Helen O’Callaghan learns why research on housing is more important than ever
TALK to anybody working in the third-level student accommodation sector and the story’s the same — there’s a crisis.
“There’s just not enough of the traditional-type student accommodation,” says Union of Students in Ireland president, Annie Hoey. She points to a seemingly hopeless mismatch in the supply/demand ratio — over 80,000 students in Dublin and just 3,000 beds in purpose-built, on-campus accommodation.
Brig Ryan, who manages a small block of 24 beds close to Cork City centre, has refused over 400 would-be tenants this year. There’s an acute shortage of student housing in the city, she says. “It’s due to an increase in the student population, plus landlords are withdrawing accommodation for student letting. They’re renting to professional working people, who can’t afford to buy, who’ll take on full year lets instead of just nine months.”
CIT accommodation officer Deirdre Falvey agrees and says her office has lost almost 70% of their shared student houses in the past two years due to the economic climate. “Landlords have sold up. And there’s not as much movement. Students are staying in accommodation for the duration of their time in college. If they’re happy and the landlord’s happy, they’ll stay where they are.”
Nor are students doing what they once did at the end of first year and leaving purpose-built student apartments for shared rented houses. “Second and third year students are re-booking for the next year, staying put, so there’s less accommodation in these apartments for new first years.”
Eolann Sheehan, Student Union president at UCC — which expects 3,500 freshers this year, as well as 1,000 international students — says many landlords don’t even need to advertise. “In March/April, you find a lot of knocking on doors [of shared rented houses] to get landlord phone numbers, a lot of accommodation swaps among second, third and fourth year students.”
For everybody involved in tackling the crisis, there seems to be unanimous agreement on the solution — old-fashioned digs or, in its new incarnation, owner-occupied residences. “We’re trying to get potential landlords into the mindset of digs. It went out of vogue but it’s certainly back in now,” says Hoey, who points to 2014 Revenue figures that show “a very high increase” in numbers registering under the rent-a-room relief scheme, where home owners can earn up to €12,000 per year (tax free).
In a bid to urge anyone with spare rooms to rent them out to students, USI launched its ‘Homes for Study’ campaign earlier this month and re-launched its homes.usi.ie website.
They’ve also planned an advertising campaign and a large scale flyer-drop in residential areas around all third-level colleges. “Last year, via our website, we housed up to 800 in digs in the Dublin region. This year, we hope to house well over 1,000 in digs,” says Hoey.
CIT has just over 100 registered digs/owner occupier houses, having doubled their list last year after doing a flyer drop around the Bishopstown/Wilton area. “But we have very few student houses or digs registered for the city centre suitable for Crawford College of Art & Design and Cork School of Music students. This year we’re looking for landlords/landladies not just close to CIT but in all the surrounding areas (email email@example.com),” says Falvey, who confirms a lot of students secured digs for the 2015/’16 academic year as they couldn’t get a student apartment or shared house.
She says the perception of digs needs to change to keep in tune with current trends. “It’s not just older ladies with three or four spare rooms in their house. Along with these ladies, there are a lot of young professionals renting rooms, as well as families whose children are going to college elsewhere. And it’s not like ‘I’m living with my mother’ — some do offer three meals a day, but a lot do B&B and others do self-catering, where students look after themselves.”
Price of digs can vary between €80 to €140 depending on whether the offer is full meals/self-catering/B&B and on whether the student can stay five or seven days — about one-third will offer digs for the weekend as well. Meanwhile, student apartments in Cork can cost €85 to €100 a week, depending on whether it’s a twin room, single room, single en-suite or double en-suite. Price of rooms in shared houses lies somewhere in the region of €75 to €95 weekly.
In Dublin, DIT puts the monthly cost of living for a student in private rented accommodation at €418. On-campus student accommodation for nine months, depending on the university, can cost anything from €4,500 to well over €8,000 — the latter includes utilities and insurance costs.
But while acknowledging that the search for accommodation can be daunting in current times, the advice from everyone is: stay positive. Hoey heard stories of “couch surfing and staying on friends’ floors” last year. “But eventually the vast majority found accommodation.”
