Homeowners with ‘empty nests’ urged to give students a dig out

Student unions promoting ‘digs’ before hunt for college accommodation in September

As the search for accommodation for the college term gets under way, students’ unions are encouraging people to consider offering “digs” as an alternatives to renting houses or apartments.

Under the “digs” system a student rents a room in a family home, usually from Monday to Friday, and returns home for the weekend.

The arrangement is not an official landlord-tenant agreement, and homeowners do not have to pay tax on the rent unless it is more than €12,000 a year.

University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin students' unions are promoting the scheme as a way for homeowners with spare rooms to make money, and to reduce pressure on students in a difficult rental market.


Katie Ascough, head of the UCD students’ union, said there were more than 120,000 “empty nesters” and people with spare rooms in their home. “That’s a lot of vacant beds in an overcrowded housing market.”

One property owner, Carol Frey, has let a room in her south Dublin home for more than 30 years, and says she has never had a problem taking in students.

Her last “digs” tenants were two male students from Cork and Donegal. “They were very respectful, we treated them as our own.”

There are ground rules between the homeowner and the student. Ms Frey’s house rules include no loud noise after 10pm, no parties, and if the students are coming home late, or not at all, they are asked send her a text saying as much.

Cooking facilities

Some “digs” arrangements have strict rules, with students not allowed to use certain rooms in the house or the cooking facilities.

Ms Frey says the proper approach to renting a room to a student is to “open up your family home as you can’t just expect them to sit in their own room all night”.

Michael Kerrigan, president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), says there is a reluctance among traditional landlords to rent properties to students “due to an unfair stereotype that all students bring an anti-social culture”.

He said more purpose-built student accommodation was needed, either privately-run or on college campuses.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton was due to publish a national student accommodation strategy by June this year. The plan is still being finalised and "is expected to be published in the coming weeks", a department spokeswoman said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times