Op-Ed: Chairperson of the Student Legal Society Pat Fitzgerald on UCD Residences’ onerous Licence to Reside

 
 

With 3000 students signing Licences to Reside to move into on-campus accommodation next week, Chairperson of the Student Legal Service, Patrick Fitzgerald warns of the onerous nature of this important contact.

 

Next week, UCD will witness an influx of 3000 students moving into on-campus accommodation. As students spend days and weeks preparing for the big move, they will surprisingly only spend a few mere seconds signing their Licence to Reside for UCD Residences. Many do not even read the document. If you are one of these people, little do you know that you are entering into an extremely restrictive legal document, disproportionately weighted in favour of UCD.

An overview of the UCD Licence to Reside

The UCD Licence to Reside falls outside the scope of 2004 Residential Tenancies Act, as it is not a lease. Therefore, students living on-campus do not enjoy the same statutory rights or protections in a broad range of areas, such as deposits, fines and evictions, as those students who rent off-campus as leaseholders like myself. This is despite the fact that I pay less in rent and live a mere five minute walk from the main campus.

If there is a dispute between a resident and the UCD authorities, students on-campus cannot bring a case to the Private Residential Tenancies Board, which is an independent dispute resolution board that deals with landlord-tenant disputes cheaply and out of court. Rather an appeal against a revocation of a licence or the imposition of a fine, the appeal must be made to the Vice President for Students within five days of the resident knowing that they have a right to enter such a process. Given that the time frame is so short, it has been deliberately engineered in such a fashion to hinder students contesting the decisions of the UCD Accommodation office.

Notice must be given if a landlord ever wants to enter a rented property where there’s a lease. This is not necessary at all under the UCD Licence to Reside, as staff can enter the property at any time without the residents’ permission. Usually UCD Residences give notice via email when they are going to conduct an inspection; however, as a student who lived on-campus for two years, I witnessed accommodation staff coming into my apartment for maintenance works with zero notice. It is clear that students, who are in a position of unequal bargaining power, must accept terms and conditions much lower than their counterparts off-campus.

The licence goes further than that still. Not only does it ban everything from flags to pets, but UCD have written in a clause which allows them to change the terms of the licence at any time. Can you imagine signing a contract where this is an explicit term? That sounds like signing up to play a game of soccer where the referee could get rid of the offside rule at any time, if he felt like it. Clause 19 of the Licence does exactly this, however, as it reserves the right for the Administrator to add to or amend the terms of the licence at any point. This gives the UCD Accommodation Office incredible power to alter the terms at their whim, without any student consultation.

Continual concerns with the UCD Licence to Reside

In March 2011, a SLS survey found that UCD staff were entering Residences unannounced and in March 2012, the University Observer highlighted the fact that UCD accommodation staff were filming inside student residences. Despite the criticism of this policy, clause 14 clearly continues to allow “the use of equipment to monitor the response to ensure safety” in response to “potential breaches of the licence”. I understand that the UCD accommodation Office has to deal with serious incidents of anti-social behaviour but should the actions of a small minority deny the majority a right to privacy? I think not.

One also has to remember that you can be sharing accommodation on-campus with up to eleven other students who you don’t know. The privacy of the other students is in jeopardy if one student engages in anti-social behaviour. In a UCD Residences policy document, I welcome the stance that this equipment will not be used to film in the bedrooms of students. Nevertheless, there is something deeply disturbing about a body being allowed to come, with video cameras, into your home.

Questions must be asked such as why should UCD be allowed to treat students as second-class citizens given that they are paying up to €5,430 to stay on-campus. Why should students who rent off-campus as leaseholders enjoy better legal protections than their on-campus counterparts? Furthermore, why doesn’t UCD inform students more clearly about the terms and conditions of the Licence to Reside rather than seeking refuge in a complex legal document in miniscule font? The UCD Licence to Reside is constructed to ensure that students living on-campus are left legally in the weakest position possible. The chances that those who choose to reside on campus will ever have full rights as leaseholders are pessimistic at best. The possibility of students as leaseholders under the protection of the 2004 Residential Tenancies Act scares UCD because that would create a worrying situation for them: residents with rights and remedies as tenants. Incoming residents should think twice before signing their Licences to Reside, and allowing UCD Accommodation have such free reign over their home for the year ahead.

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