Colleges see surge of interest from homeowners over student ‘digs’
Homeowners who rent a room can earn up to €14,000 tax free per year
“The students are always respectful, and often I come home to a spotless house.” Photograph: iStock
Colleges have reported a surge of interest among homeowners interested in renting rooms out to students in light of the crisis in accommodation.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister of State with responsibility for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor last week appealed to householders to consider “digs” as an accommodation option.
UCD students’ union accommodation officer Ailbhe O’Halloran said the number of calls to her from interested homeowners increased significantly on foot of the ministerial interventions.
NUI Galway’s student services office has placed 286 students through its rent-a-room appeal.
Up to a few years ago digs were generally considered old-fashioned and out of favour. However, improvements to the rent-a-room scheme – which allows householders earn up to €14,000 a year tax-free – has seen numbers jump by 70 per cent in a five-year period.
While the latest available figures from Revenue show more than 6,000 householders availed of the scheme in 2015, an increase in the tax-free threshold from €12,000 to €14,000 is likely to send that number higher.
Colleges report that many homeowners, especially “empty-nesters” such as older and retired people, are attracted to the scheme.
The rates for digs vary, though typical prices being charged in south Dublin are about €160 for a room for five days with meals, while it is closer to €130 in Galway.
While digs do not fall under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Act, there is no obligation to sign a contract. In practice, however, colleges and households say this is the norm.
Most householders lay out rules in advance to avoid future pitfalls over issues such as parking, overnight guests, use of facilities at certain times and noise if the student is coming home late.
“We ask them to take into account that the set-up is different to renting a house and too harsh rules can make living tough,” said USI president Michael Kerrigan.
“This could be the student’s first time living away from home, and they may need time to adapt. But if issues arise we urge them to discuss it with the student. Students can be mature and understanding.”
In most cases homeowners include the cost of the weekly shop into the digs and will often provide dinner.
Homeowners interested in renting rooms have been urged to contact the accommodation offices of their local colleges.
Other options are websites such as the USI’s digs website (homes.usi.ie) or other sources (getdigs.ie)
DIGGING IT: ‘I sometimes feel like I should be paying them for cleaning’
Eileen Walsh in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, has been offering rooms to UCD students since 2010.
“Money was the main incentive, and then I came to like having people in the house, for company and, if I’m away, for security. I don’t have any kids.
“My students do their own cooking and buy their own food. I might cook for them occasionally, but it is not part of the deal.
“The students are always respectful, and often I come home to a spotless house; I sometimes feel like I should be paying them for cleaning.
“I’ve never had any trouble, and they have always been very trustworthy tenants. The arrangement is based on mutual trust rather than any contracts, and I have never had to chase them for money. They know that this is not a party house as I work during the week, but they can have a friend to stay every now and again.
“People can think it is strange to bring a stranger into your house, but I don’t see it like that. I have gained a lot, and I like meeting people from all over the world: I usually take in Erasmus students and they stay the full seven days. Sometimes we will watch TV together, and sometimes not.
“We get on well and respect each other’s space. It’s worked out well, and I would definitely recommend it. After all, I have the space, I can’t bring my house with me, and I can only sleep in one room at a time.”