Student Housing, Sitting Empty, Converts to Short-Term Lets. But for How Long?

At Point Campus student accommodation beside the 3 Arena, owners DWS first got temporary planning permission to convert the homes to short-term lets in 2018.

They got that permission again in 2019 and again in 2020.

At 274 North Circular Road in Dublin 7, the owners Global Student Accommodation (GSA) got planning permission to use the student housing for short-term lets year-round in 2019 and again in 2020.

GSA were also granted permission in 2020 to convert at least four more student housing complexes in the city to year-round short-term lets.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says the permissions granted are temporary and were given either because construction was taking place on the campus, or because of the pandemic.

“It is unlikely that these permissions will be extended when college life returns to normal and the demand for student accommodations returns to normal levels,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.

But some say that the demand for expensive student accommodation in Dublin was exaggerated from the beginning, and that the vacancy issues date from before Covid-19 arrived in the country.

Some say the owners should drop their prices in order to attract more students, instead of converting the homes to aparthotel use.

But People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh said she believes these projects were ultimately built to be aparthotels or residential accommodation. “It never was student accommodation.”

On Site

There are at least six student-housing complexes in the city where the owners have been granted permission for year-round short-term letting.

There are around 2,240 bed spaces in those complexes, but not all of those have permission for short-term lets. Sometimes the permission they’ve gotten only extends to certain blocks within a complex.

GSA owns most of the complexes, and it didn’t respond to queries in time for publication.

In addition to 274 North Circular Road, GSA got permission last year to do short-term lets year-round at 25-29 Dominick Street Upper and at a separate complex at 58-64 Dominick Street, both in Dublin 1.

As well as at Ardcairn House, on Grangegorman Lower in Dublin 7, and the Tannery Student Accommodation on Mill Street in Dublin 8.

Each of those permission was granted on a temporary basis until the end of May 2021.

At Point Campus, owned by the German investment fund DWS, the complex has been permitted for short-term lets since 2018, with temporary permission granted each year.

But the lettings manager with the operator Host says that Point Campus is not currently being used for short-term lets.

“We did briefly have professionals on site in 2019 however this was deemed too difficult to manage and the decision was made to provide accommodation to students only,” she says.

In summer, the licence changes to a tourism licence and they host non-students in July and August, she says.

The owners may have applied for the temporary planning permission to do short-term lets because of uncertainty around Covid, she says.

“At the moment we have approx. 400 students on site so we do not have a need for short term lets,” she says. There is capacity for 970 people, according to the planning file.

The lettings manager doesn’t know whether the owners plan to apply for permission for short-term letting again next year, she says.

Should It Be Allowed?

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that using student housing for year-round short-term lets is “reasonable”.

Because of Covid-19 and the move to online learning, demand for student accommodation in the city has declined.

A number of purpose-built student-accommodation developments in the city would have been vacant, so the change of use was granted temporarily, they said.

“It is considered that the proposed use of this high quality accommodation by non-students is reasonable,” she says.

That use could help to bring vitality and vibrancy to the inner-city, which may be suffering from a lack of footfall, she says. The student housing remains open to students too.

“The applicants have described the intended use as tourist or visitor accommodation,” says the spokesperson, and that is generally permitted in student accommodation outside of term time.

To safeguard the student use, the planning permissions granted are temporary, she says.

What Happens Next?

Private student accommodation costs around €1,000 per month to rent a room.

Most students can’t afford that, says MacVeigh. So the owners should lower their prices to something more affordable.

Instead, though, what she foresees happening is that this lower-standard accommodation will make its way into the ordinary residential market, she says.

That is already starting to happen as non-students who are working in the city are staying there now under these permissions for short-term letting, says MacVeigh.

“It is what we said from the beginning, that this type of accommodation would be the tenements of the future,” she says.

Lorcan Sirr, a housing lecturer at TU Dublin, says that he regularly passes student-housing complexes in the city and they appear to him to be very under-occupied.

“It looks like the vast majority are empty at the moment,” he says.

He thinks the level of potential demand for student accomodation in Dublin was hyped up from the beginning, he says.

Irish students who move to Dublin usually stay in much cheaper shared houses in the suburbs, he says, so the high-end student accommodation was almost totally reliant on international students.

Since the pandemic there is a push within some academic institutions to teach more of the international students online, so he doesn’t expect demand to resume this September, he says.

Planners are supposed to look at whether granting an application would oversupply the market, he says.

That point was probably reached a few years ago when the owners of student complexes started applying to do year-round short-term lets, says Sirr.

(At Point Campus, the developers said that that was because there was construction on adjoining sites and it was the middle of the academic year so they couldn’t get students in halfway through.)

If the owners dropped the prices, they could fill the complexes with local students, Sirr says.

“Why should they be granted a change-of-use if they made a bad economic decision?” asks Sirr. “Are we going to let them keep flipping from one use to another?”

At the moment, Point Campus is offering €500 cashback to those who recommend friends or rebook themselves, effectively lowering the rent for some but in a way that doesn’t have to be registered officially with the Residential Tenancies Board.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that most applications to change the use of residential accommodation to short-term lets have been rejected, but that student housing is different.

“It is important to recognise the significant difference between the nature of accommodation provided in purpose-built student accommodation schemes and a typical apartment block,” he says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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