Renting accommodation with a disability

First published on SpunOut.ie May 2016

In Ireland’s current volatile rental market finding suitable accommodation is difficult at the best of times but can be even more challenging for those with a disability. According to the Central Statistics Office based on answers from the 2011 census 600,000 people in Ireland have a disability. This is 13% of the population.

New legislation regarding rent allowance and discrimination came into effect at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 with the intention of improving the lot of the many renters who are struggling across the country. One of the key rules prevents landlords from discriminating against tenants who are in receipt of rent allowance. If they do they may face a fine of up to 15,000 euro.

It is important to note that rent allowance goes into the tenant’s bank account and not the landlords. All the landlord has to do is fill out a one page form with their address and PPS number confirming that the individual is a tenant at that property. Many however have been reluctant to do this.

A complaints procedure has been established for when landlords refuse to accept rent allowance however even a quick search through daft.ie shows that preferences are still clearly stated. Terminology such as ‘seeking professional and hardworking tenants’ are used to imply that the unemployed, even those unable to work due to disability, are not wanted.

One reason for this could be because a tenant cannot claim rent allowance until they are already a confirmed tenant of a property. This means that they have to have the deposit and first few months’ rent before they move in. It is reasonable that a landlord would like their payments on time and in full.

However if a tenant is, or soon will be, in receipt of rent allowance surely this suggests that the tenant has a guaranteed income and in a way is a secure bet? These difficulties apply to all tenants but are perhaps heightened for those with disabilities or long term illnesses. If one is prevented from being able to work and is reliant on disability or social welfare it can be very tricky to build up the initial amount of money needed.

Another challenge is that many may need accommodation specifically suited to their needs and in some cases may need to make adjustments to their residence, for example wheel chair ramps or additional rails to hold onto in the bathroom. How many tenants would feel comfortable asking their landlord if they can make significant, or even small, changes to their property in order to better accommodate their needs?

How many landlords would be willing to make these changes for a tenant who may not still be living there in ten years’ time? This also does not take into account the matter of cost. Who is to pay and where do they get the money from? If a person does not have their own home or family home to go back to having become ill or disabled it must be very difficult for many to try and manage in the current rental market that seems to highly favour the landlord over the tenant.

It is also important to note that rent allowance is capped, with the amount varying from area to area. Arguably this makes it harder for someone to rent a one bed place to themselves, which is something that can be vital for someone recovering from serious illness or managing their disability. Further over the past year the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has seen complaints over unfair rent hikes increase by almost 70%. This is despite the fact that there is now legislation regarding how often a landlord can increase the rent (one increase in two years with a three month notice period). Alongside this there has been an increase in the number of complaints over illegal evictions.

These obstacles are preventing many from branching out on their own and experiencing independence and the freedom of running their own lives by restricting their ability to move. According to disability.ie “today many disability organisations are promoting the idea of independent living. This means giving people with a disability a choice in where and how they live and making sure there are enough accessible buildings and enough support mechanisms to allow people to live as independently as they choose”.

The assistance that is available often comes from charities with little direct help from the state. Although there is some help out there in the form of local authority accommodation and voluntary housing accommodation for those with special housing requirements at present there is however very little for renters with invisible illnesses or disabilities, such as chronic pain or debilitating depression.

It seems unlikely that a new direction is going to be taken in the near future regarding housing and disability. As results from this year’s census are collated Ireland’s main political parties struggle to negotiate power sharing that is going to define the country over the next four years. Alongside this local councils appear unwilling to reach out and help those who need it. In other countries such as England and Wales people can turn to the council for advice renting and tenancy. Perhaps now is the time for Ireland to focus on helping those most in need of finding a way to live independently.

Dealing with landlords

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.

Rent security

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.

Bleak future for students renting

Bleak future for students renting

A new academic year is getting under way with Fresher’s week now behind us and the hard work, late nights and friendships of a new University year are about to begin. Thankfully for most of us the awful process of hunting for accommodation in Dublin is over for another year.

This is a difficult and often stressful process at best but it is being made even more difficult by rising rental prices and unscrupulous landlords taking whatever they can from incoming students.

If you are not one of the lucky few to be given a room on campus you will be preoccupied with finding accommodation before term starts. So will several thousand others. The news over the past few months has been particularly bleak for renters, students in particular, as they descend on Dublin in their thousands looking to make a life for themselves.

Newspapers, TV, radio, blogs and word of mouth are all carrying similar messages; renting is difficult and expensive. Since January prices have been gradually increasing. According to a recent report by Daft.ie, rental prices have risen by an average of 7.5% across Dublin.

This statistic was seized upon by the Irish Times with the shock headline ‘rent increases a ‘massive concern’ for incoming students’. How this increase is spread across the city is less clear, although it seems likely that the main increases will have been in central and popular student locations, such as Dublin 4 and 7.

From my own experience of viewing rooms, I have seen that even the most unlikely of places will capitalise on any positive and use it to bleed the most money out of unprepared students. One property I visited in the mature residential area in Glasnevin, sandwiched in between Hillcrest park and DCU, charged an average of 600 euro a month, including bills. Even at first sight this seems expensive, however on viewing the room available the price seemed positively absurd. The advert had requested women only.

This didn’t seem strange until it emerged that the house was inhabited by four men in their early thirties. The house was in the process of renovation, i.e. not really appropriate for human habitation. It did not have central heating, a lock on the bedroom door or even a proper bed.

Damp was rising up the walls, filth was ingrained in the kitchen and tiny bathroom and there was a general lack of usable white goods. Although this is at the upper end of the spectrum, many of the other places I viewed in the first ten days were no better. It seemed as though I traipsed through the very worst this city had to offer and it is easy to fall to the temptation of snapping up the first place with four intact walls and a ceiling.

In general this is an OK tactic, however in my case I ended up living with an over friendly alcoholic and my house hunt continued for another week or so. Another hurdle for the incoming student is that it can be surprisingly difficult to even get to the viewing stage. At best one in ten landlords respond quickly to emails and many of those who do, do so because they are desperate to find a tenant, often because their property is one of the ‘un-inhabitables’.

You may have a little more luck if you have an Irish number and know your way around the city, but for those moving to Dublin from abroad this is just another hurdle to finding decent accommodation. With prices continually rising, it is difficult for prospective students to budget accurately and it looks set to get even harder for next year’s students.

After searching the council website, there seems to be little regulation on rental properties and even if there is, it is obviously not being well enforced. With Dublin’s Universities also not maintaining a database or reliable landlords and properties, the rental future for students looks bleak.

12 tips on landing that dream house


Near the end of last year I had a part time job in a small Dublin’s lettings agency. Here the reality of the housing crisis became apparent. Politicians continue to debate solutions, rent controls, increase supply by building more public housing or incentives for landlords but where does that leave the average person looking for somewhere to rent?

In this job I saw people desperately trying to secure accommodation and the attitude and actions of agencies who have the pick of the crop. So what can you do to make sure you are the one that finds somewhere? Here are some of the keys things I learned.

1. Call First

When looking online express an interest in as many properties that look like they could be suitable. Where possible always secure viewings by phone. Contacting individuals and agencies by email rarely results in a reply and when it does it is often too slow; someone else has pipped you to the post. If you are calling an agency and leaving a message always state you name and leave your contact number twice. You have to make it as easy for them as possible. You need them more than they need you.

2. Discuss your requirements with your housemates

If you are searching for somewhere as a group make sure you have discussed what you are looking for before you start hunting. Decide what is essential (e.g. number of bedrooms) and what features can be compromised on (e.g. would you all be willing to live further away from you college / work place in exchange for a lower price?). Avoid any arguments by establishing these facts, in particular costings (rent, bills and transport costs) early on.

3. Have all the necessary paperwork

Attend viewings with all documents (and photocopies of documents) that you might need. You will probably be asked to show payslips, work contracts, bank details and references (preferably from previous landlords). It is becoming increasingly difficult for students, the unemployed and young families to find somewhere so make sure you have everything that they might ask for. They will probably want someone who can move in straight away and begin paying rent immediately. Be prepared for this. Very rarely will you be able to secure a place in May for arrival in September.

4. Present yourself well

Following on from this always present yourself well. Speak to the landlord or agency representative and try to build up a rapport. Engage with the process and appear interested. Treat viewings, open viewings in particular, as you would a job interview. Dress well, not necessarily suit and ties but clean, presentable clothing. Show yourself to be someone who has a serious interest in the property and that you will be a reliable tenant who will always pay rent on time.

5. Have your deposit ready

If you are offered a place move quickly and do not hesitate. Sign the contract and pay the deposit as soon as you can. This is one of those things that everyone says but hardly anyone ever does.

6. Keep photographic evidence

When you move into a place take photographs and notes of the condition of the room or house. Email a copy to yourself to keep them safe. This will also give you proof of date taken so if you need to use them in the future you can prove the condition of the property upon your arrival.

7. Keep copies of everything

When signing documents always make sure they are dated and hand signed by all parties. Makes copies of all documents, again it is always worth emailing a copy to yourself.

8. Discuss what will happen if someone leaves

If you are a group of people taking out a lease on a property decide whether one person is going to be the leaseholder named on the contract or whether all individuals will be on the contract. Ask if one person is forced to break the contract what impact will that have on the others. Will you have to find a new flatmate? Will you have to pay their share of the rent?

9. Keep financial records

Keep a paper trail. Either pay rent by cheque or if transferring money online be sure to label the transaction clearly, e.g. Mr Smith rent payment December 2015. Always ask for confirmation of payment and keep all receipts.

10. When you cannot pay your rent on time

If something should go wrong and you are unable to pay the rent on time one month, but you expect this to just be a one off glitch, contact the landlord or agency as soon as you can to explain your situation. Point out your track record of being a reliable tenant and make it clear how and when you intend to make your next payment.

11. Keep records of your communication

Use email where possible so that there can be no dispute over whether a message was sent or when. Alternatively if staying in contact by post ask for a receipt when posting and notify the intended recipient that you have sent the item.

12. Know your rights

Brush up on tenant’s right. Citizen’s Information are very useful. And most of all, good luck!

The hunt for student accommodation

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?

 

Alcohol-free Accommodation Just Might Have a Future in Ireland – The University Times

 

After a poor first year, alcohol free accommodation in Cork gets a little bit more popular

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Laura Marriott | Contributing Writer

Last year University College Cork (UCC) introduced a new form of accommodation: alcohol-free halls of residence. It is the first of its kind in Ireland and has the potential to be the starting point for a slow revolution in student accommodation.

Founded on the principle that alcohol would not be consumed or kept in the buildings, it provides an alternative living arrangement for students of all ages and all backgrounds. Those interested in living in the alcohol free halls have to provide a written personal statement explaining why they want to accept a place in the residence, and why they think they are suitable.

Further, unlike many forms of campus accommodation, it is open to both undergraduates and postgraduates. Thus from its very inception it aims to promote social interaction between students. The intention behind the halls is to facilitate those who either have no interest in drinking alcohol, or just don’t want it in their living space. As UCC Students’ Union President, Paddy Huaghney, states, the halls “will also appeal to students in their final year and postgraduate level who would prefer the quieter surroundings of an alcohol-free area.”

This academic year 24 students will be living in the accommodation. This includes 16 female students and 8 male, 13 of whom are first-year undergraduates. They will be joined by five postgraduates, five visiting international students and one second-year student.

This is a significant increase from last year when only six students stayed in the halls for the academic year. UCC expect that this number will increase over the coming months and years. If the halls do continue to increase in popularity it will be interesting to see whether the growth will affect other Irish campuses.

Help those who chose to live a sober life have a more social life as well

The collective nature of alcohol-free halls will also help those who chose to live a sober life have a more social life, by instantly putting people together with similar beliefs or ideas, perhaps even taking steps towards removing any stigma that may still be attached to being tee-total.

Huaghney’s statement also touched upon the fact that it might be interesting to international students. When he said that “there are students from over 80 countries worldwide studying in UCC with different cultural and religious backgrounds, and alcohol may not appeal to all these students”. As the university’s population grows increasingly diverse, it seems its halls and the services provided must too. Irish students make up one third of the students, with the rest coming from France, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia, Austria and Canada.

After all, “the reasons why students may choose this option are varied and yet often quite simple – students may simply just prefer the quieter surroundings that an alcohol-free area may bring”.

One of the key motivating behind the initiative was a 2010 UCC study on alcohol consumption. The study found that 46 per cent of males and 45 per cent of female students reported binge drinking more than once a week. All of whom suffered at least one negative result, including regret and absenteeism.

There has been a concerted effort on behalf of UCC to encourage students to live healthier and more community minded lifestyles. The main focus of this is a reduction in potentially dangerous drinking habits and the knock-on effect that alcohol fuelled anti – social behaviour has both on campus and in the city as a whole.

However, a recent campus.ie 2014 National Student Survey threw the drinking habits of Irish students into an interesting light, suggesting that UCC is at the head of the curve.

It shows that alcohol does feature in most students lives with, for example, 84.4 per cent of students pre-drinking before a night out (which may perhaps have more to do with expense than any desperate urge to achieve drunkenness). Spirits (not Guinness) are the most popular drink of choice at 35 per cent closely followed by beer at 22 per cent.

between 8.73% and 10% of students stated that they do not drink at all

This will not come as a shock to most, but the statistic that many will consider surprising is that between 8.73 per cent and 10 per cent of students stated that they do not drink at all and that 58.35 per cent have never taken illegal drugs. This reinforces the idea that a slowly increasing number of students will appreciate the quieter surroundings of alcohol-free halls.

As Ireland as a whole and Dublin in particular is in the grips of an accommodation crisis, it seems unlikely that Trinity will soon be following in UCC’s footsteps. However if the interest and success of the alcohol-free halls continues to increase, it may be something that we begin to see on student campuses across the country.

The Rising Cost of Accommodation Won’t Stop Any Year Soon – The University Times

 

An in-depth look at the numbers behind the accommodation crisis leaves little to be hopeful about for the next few years.

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Laura Marriott | Staff Writer

Dublin is in the grips of an accommodation crisis. This is not new to students who have recently started studying at Trinity. Rising prices combined with a shortage of suitable accommodation is making it increasingly difficult to find somewhere to live for the academic year.

Costly Living

Rental costs have been soaring over recent years, since 2011 by 26%. This has accelerated over the past year with prices increasing by around 15% in these 12 months. According to the Irish Times there is a year on year increase of 17.2% in the city centre, i.e. the areas closest to Trinity and most attractive to its students. In real terms this equates to a 500 euro rent increasing by 75 euro.

There is a year on year increase of 17.2% in rental costs in the city centre

This is reinforced by a lack of available accommodation for rent. This year has seen a 40% reduction in available student accommodation. This is a particularly worrying statistic when you remember that the number of students arriving in Dublin each year is certainly rising year on year. In certain hotspots such as the South Circular Road, enquiries into rental properties have increased by 200%. Whilst interest in certain areas on the north side, such as Drumcondra and Glasnevin, has trebled in the past two years. More and more students are competing with professionals and young families for accommodation who are also feeling the financial strain.

Avoiding the Dublin Colleges

It’s feared that the accommodation crisis might soon get to a point where many potential students will choose to study somewhere more affordable. They already do it in some numbers but it might reach a critical point where this drastically affects the quality of Dublin college entrants in future years. John O’Connor, Chief Executive of the Housing Agency, has suggested that where possible students should consider the costs of accommodation when making their course choices. As a direct effect of the accommodation crisis he argues students should consider looking for accommodation along commuter routes, outside of the immediate vicinity of the college or University.

Enquiries into rental properties have increased by 200%

This will undoubtedly increase the numbers of students who are choosing to live with family rather than branching out on their own. For many this is fine, but for those who have to commute on a regular basis from the outskirts of county Dublin or commuter zones such as Meath or Kildare it can become a problem. Aside from the cost of transport it may lead to students missing out. Instead of becoming independent adults setting out on their own or making the most of the social side to the University experience they will have to be constantly aware of when to catch the last bus and their parents feelings. And of course there is the physical effect, the tiredness of having to get up at 5:30 am in order to navigate public transport in order to be on time for a 9 am lecture.

Those hoping to move out of the parental home but still save money by commuting may also find their options narrowing as rental costs in Dublin’s commuter counties are also rising – slower than Dublin yes, but again one has to consider the accumulated costs, both financial and psychological, of commuting.

Over two years the student accommodation in Dublin’s commuter counties has decreased from around 2,000 to 600 properties

Little Acommodation Left

Daft.ie’s in house economist, Mr Lyons, has stated that over the past two years the numbers of available student rental accommodation in Dublin’s commuter counties has decreased from around 2,000 to 600 properties. However in general this is still a better option than some of the rental accommodation available in the city. There is strong evidence that a huge proportion of rental rooms and properties are in a sub – standard condition.

According to Councillor Ray McAdam’s Summer 2014 Stoneybatter newsletter although rental standards are improving it is a slow process. In this area of Dublin 7 alone over the past two years 5114 rental units were inspected. Only 614 met rental standards.Of the 999 units inspected along the North Circular Road, only 145 met the legal requirements for rental properties. If prices continue to rise there is a strong chance that increasing numbers of students will feel they have no choice but to pay extortionate rents for this sub – standard and possibly illegal accommodation.

Rents are also increasing elsewhere in Ireland. With the cost of renting having risen by 6 – 7% in Cork, Galway and Limerick. Although this is a significant increase it begs the question of whether prospective Trinity students may be more inclined to study outside of Dublin due to the financial pressures. For example the average rent in Dublin of all types is around 1300 euro, whereas average rental costs in Cork are 866 euro and Limerick even less at 680 euro.

Those who do stay in or move to Dublin have to face the added pressure of worrying about finances rather than just their academic studies. And of course not only does the cost affect you all year round, the stress of just looking for suitable and affordable accommodation is increasingly seeping into the start of term with some students finding it takes weeks, occasionally several months, to find somewhere suitable to live.