University challenge: Sorting out your accommodation

As you prepare for college we outline what you might need to know about looking for lodgings

 

The cost of rent is soaring, especially in Dublin. Ireland is in the throes of a student accommodation crisis. There is growing evidence of students commuting daily to Dublin from extremely long distances, says Laura Harmon, former president of the Union of Students in Ireland.

“There’s been a 13 per cent increase in rental costs for on-campus accommodation. There is already growing evidence of students commuting daily to Dublin over extremely long distances.” – The Irish Times, August 18th, 2014 (Peter McGuire).

The student accommodation hunt is a new challenge for incoming first years, but the crisis is wearily predictable for student union leaders, college support services and, indeed, journalists.

For years and years on end, the college experience of tens of thousands of students has begun with an often-desperate hunt for a place to live – mirroring the problems facing all renters across the country.

More student accommodation will come on stream over the next few years, but that doesn’t tackle the difficulty of this moment.

So how can students find a decent and affordable place to live? And is there any sign of hope?

The state of the market

Ronan Lyons is an assistant professor of economics and author of the Daft.ie report which is released every quarter. “About 1,500-1,600 purpose-built units of student accommodation will be coming onto the Dublin market this year, to be followed by 2,500 the next year, so this may be the peak of the crisis. This may not be much consolation for final year college students, but it does offer hope for first years.”

Students attending college in Dublin will have the biggest difficulty, with similar, albeit less extreme, problems in Galway, Limerick and Cork. “They come up with 101 ways of coping. There may be an aunt or uncle they can stay with. Some commute to Dublin on a daily basis from Cavan or Wexford. Others are fitting more people into houses. If they can commute or drive, they can look at commuter towns around the big cities including places they may not have considered before; of course, this does have knock-on effect on social life. These little ways of coping are multiplied by hundreds and thousands and this is how the market is coping.”

Daniel Waugh is the outgoing campaigns officer at USI which, this year, employed a dedicated staff member to work on the student accommodation crisis. He points out that students are at a disadvantage because they are looking for a room for nine months, whereas families or professionals will sign a 12-month lease and provide the landlord with a steady income.

Even when they can find a place, rent is absorbing the majority of their income. Figures compiled by DIT’s campus life services put the average monthly cost of a room at €427, an annual cost of €3,843.

In Dublin, it’s even more expensive, with the average figure around €508. Dr Brian Gormley of DIT’s campus life services points out that rent can vary widely, from €300 per month for a shared room to up to €1,600 or more for a one-bedroom apartment in Dublin 2.

Of course, a one-bed apartment in Dublin 2 is out of reach for all but students from the wealthiest backgrounds and there are some good, reasonable places to be found – although anywhere decent could have up to 100 applications.

At this stage of the year, it’s unlikely that there will be any on-campus student accommodation left, as students intending to go to a particular college will have had their name down on a waiting list many months ago.

The cost of on-campus accommodation has been rising over the past few years, including at both Trinity and UCD.

The digs option

But there are other options, and digs are probably the best choice for first years. Most students who left college before 2012 think digs were something your parents or grandparents stayed in during their boring stories where they rode dinosaurs to college. In recent years, however, they have become a lifeline in the bloodbath that is the student accommodation market. USI have been heavily promoting them through their website homes.usi.ie.

Students living in digs stay with homeowners, often a family home or an older or retired person. They have their own room and sometimes breakfast and an evening meal are included in the cost of rent. Landlords can claim up to €12,000 in tax-free rent per annum under the rent-a-room relief scheme.

USI says that it is a win-win for students and homeowners alike. “It is a lot more affordable than private rented or on-campus accommodation and it’s proving popular with first years as well and, often, older people who might welcome an extra body around the house,” says Daniel Waugh of USI. “Digs are often closer to campus as well so students save money on transport costs.”

