Issues

What is co-living?

One of many aspects of the so-called “sharing economy” that has sprung up due to the precarious nature of work, housing supply, availability of public transport and working space, co-living has been a hot topic in Ireland over recent months. With the Government’s backing, it is bound to become a feature of housing in Dublin at least, so eolas asks the question: what is co-living?

The concept of co-living dates back at least to the tenements of the 20th century, although some do consider the sort of communal living on display in such developments to date back to longhouse model of communal housing that has been prevalent since medieval and Neolithic times across the world.

In ways, and depending on the design of a given development, co-living can be similar to single room occupancy in that some developments offers an ensuite single room with shared communal areas such as kitchens living rooms. Typically, the lower the price of the rent paid by a tenant, the higher the chance that further areas will be shared, such as bathrooms and even bedrooms, which can sometimes take the form of dormitory style rooms replete with bunk beds, similar to a hostel.

The emphasis in the design is placed on the communal spaces, with the shared living rooms and kitchens often offering markedly superior quality to the bedrooms. Some co-living spaces also contain gyms, cafés, workspaces and other shared amenities. There have been some co-living developments specifically targeted at certain career paths and contain shared spaces such as painting studios.

Co-living has become more and more popular as the world’s housing market has failed to resolve the crisis in which it finds itself. This is especially true in India and the United States of America, where big cities such as New York are now incentivising the development of co-living housing. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development announced a pilot scheme in 2018 named ShareNYC that sought submissions from private developers for income-restricted co-living units, including those for low-income renters.

With the mode of living proving popular in cities with significant housing problems such as San Francisco too, the number of millennials living with housemates in America rose by 39 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

The model has also been taken up en masse in places such as London and Singapore. The author Alexandria Lafci predicted in 2018 that the model would only grow due to the prediction that the world’s cities would be populated by 2.5 billion people by 2025, with 90 per cent of the Earth’s population predicted to be living on 10 per cent of its land mass.

Co-living in Ireland

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD has said before that co-living developments offer an “exciting” opportunity to young workers. He made these comments after plans for a development of 208 “single occupancy bedspaces”, where dozens of occupants would share one kitchen were brought to light in 2018.

Murphy was roundly criticised for these comments, as he was for comments in 2019 where he compared the conditions within co-living developments to living in a “very trendy, kind of boutique hotel type place”, a comparison he later accepted was “not a good one”. Labour leader, Brendan Howlin TD called him “an apologist for those who wish to push down the quality of housing”, and Murphy explained that his vision for co-living was for young workers who were prepared to make “certain sacrifices around space so they can live closer to work, at a more affordable rent”.

Regulations with regard to co-living were put in place in 2017, with the Government being welcoming of the potential of developments becoming a part of the Irish housing landscape. Models believed to be welcome are those inspired by existing examples such as the Collective Old Oak in London, the world’s largest co-living space with over 500 occupants, and the LifeX tenements prevalent in Copenhagen, Munich and Vienna.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said in the past that it is important to remember that co-living spaces will account for roughly 1 per cent of the building being done as Ireland seeks to address its housing crisis.

In June 2019, a co-living development with spaces for over 200 people in Tallaght was denied planning permission by An Bord Pleanála. The reasons given for the rejection were that the development had “fail[ed] to provide an acceptable living environment” and that it had a “notable shortfall in the provision of sufficient communal facilities”. The Department of Housing refuses to comment on specific planning decisions, but did issue a statement saying that it was “satisfied that the co-living guidelines are robust and will continue to monitor the sector”.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD.

Concerns have also been raised about the possibility that co-living tenants would be exempt from rent protections. The Department of Housing has said that these tenants could be issued licenses rather than leases, which would not be covered by the Residential Tenancies Act, the legislation that enforces a rent rise cap of 4 per cent in Rent Pressure Zones and allows tenants to bring disputes to the Residential Tenancies Board.

Concerns have also been raised about the possibility that co-living tenants would be exempt from rent protections. The Department of Housing has said that these tenants could be issued licenses rather than leases, which would not be covered by the Residential Tenancies Act, the legislation that enforces a rent rise cap of 4 per cent in Rent Pressure Zones and allows tenants to bring disputes to the Residential Tenancies Board.

The key difference between a tenant signing a license agreement with a landlord rather than a lease is in the idea of exclusive possession. Leases grant tenants the right to exclusive possession of a property, to the exclusion of others, including the landlord. A license on the other hand is said to simply give the tenant the right to be on the landlord’s property.

There remains the possibility that co-living will require the amendment of the Residential Tenancies Act to clear up any imbalances and to protect tenants. The Act was amended in August of this year to include “student-specific” accommodation.

Planning permission for Dublin’s first co-living space has recently been granted. Proposed by Bartra Capital, the developers behind the rejected Tallaght development, the building is the previously mooted 208 “single occupancy bedspace” development. Permission was granted for the building in Dún Laoghaire town centre and the kitchens will be shared by up to 42 residents per kitchen.

Dublin City Council are currently considering a planning proposal to educe the minimum size rooms in a co-living development to 6-9 square metres. The current minimum is 12 square metres.

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