I’m a student renting a room – what are my rights?

Your property queries answered

Digs of a different kind: renting a room in someone’s house is one solution to the drastic lack of Irish university accommodations. The downside is a certain lack of freedom and privacy. Photograph: Thinkstock

Digs of a different kind: renting a room in someone’s house is one solution to the drastic lack of Irish university accommodations. The downside is a certain lack of freedom and privacy. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

Q My son recently accepted an offer at NUIG but finding a place to rent in Galway is very difficult. There are so few places available and what there is is very expensive. We have come across a number of advertisements, whereby people are renting out rooms in their homes. I have heard that a tenant’s rights are different in this scenario. Is this correct? Anecdotally, I have heard many horror stories about people living with landlords. Are there any practical steps that I can take to ensure that he doesn’t get into difficulty later on?

A This is an exciting but daunting time for students, many of whom are leaving home for the first time. Most Irish cities are hugely short of quality purpose-built student accommodation, on or off campus.

Most colleges are now actively trying to encourage homeowners close to campus to consider renting a room to a student – being able to earn up €12,000 per annum under the “rent-a-room scheme” is an attractive incentive. One thing is for sure: old-style digs are on the way back.

But choosing to rent a room in someone’s home is a distinctly different experience from renting a house or apartment. First there is a the legal difference: a tenant in a traditional rental has a number of rights under landlord-tenant legislation. Renting a room in a house isn’t the same thing at all. Your son would be there under a licensee agreement, not a tenancy agreement, which means a different set of rights and obligations on the part of homeowner and room renter. Basically a room renter has fewer rights.

The attraction for students, however, is getting warm, comfortable, safe accommodation. Living in a house not too dissimilar to their homeplace might ease first-year nerves. And not having to deal with bills is a bonus – the owner usually pays utilities.

Most homeowners will, reasonably, have a set of house rules, and it’s key that there is clarity about these from the start: is there free use of the kitchen – or only between certain times? Is an evening meal provided (usually, yes)? Is there a curfew? What about having an overnight guest? Or any friends over? Is there free use of the rest of the house – the livingroom or TV room? Is it a non-smoking house? What about noise? What about breakages – who pays? You will be given a house key, but what about a key to your bedroom?

It is a good idea to have this all in writing to prevent misunderstandings further down the line. You should be very clear as to the precise rent and when it is to be paid and over what time period. This will normally be over the academic term(s). You should receive a written receipt for all rental payments, and possibly agree on the condition of the property from the outset and perhaps take some photographs at the start of the rental agreement.

NUIG has a very useful accommodation finder site (nuigstudentpad.ie/ Accommodation), as well as good advice on student-landlord rights and obligations. See also thresh old.ie and citizensinformation.ie.

Gerard O’Toole is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

Pros and cons of tenants when selling

Q I have been letting a property for the last number of years. With the property market improving, I am considering selling the house. Currently I have tenants residing there. I am wondering whether it would be better to have the tenants vacate the house before it is shown to prospective purchasers, or to leave the tenants in situ. What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing these options, and do you foresee any difficulties in asking the tenants to vacate the house for the purpose of selling the house?

A Before you consider the advantages and disadvantages of leaving your tenants in situ for the duration of the sale, you need to consider their rights of residence in the property and the notice period required for them to vacate. They may be under no obligation to facilitate viewings or access to the property while you are selling it, and as such you should examine your lease agreement with regard to this.

Under Section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, a landlord can terminate a Part 4 tenancy should they wish to sell the property. A tenant acquires the benefit of a Part 4 tenancy once they have remained in occupation for a period of six months. The landlord must, however, ensure that adequate notice is served.

The notice period varies depending on the length of time the tenant has been in occupation. The notice period under the act is as follows:

Notice period Duration of tenancy 28 days Less than 6 months 35 days 6 months or more but less than 1 year 42 days 1 year or more but less than 2 years 56 days 2 years or more but less than 3 years 84 days 3 years or more but less than 4 years 112 days 4 or more years

Your tenancy may be a fixed term tenancy. This is essentially a tenancy that has been agreed for a fixed term, ie one year, from a date. Usually this is contained within a written lease, although it could also be oral or implied. In the event of a fixed term tenancy, the landlord can only terminate such a tenancy where the tenant has been in breach of his or her obligations. The landlord cannot rely upon section 34 of the Act to gain vacant possession.

Now examine the advantages and disadvantages of having your tenants occupying your property during the sale period.

The advantages are as follows:

nYou will continue to receive rental income during the sale.

nYour property will be occupied, so you do not have to worry about it being vacant. Your tenant, in effect, is a caretaker.

nProspective purchasers will view your property with a “lived in feeling”. It won’t have an atmosphere of emptiness, unlike a vacant property.

The disadvantages:

nThe tenant may be under no obligation to facilitate viewings. which are often in the evenings, Saturdays etc.

nThe tenant is also under no obligation to present the property for sale the way that you may wish them to do so.

nGiven there is a tenancy, the closing date of the sale, ie the date that the eventual purchaser moves in and you are paid the purchase price in full, cannot take place until after your tenant vacates. This may take more time than a purchaser might be happy with. As you can see from the statutory notice period above, it could take almost four months.

Talk to your estate agent and get their opinion. They will be the ones having to work around the tenants when it comes to viewings so their input matters. Be honest: if your tenant is likely to be difficult about facilitating viewings for whatever reason, your agent needs to know. They will be used to dealing with situations like this, so take their advice.

You should discuss the tenancy with your solicitor because you need to follow the correct procedure prior to the sale. You may be advised to give your tenant notice to vacate, irrespective of them remaining in the property during viewings.

You may also consider giving them an incentive to facilitate viewings and to remain in the property during the process. Many landlords give a sweetener of a few months rent reduction to compensate for any hassle. John O Sullivan, is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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