bed that can fold up during the day.

On each floor there is a communal kitchen and dining space, and a living room. There is a roof garden, and a garden on the ground floor, it says.

At the ground and lower-ground floors, there is also an open-plan lounge, gym, cinema room, private-function room and laundry, it says.

There’ll be curated events such as supper clubs, talks, performances, and the like, an operational report says.

Bartra’s operation plan says residents will become “members of the Niche Living residence” under a licence agreement, covering issues such as anti-social behaviour, disciplinary procedures, and aspects of health and safety.

Occupants would pay an all-in monthly fee. The licence agreements would cover “varying lengths of stay from 2 months to 12 months. Long stay residents will be managed into suites with better levels of amenity, such as non-north facing rooms, better outlook”.

The buildings are managed by an app that allows people to book rooms and see bills, and means the team can “remote control resident check out”, it says.

They control access for employees, staff, and residents. “We will be able to issue and revoke keys to users via the cloud, we can control who, when, where, and for how long a user has access.”

Licences vs. Tenancies

Licence arrangements can be found in all kinds of accommodation.

But they generally cover people staying in hotels, guesthouses, and hostels – or people sharing an apartment under “rent-a-room” schemes or “digs”.

Whether somebody is living under a licence or a tenancy isn’t about whether somebody calls it a licence or a tenancy – it’s about the details of the arrangement.

One of the factors it depends on is whether or not somebody has “exclusive possession” of part or all of the dwelling.

In most cases, a licensee doesn’t have the same obligations as tenants – or the rights.

While a tenancy can only be terminated in line with the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, say, a licence can be revoked based on reasonable notice – or, if there’s a contract, based on the terms of that contract.

Just because a landlord calls an agreement a licence, doesn’t meant that it’s a licence not a tenancy under law, says Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin spokesperson for housing.

And would people in shared living be staying there under licences or tenancies? “A lot of this will depend on if somebody feels their rights have been breached and takes a case,” Ó Broin says. “Until then, nobody knows.”

Who Are They For?

In Murphy’s guidelines for shared accommodation, it says developers have to prove there’s a need for it, in the places they want to build it.

It’s “only appropriate where responding to an identified urban housing need at particular locations. It is not envisaged as an alternative or replacement to the more conventional apartment developments which are provided for elsewhere in the guidelines,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Housing, by email.

A report by KHSK Economic Consultants, included in Bartra’s applications, says that social changes are pushing “younger, single, educated people towards lower requirements for private space and private possessions and a greater desire for experiences and social interaction”.

Another report says it is “non-permanent accommodation” for people including but not limited to “recent and post-graduates, workers in Ireland for short-term, those saving for a deposit with a view to purchasing accommodation, seasonal accommodation and relationship breakdown”.

Bartra’s applications include letters from employers such as Empath, a recruitment agency for nursing homes and hospitals. This kind of accommodation would be useful for “key workers who come to Ireland on short to medium term contracts,” it says.

For young people and students, shared living is a good idea, says Varghese Joy, a nurse from India. It’ll add housing and is cheaper than some options, he said.

Research for Bartra surveyed 175 people who were middle-class, under 35, with no children and no mortgage – and found, it says, that seven out of 10 were interested in shared living, with affordable rent being the most important factor for the most people, followed by an affordable deposit, and having people be able to come and stay.

Worries

If there’s a small number of these shared living set-ups, for “transient high-tech well-paid workers for example, that’s fine”, says Ó Broin, the Sinn Féin spokesperson.

But the big worry is “that you’ll get a glut of them provided, that they won’t be able to fill them with the kind of tenants that they’re thinking of – people looking to stay for six, nine, or 12 months – and that they’ll end up in the private-rental sector, but they’ll be poorer quality,” he says.

“In that context, I’d be worried about the quality of accommodation, the vulnerability of tenants, whether they’re aware of their rights,” Ó Broin says.

Peter Dooley, of the Dublin Renters’ Union, says he doesn’t think this is the kind of accommodation that the city needs.

He sees it as a corollary of a push towards casualisation and insecurity. “It’s the casualisation of work, transformed into property,” he says.

It’s selling the idea that people want to keep moving every few months, that they just want somewhere to rest their head rather than to live, says Dooley, a local election candidate in Kimmage-Rathmines for People Before Profit. “It’s really sinister, I think, the advent of these coming in.”

“I think we’re in bad need of long-term rental accommodation,” he said. “They’re not affordable and they’re not secure.”

Lorcan Sirr, a housing expert and academic at TU Dublin, was also sceptical of the shared-living model.

“I think this is a model that will be expensive and transient, and not contribute to any form of meaningful housing solution or the development of any proper communities,” he said.

Bartra didn’t respond to queries about the tenancy arrangements, or design of the accommodation in general.

Joy, the nurse, said that “although the shared housing project will give a temporary solution, private or independent housing units are still needed in the long run”.

Families need space, a back garden, Joy said. Like others, for Indian families, “decent housing is a dream”.

Says Dooley: “We need proper sustainable communities, and how you build that is obviously giving people a secure place to live.”

In its architectural design statement, Bartra notes that while bedrooms in student accommodation are just for sleeping and studying, in shared living, people need some space for living too – for “relaxing; basic cooking; eating; washing; sleeping; studying; socialising”, it says.

That’s why the bedrooms are 16.25 sqm, rather than the bare minimum of 12 sqm, it says.

That’s also why they opted for corridors of rooms, not clusters, so there would be some space for cooking facilities in bedrooms – recognition that people want privacy at times, it said.

Bartra opted to take out hobs from rooms, though, after Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and An Bord Pleanála asked whether that made the rooms into substandard studios.

Bartra said that they weren’t just studios as people had to use the community facilities – and took out hobs in the rooms to make that clearer, they said, in one document.

What’s Affordable?

Part of Bartra’s pitch is also that this shared-living accommodation could help tackle the affordability issues that singles, in particular, in urban areas are facing.

Compare the cost of renting an apartment to shared living, it says. “The shared accommodation would be affordable by persons at or just above the average earnings in Dublin, but the apartments would not be affordable for most earners.”

In hard figures: a shared-living bedroom would cost between €1,083 and €1,300 a month including bills and amenities, while new build-to-rent apartments would cost between €1,200 and €1,850 a month, it says.

One shared-living accommodation for adults, Node Living on Fitzwilliam Square, currently has a two-bedroom apartment for €1,675 per person a month and a three-bedroom apartment for €1,325 per person a month.

While squeezing more beds into the same area may make for slightly cheaper rents, there’s also a longer-term effect on land prices – and affordability around the city for apartments, too.

In Dublin 1, 2, 7, and 8, there’s too many hotels and too much student accommodation going up rather than apartments, says Sinn Féin’s Ó Broin.

A city needs those, so he’s not arguing to get rid of them, he said. “But what we’re not saying is the balance between the different types.”

The hotels and student accommodation are being built because they give investors a higher yield. But squeezing in blocks of smaller rooms drives up land prices.

If somebody has planning permission for nine-storey student accommodation, that has a knock-on impact on all the land around that, he says. “Because people think, ‘Oh, that’s a line of business we want to get into.’”

The same applies to the impact on land prices of shared-living spaces. “I would have a big concern that it’s going to add to overall land inflation, and in turn have a negative impact on affordable accommodation,” he says.

Filed under:

Author:

Lois Kapila: is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at lois@dublininquirer.com or info@dublininquirer.com.

Reader responses

Log in to write a response.

Understand your city

We do in-depth, shoe-leather reporting about the issues that shape Dublin. We're not funded by advertisers. We're funded by readers like you.

We use first-party cookies to allow visitors to log in to our website and read our articles.