Your rights

Wherever a student lives, they should ideally have a contract or a lease. They should check that there is adequate security on doors and windows; an alarm is ideal. The appliances should be working. They should check if bills are included in the rent and, if on-campus, who controls the heating. Of course, faced with the desperate situation of having nowhere to live, many prospective tenants – not just students – can be reluctant to point out problems to the landlord. Some wait until they’ve signed the lease and to raise issues, but by that stage, the tenant will generally be considered to have consented to the house as it is, so they won’t always have a strong case. It’s far from ideal. Housing charity Threshold (Threshold.ie) is a useful source of advice and support and the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB.ie) can also advise on tenancy rights. And USI has produced a guide with advice on private renting, dealing with landlords and financing.

Will it ever change?

USI continues to push for more on-campus and purpose-built student accommodation but it will take years to come on stream, and Ronan Lyons points out that there has been a slowness on the part of local authorities to address the problem. Stoneybatter in Dublin 7, already a rent pressure zone, will soon have around 20,000 DIT students attending third-level there; without action, this will dramatically push up rents for existing residents.

“Dublin needs 30,000 new purpose-built student beds over the next seven to eight years,” he says. “This is a block a month. It is a big job for local authorities and they can be reluctant to move on it because of ideas that students are not proper residents but, even if they don’t like students, they need to do this to ease pressure on local people.”

Panel 1: My accommodation hunt

Cathal McGivern (19) is about to enter his third year of a BSc in marketing, innovation and technology at Dublin City University.

“I’m from Athlone, so going to and Dublin every day would have been expensive and exhausting. I was lucky enough to get my first choice of college course and I had hoped I might get on-campus accommodation at DCU, but I missed out, so I was faced with finding a place for September.

“I was house-hunting by myself and I had to keep a close eye on what I was spending, because I didn’t want to go over €500 per month. I sent messages to landlords, I visited CollegeCribs.ie, I went on Daft.ie and MyHome.ie and tried to organise viewings. Over a long two weeks, I commuted back and forth to Dublin. I found a room in a nice place in Clontarf for €425 excluding bills, sharing with three working professionals in their late 20s or early 30s.

“A lot of people would be reluctant to share with a 17-year-old student, so I got lucky. It was my first time out of home and I was anxious that I might be messy, but I cleaned up after myself and made it work. It wasn’t right by the college and I had to commute on the bus or do a 45-minute walk, but that’s the way it is now.

“In second year, I got on-campus accommodation and moved in with strangers. We all had our own room and got on well and it was great to meet students from different countries and backgrounds. For this year, I moved into a house in Glasnevin with three friends, and I will be sharing a bedroom, which will be an adjustment. I worked full-time over the summer to save up some money and it’s a nice place with decent rent. We’re just so happy to have a place and we will take really good care of it.”

Panel 2: How to adult, a short guide

So you’re a college student. Welcome to the halfway house between childhood and adulthood.

Whether you’re about to move in with absolute strangers or take further tentative steps towards independence while living at home, you need to know how to adult. You need to know how to clean up after yourself so you don’t drive your housemates – or parents – to violence. Here’s our short guide.

– Clean your room. In the past, it didn’t matter as much because it was just your space. Now, however, you might want to bring someone back to your bed. Dirty plates, crusty sheets and a smell that is brand new to nature isn’t cute or sexy.

– Now’s a good time to learn how to wipe a counter. Have a chat with your parents or housemates about your expectations of cleanliness. For some, that may mean reluctantly unblocking the sink when the rubbish piles up. For others, it can mean hourly hoovering. Find a compromise. Communication is important, so be honest with each other. And agree that, if someone pukes all over the bathroom, they’ll clean it up as soon as possible.

– A rota is generally a good idea for people who are new to housework, but perhaps you can all agree on specific chores.

– You might be an adult now, but your parents will always see you as a child. So if you’re living at home, send a text and let them know if you’ll be late or if you’re “staying with a friend for the night”. Likewise, parents might fume if you stay in bed all day instead of attending lectures, but they need to recognise it’s up to the student to take responsibility for themselves, while the student should recognise that, as the people paying for this whole adventure, parents are not a disinterested party. Sit down and talk.

– Bite your tongue. Isn’t it better to try and get along with your housemates than being the guy who uses post-it notes to convene meetings when someone uses his favourite mug? Conversely, if you’re the mug guy, can you consider letting it go?