Looking for somewhere to live for the academic year in Dublin is difficult. Increasingly difficult. This is something many more will encounter over the coming months as it is nearly that time of year again when an influx of new students will lead to a desperate scramble for decent well located student accommodation in Dublin city. With rising rental costs and increasing competition for accommodation, it looks likely that this year will be more stressful than the last for student renters.
However, each year raises the question of what form of protection is there for student renters? Many of whom are made vulnerable by financial and time constraints, harsh competition for accommodation and the staggeringly high number of rooms and houses on offer that are barely habitable. We have all heard the horror stories of feckless landlords or accommodation that is at best disgusting, and at its worst should be condemned.
One of the rooms I viewed in August last year was enough to make even the most world weary of renters despair. The landlord wanted €90 per week rent plus €20 per week for bills. Cost wise this isn’t outrageous when compared to other rental rooms in the docklands area, until you bear in mind the state of the place. Walking to the viewing it shouldn’t have been surprising that in the row of squat but neat red brick terraces the house where all of the windows had been sealed shut with rusting metal grids was the one I was there to view. Inside was worse.
The place stank of damp, rotting wood and mouldy carpets and curtains. The window frame was so rotten that it had holes in it. Hopefully, property like this is few and far between, but as one could tell from the fact the other six rooms in the house were occupied; there will come a point of desperation and financial difficulty when even the worst of places will seem like a good, if only, option. Many universities and colleges, despite being the main draw for students and newcomers to the city, have been very slow to see the problem faced by their students and to act upon it. Even though individuals are paying high prices to study in Dublin, there is very little if any help easily available. This begs the question, why is there no protection or real help for student renters in Ireland’s biggest city?
There is a guaranteed inflow into the city every August and September as the dozens of colleges and universities open their doors for a new year. Even though these students are bringing money into the educational institutions and the city as a whole, there seems to be only a desire to take, take, take. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is a case in point. Although it has an advisory service, it does not have either a database of trusted landlords or rental agencies. Is this because it might divert students from staying in Trinity’s own, hugely expensive accommodation? The lack of any form of database or agreement between the universities and landlords or estate agencies is also worrying. Having studied for my undergrad in the UK and then gone on to work in the accommodation department of a top ten British University, I was bewildered to find that students on their arrival here in Ireland are completely alone. This situation is perhaps worse for international students, who feel the need to find somewhere to live more keenly.
There is no end to the horror stories, but perhaps most striking are the figures in black and white. As house prices in Dublin have started another rapid ascension, so have rental prices, as the rising cost of home ownership is passed on to renters. For most renters, their incomes have stayed the same, or with the rising cost of living taken into account, have decreased. What is a student renter to do in difficult circumstances? The high numbers of landlords hoping to conduct all business cash in hand only exacerbates this problem. Of course before you look for somewhere to live you will be told repeatedly to have a contract, rent book and receipts for all payments made. However, in practice, this is not always possible. With funds for temporary accommodation running low, how many will find themselves jumping at the first offer of a place to live, even if it leaves one without stability.
Surely protection for renters is also protection for landlords? Without a contract, disreputable landlords can change their prices or even throw a renter out. There is limited means for renters to report or get help when faced with a lack of paperwork, a refusal to return a deposit, unreasonable behaviour or substandard living conditions. Although many landlords may want to keep things under the radar with cash in hand payments, they are also open to the risk of students moving on without warning, potentially leaving property damage and debt in their wake as the lack of a contract and security also gives students the dubious freedom of being able to pack up and leave whenever they like.
Dublin City Council and County Council are also spectacularly unhelpful. Unless you are on the brink of homelessness, they appear to be unwilling to help. If you scour the Dublin City Council and Dublin County Councils websites, you will find very little in the way of information or assistance for renters. Unlike many cities, the council here has chosen to not implement any form of rent controls, minimum standards for rental properties or deposit protection schemes. With students being a vital source of growth and income for the city, isn’t it time that educational institutions and the council made an effort to protect them?