Poor standards of student housing exposed

Significant numbers of students are being hit with unexpected rent hikes and living in accommodation without hot water or proper heating, a study has found.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is calling for more publicly supplied, purpose-built student accommodation and better protections for tenants in private accommodation.

More than three quarters of the 3,600 students who responded to USI’s survey were living away from home.

Although they represent just 1% of the survey group, 38 students told USI they had no accommodation and were sleeping on friends’ couches, floors, in libraries, or even in cars. Another 10% were uncertain of their future in present accommodation when they were surveyed.

Around one third of students were in purpose-built facilities, nearly half of them being owned by colleges. Another third were in private rented accommodation, but less than half of these had a written agreement with their landlords.

Over a fifth had experience of an unexpected rent increase, including one in seven whose rents were increased by landlords before moving in, and another 9% who had it increased outside the agreed or allowed period.

Nearly a quarter of those in paid accommodation had associated costs of €500 to €750 a month when bills were included, and another 7% paid more again. Although accommodation costs were below €500 for 70% of paying students, nearly 80% said their income — if any — was under €500, highlighting the large proportion of students’ entire incomes going on accommodation.

Although three quarters expressed satisfaction with their accommodation, many reported serious deficiencies. One in 10 did not have a bath or shower with hot water, and nearly a quarter had sanitary facilities with no separate ventilation.

Nearly a quarter of students experienced mould in rented accommodation, more than 20% had damp, and the same number had inadequate heating. Almost 90% had been inconvenienced by such matters, or by lack of maintenance, lack of natural light, dirtiness, flooding, burglary, or appliances being permanently defective.

USI said these students are at risk of higher overall costs, and possible deterioration to physical and mental health. It said, for example, that students in places with poor insulation and damp have to spend more on heating to keep living space warm or to dry clothes.

Nearly a quarter of students had moved into their accommodation because they could find nothing else, and time pressure was behind the choice of 4% of students.

“The crux of the issue is the lack of adequate or available accommodation for students, either dedicated or offered in the open, private rented market,” USI said.

“Consequently, the present level of insecurity and lack of accommodation puts students’ health at risk, and may force them to drop out or impact their academic performance,” states the report.

USI said the finding that most of those not living at home wanted to be in purpose-built student accommodation shows the need to accelerate supply.

“Apart from the efforts to attract private investors, USI strongly believes that publicly supplied, affordable student accommodation is the most sustainable solution,” it said.

It also wants a legal obligation for written lease agreements to be provided for student tenancies, and increases in student grants to reflect the real costs of attending college, including accommodation.

USI said the 45km distance that a student’s college has to be from their home in order to qualify for a higher grant must be reduced. The union said it clearly impacts students from outside major urban areas who may have limited access to commuter transport.

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