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September 2015

Question

My son recently accepted an offer at NUIG but finding a place to rent in is very difficult. There are so few places available and what there is is very expensive. We have come across a number of advertisements, whereby people are renting out rooms in their homes. I have heard that a tenant’s rights are different in this scenario. Is this correct? Anecdotally, I have heard many horror stories about people living with landlords. Are there any practical steps that I can take to ensure that he doesn’t get into difficulty later on? 

Answer

This is an exciting but daunting time for students, many of whom are leaving home for the first time. Most Irish cities are hugely short of quality purpose-built student accommodation, on or off campus.

Most colleges are now actively trying to encourage homeowners close to campus to consider renting a room to a student – being able to earn up €12,000 per annum under the “rent-a-room scheme” is an attractive incentive. One thing is for sure: old-style digs are on the way back.

But choosing to rent a room in someone’s home is a distinctly different experience from renting a house or apartment. First there is a the legal difference: a tenant in a traditional rental has a number of rights under landlord-tenant legislation. Renting a room in a house isn’t the same thing at all. Your son would be there under a licensee agreement, not a tenancy agreement, which means a different set of rights and obligations on the part of homeowner and room renter. Basically a room renter has fewer rights.

The attraction for students, however, is getting warm, comfortable, safe accommodation. Living in a house not too dissimilar to their homeplace might ease first-year nerves. And not having to deal with bills is a bonus – the owner usually pays utilities.

Most homeowners will, reasonably, have a set of house rules, and it’s key that there is clarity about these from the start: is there free use of the kitchen – or only between certain times? Is an evening meal provided (usually, yes)? Is there a curfew? What about having an overnight guest? Or any friends over? Is there free use of the rest of the house – the livingroom or TV room? Is it a non-smoking house? What about noise? What about breakages – who pays? You will be given a house key, but what about a key to your bedroom?

It is a good idea to have this all in writing to prevent misunderstandings further down the line. You should be very clear as to the precise rent and when it is to be paid and over what time period. This will normally be over the academic term(s). You should receive a written receipt for all rental payments, and possibly agree on the condition of the property from the outset and perhaps take some photographs at the start of the rental agreement.

NUIG has a very useful accommodation finder site (nuigstudentpad.ie/ Accommodation), as well as good advice on student-landlord rights and obligations. See also thresh old.ie and citizensinformation.ie.

Gerard O’Toole is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors .