Dec 12, 2023

Trinity’s Student Residents Call for Tenant Protections: “It’s Not a Hostel, it’s Our Home”

Several Trinity student residents spoke to The University Times to highlight the issues incurred due to the lack of proper tenant protections, such as College’s “paternalistic” overnight guest policies and concerns over security, autonomy and living conditions on campus.

Brídín Ní Fhearraigh-Joyce and Clara Roche
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

In November, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) called upon College to change its overnight guest practice, describing it as a “paternalistic, dangerous and double-standard policy”. At present, students living in on-campus accommodation must sign in guests before midnight, and students living in Trinity Hall must do so by 10:30pm. The Union highlighted the risks incurred when, for example, students were unable to get home safely and could not be signed in to their friends’ on-campus flats, and the repercussions faced when residents hosted guests who had not been registered. 

Moreover, students residing in Trinity accommodation are currently classified as licensees rather than tenants, allowing College to impose such restrictions. The Union encouraged residents to join the TCD Renters’ Solidarity Network, a “grassroots” group working to guarantee tenant status and “stand up against unaffordable rents”. The University Times spoke to several students living on campus to explore the challenges they face  in comparison with traditional tenants. 

One student, based in the Graduates’ Memorial Building (GMB), agreed with the Union’s assessment, describing the policy as “a modern day manifestation of the same conservative, paternalistic ideology which kept women off campus by 6pm”. While the student, who wished to remain anonymous, accepted the requirement to sign guests in — “because we understand the need for accountability and security” — they rejected the demand that this occur before midnight. “We should be trusted to wield the autonomy to do that at any hour.” 


“We’re adults, and we’re entitled to make decisions about who we bring home to our own accommodation, at whatever time”, the student continued. “When we have to turn friends away after midnight, it feels like we’re little kids and having our lives dictated by Linda Doyle.” The principle extends beyond “wanting to get the ride”, as the student so delicately put it. While Trinity’s residents are not considered tenants, on-campus accommodation “is not a hostel, it’s our home for the year”. 

English and History student Matt Lyne shared his own experience with the policy, recalling a time his visiting sister was “held at the gate for no justifiable reason”, despite having been signed in, sharing a last name with him and having his key and his student ID. According to Lyne, his sister was told that “if she left the office they would kick her off campus and not open the gate again for her”. When he came to collect her after an hour and a half, “her feet were blistered and she was drenched and shivering”. 

From December 1st to December 16th, students will not be allowed to host overnight guests without first seeking permission from the Junior Dean at least two days in advance. A spokesperson for College said that this is “to ensure minimal disruption for students who are revising for, and sitting, exams in the period mentioned”. 

Adam Ó Ceallaigh, a Geography and Political Science student living in Printing House Square (PHS), said that because residents are licensees and not tenants, “staff have the right to enter your room without your express permission”. He recalled arriving in his apartment’s common area “to find a security guard sitting at the kitchen table”, who, upon seeing Ó Ceallaigh, “promptly left”. 

Another Printing House Square resident corroborated Ó Ceallaigh’s experience. “It’s odd to see evidence of strangers having gone through your room when you get back”, they admitted. “For example, a flatmate of mine noticed that the PHS staff had just been in their room and changed their window lock, despite accommodation having never sent an email about it or notifying them that they’d come over.” As for the overnight guest policy, well, it’s “inherently stupid”. 

Threshold, an Irish organisation advocating for the prevention of homelessness, describes licensees as one of “the most vulnerable groups renting in Ireland, with very limited rights. Licensees are those who are renting a room from an existing tenant of a property. In these cases, normal landlord and tenant laws do not apply and the licensee is left very vulnerable with little to no protections legally in place”.

The advocacy group further adds “we see more people coming to our service who are licensees being taken advantage of by the person they are renting from. The licensor in these instances is often not the homeowner but is a “head tenant” who sublets the rooms, with or without the homeowner’s knowledge. The clients have no recourse to the RTB (the Residential Tenancy Board) if there has been any misconduct by the licensor, such as deposit retention, eviction with little notice, rent increases and even intimidation”. 

As students cannot contact the RTB with issues they incur within Trinity’s student accommodation, there is little room for mediation and recourse in issues concerning guests, provision of services and unannounced visits from security staff. 

Claire Stafford, an English and French student in Goldsmith Hall, highlighted the consequences of living without proper tenant protections. “We had no heating or hot water at all, or disrupted heating and hot water, for weeks, and I’ve heard similar stories from Botany Bay and New Square”, she admits. “We are not entitled to any reimbursement of the utility fees we pay on top of our extortionate rent.”

She says, “the accommodation we had fairly paid for was rendered unusable, and we were all smothering with flu symptoms that were certainly exacerbated — if not directly caused by — the lack of heat in the apartment.” Even when the heating works as planned, she says, it is shut off during the night, ostensibly to save money and reduce carbon emissions. While she agrees that the latter is important to students, “it cannot be at the expense of student welfare”. 

Stafford agreed with Molnárfi’s assessment that the policy is “paternalistic and condescending”. She pointed out a double standard in College requesting so much information about prospective guests, “including their gender and their relationship to you”, when the institution itself “has never provided a reasonable explanation for the policy”. Her friends are in agreement, she says, that the policy is in place to prevent “one-night stands”. She argued that because the policy is only in place at nighttime, she assumes that College are “moralising” to students in not allowing overnight guests. 

Stafford pointed out the difficulties, however, in mobilising students to effect change. “Most of the people who live on campus are in fourth year”, she said. “They’re so busy, and it won’t affect them next year.” 

But the efficacy of collective action was demonstrated last month, when, following the Book of Kells blockade, College agreed to a rent freeze on its student accommodation for the 2023/24 academic year. A spokesperson for the College said that this decision was “reached in the context of an awareness of the pressures students are facing”. 

The next course of action may be to join Molnárfi’s Renters’ Solidarity Network, the WhatsApp group of which is accessible via the Google Form linked on Molnárfi’s Twitter (X). Molnárfi announced that the group will be used to “coordinate campaigns around the collective issues we face”. 

A College spokesperson told The University Times that “overnight guests in term time must be signed in on campus before midnight. The Student Union has raised this matter. We take on board their views in respect of this and all College policies”.

College rejected suggestions of unannounced visits from security staff, saying that “at least 1 week’s notice is given via email” and that “the main aim is to identify any maintenance issues that residents may not have reported”.

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