As September brings with it the new academic year, hundreds of students arriving in the city will be discovering that there is little to compare to the joy and relief of finding somewhere to live. After an often depressing and stressful search when one has found a decent place to live, the sheer elation, and perhaps even exhaustion, mean that many say yes to a place without assessing all of the details.
One of the main complications that can arise out of this is the difficulty many tenants have in obtaining either a rent book or written tenancy agreement. When accommodation hunting, particularly when looking to rent a single room in a house, prospective tenants will be faced by the choice of whether to continue the desperate hunt or to accept a place that comes without a contract. As a large number of landlords try to keep all economic activity quiet and away from the gaze of the revenue service, cash transactions have become common.
This can be troublesome. It can be very stressful to pay so much money – handing over a cash deposit and the first month’s rent – without being given any paperwork or security in return. Searching for accommodation on my arrival in Ireland, the places I viewed tended to fall into two categories. One: the landlord who had the contract in hand, expecting the deposit as soon as possible and was seemingly hoping that one would overlook the fact that the property should have been condemned back in the 1980s. The second group tended to be live-in landlords, renting out their spare rooms or occasionally second houses. They wanted all transactions to be done in cash and there was never any mention of contracts or rent books. This is a tricky position to be in when you are so desperate for a decent and affordable place. Very few people would feel able to then start asking for paperwork.
Strangely, there were quite a few landlords who offered no form of security and yet wanted proof (letters from the bank or parents for example) from the tenant that they would be able to pay rent for the agreed amount of time. Another dilemma this throws up is the issues of bills. Without a written agreement, it is easy for arguments to break out over methods and timing of payment. This can be trying if one person has the bills in their name and then another tenant does not pay either on time or in full. Furthermore, without a contract, one is faced with the difficulty in attaining proof of address, which provides a surprising number of stumbling blocks. Proof of address is needed to obtain a bank account, library card and often even a GP appointment. Think of every time in your life you have ever been asked to provide proof of address: so many things are blocked off to you without it.
If you find yourself in the position of wanting to apply for a GP visit card, a medical card or any form of social welfare, you will need not just proof of address, but proof that you are a rent payer i.e. a contract or rent book. Keeping all transactions in cash also throws up potential problems for the landlord. Although there may be a verbal agreement that the tenant will be renting for 12 months, the landlord has no protection against the tenant leaving. If one decides that they want to move for whatever reason they can just take off and go, leaving the landlord short of money and facing the prospect of once again searching for a new tenant. There is little help available for renters who find themselves in difficulty, but without paperwork these difficulties are magnified. Very often the tenant finds that they either have few rights and are unable to prove them.
What can you do if you find yourself in this situation?
- If you are a student ask your college to send your admissions letter to your new home, giving you some form of official proof of address. Similarly it may be worth having bills in the name of all tenants and not just one.
- Keep a record of all payments made. If making an electronic transfer, be sure to label the payment, e.g. ‘Rent October 2015’. If this is not an option, it is still useful to keep a written record and if your landlord is agreeable, write out a receipt and ask them to sign and date it.
- Some landlords, it should be noted are very reasonable and will write a letter making it clear that one is a rent payer.
- Citizens information provide a wealth of information regarding renting and the rights of the tenant. Read their website when you become a tenant and remember that they can be contacted in times of difficulty.