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Aparto, the student housing platform owned by real estate giant Hines, is charging students as much as €65 a week for “room costs” on top of the rent in the coming academic year at its student accommodation complexes in the city.

New leases include a new breakdown of what will, from September, make up the overall “licence fee” paid by students who opt for a room in one of Aparto’s five complexes in the city.

The licence fee includes, the leases say, a “room rate”, “room costs” and the possibility of any “supplementary room charge payable from time to time”.

Within rent pressure zones (RPZ) such as Dublin, all student beds in private purpose-built student accommodation are subject to laws that govern rent increases.

Since December 2021, those rent increases have been capped in most cases at whichever is lower, the rate of inflation or 2 percent a year.

“We are working very hard to make housing more secure and affordable for renters,” said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien in a statement at the time.

“Affordability is one of the key challenges in the rental market and tackling this is one of the central tenets of Housing for All,” he said.

Landlords can, though, legally add some charges on top of the rent, a practice that leaves tenants vulnerable to faster-growing payments even if on paper the rents have only risen in line with rent controls.

Which charges are allowable is disputed.

A spokesperson for the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) said that: “Any charges imposed cannot result in any additional obligations on tenants which are inconsistent with the [Residential Tenancies Act] 2004.”

What is considered an additional obligation isn’t always clear at the moment though, says Zak Murtagh, a legal officer with the housing charity Threshold.

The best course of action for a student who believes that rents or charges are being unlawfully set is to go before the RTB for dispute resolution, he said. “For the RTB to look into the actual nature of the charges.”

It is clearer in other jurisdictions, he says. The UK has a Tenants Fees Act, active since June 2019, with a clear laundry list of what fees can and can’t be charged to tenants on top of the rent, said Murtagh.

There, tenants can only be asked to pay for the rent, a deposit, payments associated with changing the tenancy or ending the tenancy early, late-rent fees, for replacement fees for keys and, finally, for utilities, communication services, a TV licence and council tax.

If utilities are on top of the rent, the landlord can’t overcharge for them, the guidance says.

Beth O’Reilly, the president of the Union of Students Ireland, says being able to add on charges and fees and say they are separate to rent doesn’t make sense to her.

“It’s all your rent. Anything you’re paying for your accommodation, should be considered your rent,” she said.

“The increase should be considered an increase under RPZ legislation, there shouldn’t be any ways around that,” said O’Reilly. “There needs to be a further look at the legislation to ensure that these gaps are covered.”

A spokesperson for Aparto said: “We are now providing our students and their families with more information on the constituent costs relating to their tenancy which includes the cost of accommodation – subject to a statutory cap which is always adhered to – and related service charges.”

Inflation means that Aparto can’t absorb some costs that it had to date, they said. “[A]parto is satisfied that it fully meets all its statutory obligations.”

Parsing the Costs

“If extra service charges are to be paid on top of rent, it must be clearly set out in the lease agreement,” says a spokesperson for the RTB.

But some students say they have struggled to wade through the terminology in Aparto’s new leases, to understand what they are being charged for and how that has been calculated.

“I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not well versed in looking at contracts but I honestly have no idea what it means,” said Claudia Prettejohn, a student living in Binary Hub in the Liberties.

Her lease shows a licence fee broken down into €229 a week to “room rate” and €55 a week to “room costs”. (Other leases attribute €65 a week to room costs.)

A spokesperson for Aparto said the costs include “the cost of accommodation – subject to a statutory cap which is always adhered to – and related service charges”.

Service charges include the extra third-party costs that apply in any normal landlord-tenant scenario, which are above and beyond the fixed agreed rent, they said. “And all of which would have increased over the past year due to inflation.”

“Examples of service charge include utilities, waste management, upkeep, home insurance contents, concierge, security and highspeed wifi,” they said.

But the definition of “room costs” written down in the leases is broader, referring also to amenities and incidental expenditure.

It defines room costs as a portion of “residence costs”. Elsewhere in the lease, “residence costs” is defined as “all costs, charges, expenditure (plus any VAT) paid, payable, incurred or to be incurred by the Company or the Management Team in or incidental to the provision of the Residence Services”.

And on another line, “residence services” is defined as meaning “wifi, broadband, water, gas, electricity, waste disposal, reception services and other utilities, services and amenities made available to Licensees of the Residence from time to time for use, consumption or enjoyment in or in connection with the Residence”.

Murtagh, the legal officer for Threshold, said he would question the validity of some of those charges.

“Property management and related services cannot be added on top of rent,” he said. “We would question the charge for reception services as this relates to the management of the complex.”

Threshold would also question charges for services and amenities, if that means the likes of common areas, cinema rooms, study rooms and so on, he said. “As they are part of the overall management of the property and encompassed as part of student specific accommodation.”