At UCC, efforts to secure more student accommodation last year included a flyer-drop seeking owner-occupied houses. This year, Verdi Ahern in the Student Experience office secured quite a number of beds in a student complex in the Bishopstown area, reports Eolann Sheehan, who also points to the university’s Facebook accommodation page, which “cuts out the middle man”. While things were tough last year, he says everybody had found a place by about mid-September. “Even if you don’t have a place at start of term, you will find it,” he says, adding that there’s talk of starting another Facebook page for people thinking of commuting.
At CIT (where 40% of students live away from home), Falvey counsels students to commute if at all possible during semester one if they haven’t found accommodation. “There will be cancellations in semester one and definitely in January for semester two,” she says, urging students to keep in touch with her. And while all student apartments recommended by CIT have been full since April, she predicts some movement now with issuing of CAO offers.
“We recommend parents go directly to the student apartments, listed on our website, because there may be some movement now. Parents should physically be around the CIT area over the next few days — the phone lines will be busy. But there will be bits and pieces around.”
Your guide to quality housing
Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the type of accommodation you’ve chosen or are seeking to find.
- Student apartments are usually near college and bus routes, comfortable, designed to accommodate study and are a good way of making friends. But they can be expensive, noise can be an issue, and there’s a fixed nine-month lease with no-refundable rent.
- Digs can be a home away from home, all bills are included in the price and meals may be prepared. However, privacy can be a problem and there can be a lack of freedom when it comes to friends calling or staying over.
- Shared houses/flats mean you can eat what/when you like and there’s more freedom — friends can stay over. But you’ll have to pay for bills (ESB, heating, phone, refuse), you might be sharing with strangers and you’ll need to cook/clean for yourself.
- Be realistic when seeking accommodation — what’s important is that you find something affordable and accessible to college. Is it near a bus route? Is it safe at night?
- Though it can be tempting to place a deposit online, always inspect thoroughly before book accommodation. UCC has this checklist:
- Is it warm, clean and dry? If not, leave and report property to your college accommodation office.
- What’s the energy rating of the house (BER)? From January 2009 all rented properties will have to supply this information. A high-rated house will be far cheaper to heat and save you money.
- Are there signs of dampness or mould in the flat? Check cupboards and furnishings, walls and ceilings. If it’s damp in August it will be really wet by November.
- Check adequacy of fire extinguishers and fire escape routes? Is there a fire blanket, fire extinguisher and fire alarm?
- Check ventilation, especially in bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Do the windows open?
- Is the building secure? Check locks on doors and windows.
- Is it easy to heat? What form of heating is used? How much will it cost? Is it working? Central heating is effective, can be the cheapest heating system, and reduces dampness/condensation.
- Is the furniture and cupboard space sufficient for the number of people in the house and in good condition?
- Check cooker, fridge and other appliances are working. Are kitchen utensils and equipment provided and if so, are they adequate?
- Check that bathroom facilities and water heater are working. Check water pressure in showers.
- Is there enough lighting, enough electrical sockets and plugs? Are they working? Are they damaged?
- UCC recommends leaving bills in landlord’s name and that he/she takes an energy deposit from each tenant, usually €300. This should be enough to cover all energy bills for the academic year (September to May), but check at Christmas to see how much you’re using. If you use more than this sum, you’ll be billed. If you use less, the unused portion of the energy deposit will be refunded. You’re entitled to see all bills.
- Make note of settings on all meters. You and the landlord should both sign and date this. Write this reading into the lease or rent book to avoid any later disputes. Read all meters before you leave the property and again get the landlord to sign the reading.
- Does anyone else have keys to the flat? Do you have access to a garden or clothes line? The landlord should ensure that all outside spaces, including footpaths and gardens are kept in good condition.
- What are the arrangements for rubbish disposal?
- Is there parking for bikes or cars?
CIT accommodation office advises students to ask someone they trust to check the lease before they sign it. Always get a copy; never sign a lease for other students.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved