For most freshers, living away from home is completely new territory. Setting up a home-away-from-home is enormously exciting but also daunting and — in the current climate — challenging, so a few signposts along the way can help.
Aoife Duff of the Union of Students in Ireland says the first step is to know yourself and your circumstances: What kind of accommodation do you want? And what’s your budget for the year? Then start talking.
“[Ask] your local Students’ Union for information on finding accommodation. If you’re worried about finances, ask Students’ Union/college about any financial support they may offer,” says Duff, who recommends students check the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) rent index to find out what average rents are for the area you’re looking at.
And when you go to view, it’s important to go prepared, says Duff. “Always view the accommodation with a friend or family. Go with a list of prepared questions and take photos of the accommodation.”
She recommends National Housing Charity Threshold, which offers advice on signing leases/tenant agreements.
The Union of Students in Ireland and the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has the following advice in their 2017 guide (available here):
Before you move in/when you view accommodation:
+ Research whether you want to live in house/digs/apartment complex (assuming availability).
+ Student apartments are usually close to college and bus routes, comfortable, designed for study and great for making friends. But they can be costly, noisy and there’s a fixed nine-month lease with no-refundable rent.
+ Digs can feel very homey, all bills are included in the price and meals may be prepared. But: there can be little privacy — or freedom to have friends call/stay over.
+ Shared houses/flats mean more freedom — to eat what/when you like and to have friends stay over. Downside is you’ll have bills to pay (ESB, heating, phone, refuse), you could be sharing with strangers and you’ll need to cook/clean for yourself.
+ Check with Students’ Union for a list of student-friendly accommodation in locality — they can tell you how much you should be paying for accommodation in the area. Check out RTB rent index which gives actual rents for a number of locations.
+ Double check how much rent and deposit is in advance.
+ Be security-conscious: check all locks on doors and windows, alarm, fire alarm, fire extinguishers. Find out who else has a key.
+ Check appliances: cookers, vacuum cleaner, shower, microwave to see that they work.
+ If necessary, ask about situation regarding parking for bicycles/cars.
+ Ask what bills you’ll have to pay besides rent — heating, electricity, internet, cable TV, bin charges?
+ Who’s in charge of maintaining the garden? If the tenants, what equipment’s provided?
+ What happens if another tenant leaves owing rent or utility bills — who’s responsible?
+ Will you need to sign a lease? How well do you know the tenants you’re signing the lease with — you may be jointly and severally liable for rent/bills of other tenants.
+ Are pets allowed?
+ Ask landlord what changes can you make to the dwelling; e.g. painting, hanging pictures. Is the accommodation convenient and safe? Is it near your college, shops, bus route — handy when you need to run to a 9am lecture!
+ Check for damp and mould.
+ Visit www.rtb.ie for more helpful tips on choosing the right accommodation and dispute prevention methods.
+ Ensure there’s an inventory of all utensils/equipment signed by both you and landlord.
+ If concerned about the condition of any item, put in writing to landlord/agent at commencement of the tenancy.
+ Ask for property’s energy rating (BER Cert). A-rated homes are the most efficient — they’ll tend to have lowest energy bills. The lower the number within each of the A to G ratings, the cheaper the house is to heat.
+ If asked to sign a lease, read carefully and understand it before signing. Don’t sign a 12-month lease if you only intend staying nine months — you may be liable for the remainder of the rent for up to 12 months.
+ Take photos of all rooms and the exterior when you move in, ensuring they’re dated. E-mail them to landlord or meet with landlord and ask him/her to sign it. Keep photos in case of disputes arising when you’re claiming back deposit.
+ Get receipt every time you hand over money. Don’t pay by cash if possible.
+ Aim to be decent tenant/good neighbour, clean up your mess, be conscious of other people living with/around you.
+ Insure your contents.
+ If problem arises, discuss it promptly. Keep lines of communication open, listen and be respectful of each others’ requirements. Make requests in writing and keep records.
+ If unable to resolve the dispute, you may have to take your case to the RTB (www.rtb.ie).
+ Visit https://onestopshop.rtb.ie/new-changes-to-rental-legislation/student-specific-accommodation/, which looks at recent changes to the legislation that will bring student-specific accommodation under the remit of the RTB.