Nobody should be charged for water either, said Murtagh. “This is not a legitimate charge. No tenant, or licensee in a PBSA [purpose-built student accommodation], should be charged for water.”

A spokesperson for Aparto said that water is included as a utility, but there is zero charge for it as it is not a paid-for utility at this time. “However as this may be subject to change in the future, we are highlighting it for the licensee.”

“[A]parto is satisfied that it fully meets all its statutory obligations,” the spokesperson said again.

Elsewhere in the new leases, a section also tells students that: “If the Licensee has any queries whatsoever in respect of the Residence Costs or the Room Costs, these must be raised in advance of entry into this Licence.”

Murtagh said that, just like tenants, licensees in student accommodation have a right under Section 188 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 (as amended) to ask management companies at any time for details of service charges and how they have been calculated.

Students can also file disputes over the terms of licenses, including how the rent has been set, with the RTB.

A spokesperson for Aparto didn’t address a query about whether putting in the lease that licensees have to raise concerns before they sign misled students as to their rights.

Year on Year

Aparto has roughly 1,700 student beds in five complexes across the city.

For the 2022/23 year, the advertised rents at the Binary Hub complex in the Liberties ranged from €256 to €287 per week for different rooms.

If those advertised rents went up by 2 percent, then students could expect to be €5 more a week out of pocket.

But for the coming year 2023/24, the advertised rents range from €272 to €306 a week. That’s between €16 and €19 a week more.

Comparing what students paid in past years, and the coming year – and working out how much is down to rent increases and how much is down to changing charges – is hard. The wording and information in past and future leases differs.

László Molnárfi, a Trinity student, lived in Binary Hub for two years, the academic year that started in September 2020 and the following starting in September 2021.

He wasn’t charged anything on top of the rent, he says. “We had the rent and that was all.”

His leases for those two years have a less convoluted definition of what is included in the licence fee. It doesn’t mention “room rates” or “room costs” or “supplementary room charge”. No charges are broken down.

The licence fee means the “charges for the Licensees use of the Room […] which fee INCLUDES use of electricity, water and sewerage utility services. The Company reserves the right to recharge the Licensee for non-residential, unreasonable or excessive use of such services”, his leases for those two years say.

Murtagh said that Threshold’s understanding is that some charges, such as car parking and utilities can be charged separately on top of the rent, and it basically depends on what was agreed at the outset of each licence arrangement.

“If they were previously part of the rent and later added as additional payments that would be a rent increase, in our understanding of the Act,” he said.

A spokesperson for Aparto said that inflation was behind the changes in leases. The cost of its additional services has risen steeply and some of that has been absorbed by Aparto, they said.

“However, as high levels of inflation have persisted here over a sustained period, the balance of this increase can no longer continue to be absorbed by Aparto,” they said.

“We have therefore informed existing and incoming residents of the charges applying for the upcoming year 2023/24,” said the spokesperson.

“While we accept the additional challenge this represents for our students and their families, we are pleased that demand for 2023/24 remains strong and we have doubled our retention rate for existing residents in respect of the year ahead,” said the spokesperson.

Seeking More Clarity

Prettejohn, the student living in Binary Hub, said that she hasn’t queried the breakdown of “room costs” with Aparto.

She’s lucky enough to be in a position where she can afford the extra money with help from parents, she says. “And because, basically, because I’m so desperate to have security in my housing.”

Her search for a place last year before she got the spot at Binary Hub was unbelievably stressful, she says. “It was just … obviously like the state of the market is unbelievable.”

They started the search early and applied for hundreds of places in the private sector and got a few viewings, he said. “But it was basically impossible.”

By July, she was worried she would have nowhere to live and opted for Binary Hub, she says, even though it was a bit more costly than other options she had tried to get. “It wasn’t far off but it was more expensive.”

Prettejohn has signed up to stay for the coming academic year, she says, but just as a back-up. In case she doesn’t get the spot in Trinity’s on-campus accommodation, she says.

She knows others using it as a back-up too, she says. “The private market is really difficult to penetrate so it’s kind of like almost an emergency option for people.”

A spokesperson for the RTB said that if a tenant believes that a landlord has unlawfully raised the rent in their tenancy, they can make an application to the Dispute Resolution Service of the RTB.

O’Reilly, the president of the Union of Students Ireland, says that one issue that students are running into with accommodation complexes is finding that their licences or tenancies aren’t registered with the RTB.

Those in purpose-built student accommodation can still file disputes even if the tenancy or licence isn’t registered. But it can make students hesitate.

Neither the RTB nor Aparto addressed queries as to why none of the Aparto student housing complexes currently appear on the RTB’s register of student accommodation – an omission also raised last year.

The RTB spokesperson just sent a link to the current register and said it was updated quarterly.

Lois Kapila

Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's managing editor and general-assignment reporter. Want to share a comment or a tip with her? Send an email to her at

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