Students feel the squeeze as rental costs soar

The rising cost of renting on college campus is far beyond the average cost of private accommodation which may be a cheaper option for students – though it’s in short supply

Increases in the cost of college campus accommodation and high rates for specialised student accommodation are forcing students to pay above-average prices for housing for the upcoming academic year.

Despite rent costs soaring to pre-Celtic Tiger era prices, private rented accommodation is still likely to be a cheaper option for students than campus accommodation at third-level institutions. The annual cost of a single room in campus accommodation in UCD, TCD, DCU, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth and the University of Limerick is, in some cases, more than €1,000 more expensive than the average cost of renting a single room in that area.

Accommodation prices rose across all seven third-level campuses this year. Campus accommodation in UCD ranges broadly in price, starting at €5,500 in Blackrock Halls, increasing to €7,708 in the new Ashfield residence and other facilities, not including charges for utilities or catering. This is the highest cost for campus accommodation in the State, and far beyond the average cost of renting a single bed in south Dublin city, which is €4,482 for a nine-month lease.

“We consider UCD to be comparatively priced against other campus accommodation in Dublin,” a UCD spokesperson says. “We continue to invest in our existing accommodation stock and examine longer-term options on campus.”

Trinity College has one single-room option available which is below the average local rental cost for the second quarter of 2016; in Rubrics, the cost is €4,549.96 for nine months accommodation, compared to the city centre average of €5,292. However, these rooms are usually allocated to university scholars and all other rooms are above the average local cost.

This year 65 per cent of Irish students will be living at home – up from 62 per cent last year – but the rental market will be flooded by a record number of CAO applicants starting college. A 2015 estimate from the HEA, the Higher Education Authority, suggested that more than 25,800 students compete in the private rental sector nationwide, making up an estimated 11 per cent of tenancies.

Digs and private rentals are likely to provide cheaper alternatives to campus accommodation for most students living away from home, but they will be hard to come by: just 3,600 properties were available to rent on as of August 1st this year, compared to 11,000 on the same date in 2012.

They are also much more expensive than they have been in the past, with rents in Dublin costing 5.3 per cent more than in their last peak of 2007.

Increased demand for private sector accommodation may also persuade landlords to let to non-students who could potentially afford higher rental costs. Student representatives say that some landlords are taking advantage of the difficult situation.

"There's a way of looking at students by some landlords and some institutions, that the demand is so high that they can charge what they want," says vice-president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Jack Leahy.

“They are not increasing rent by five figures every year, but you can see a trend in student accommodation going up despite no discernible improvement in quality at the institutions’ end. Landlords know that they can put the price of a room up by €100 and probably get it.”

However, Dublin 6-based letting agent Coleman Connor says it is the poor reputation of students rather than landlord greed that is partially closing their door to the private rental market.

“In our office, landlords have a choice of applicants,” he says. “The reputation unfortunately of Irish students hasn’t been so good. Some landlords are reluctant to take them on. The ones who do tend to seek higher deposits and references from their past accommodation.”

A number of students’ unions across the State, as well as USI, are urging homeowners to rent out their spare rooms to students in order to relieve some of the pressure on the private rental market. Rental income of up to €12,000 is tax free for digs operators.

“I keep saying to people who are considering renting to students, ‘you are giving somebody the opportunity to go to college’,” said Jimmy McGovern, president of NUI Galway Students’ Union.

“It’s not the case that they’ll just get accommodation elsewhere. This is the difference in them potentially having to defer the year. There were a number of students in my office last year who had to defer until this September simply because they could not find accommodation.”

Now some hostels in Dublin and Galway are even offering student housing deals for those unable to find accommodation. Barnacles in Galway offers a student accommodation deal of €105 a week, or €70 for a five-night stay, with some students staying long-term during the academic year. Jacobs Inn in Dublin offers a three-night midweek student deal from October until February for €30.

Scams and sub-standard housing also play a part in a minority of student experiences, as the lack of available accommodation results in advantage being taken of pressurised students. Housing and homelessness charity Threshold says that students make up roughly 10 per cent of calls to their service, with many calling at this time of year around the accommodation scramble.

“You will get people that will prey on vulnerable tenants like students,” says Stephen Large, Dublin manager of Threshold. “Things like the standard of accommodation, getting repairs done, that would be a big issue. From a student’s perspective, they may not be aware of their rights or they may be reluctant to try to do anything about it because of the fear of reprisals.”

UCD students union welfare officer Róisín O’Mara says that the level of competition is the reason for students being scammed.

“First years and internationals based outside of Dublin are at a huge disadvantage for the kind of quick viewing you need to organise before a place is snapped up. They often feel pressured into offering the deposit and hoping that things turn out okay . . . As such, they’re forced to take greater risks with their money to try and seize any dubious opportunity.”

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