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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
Alamy Stock Photo One advertisement expected no bills or rent to be paid in return of "up to 20 hours of child care" for two small children.

Landlord letting room by college campus asks students for 20 hours' childminding in lieu of rent

Minister of Higher Education Simon Harris described the arrangement as ‘very unorthodox’.

A LANDLORD WITH a room near an Irish university campus is asking students to care for their children for up to 20 hours a week as a de-facto au pair in exchange for not having to pay rent.

Advertisements seen by The Journal contain offers which say that students can avail of the room if they work as a childminder for up to four hours a day during the week.

One advertisement, for a double room close to University College Dublin, said no bills or rent would have to be paid.

In return, the successful applicant would be asked to provide “up to 20 hours of child care” for two small children, with two hours in the morning and two more in the evening for five days.

The message adds: “This would potentially suit a student or someone who works locally 9-5pm.”

The arrangement means the tenant would not have to pay rent and would instead receive the room as payment for childminding services. The advert notes that there is also potential for “occasional babysitting” over weekends, which the tenant would be paid for.

Asked by The Journal about the advertisements, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris described the arrangement as “unorthodox”.

“That sounds like a very unorthodox situation to me, I want to see real clarity around the issue of rent-a-room, I think it does work for thousands of students every year,” Harris said.

Au pairs, 18-30 year olds who stay with families and help out with childcare or housework, are protected under the same employment laws as other workers in Ireland.

This includes the provision of minimum wage, 11-hours’ rest break between working hours and the allocation of up to 48-hours work per week, with breaks every four-and-a-half hours. Additionally, they must have a minimum of two days off per week.

A prospective tenant, per the advertisement seen by The Journal, would have up to 20 hours of unpaid work per week, along with the possibility of additional paid work at the weekend. The only offer in return is a place to stay, for an undetermined period of time.

When asked if he thinks the arrangement of au pair style services in lieu of rent was exploitive Harris said: “I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

The minister added that, while it won’t happen in time for the upcoming academic year, he is prepared to “go further” on situations such as the one proposed by the landlord and develop legislative provisions to stop them happening.

“Obviously, part-time jobs that people decide to do are a matter for themselves, but I think having clarity around what you get in a return for renting a room – what the homeowner can expect, what the student can expect – is good,” Harris said.

He did however re-assert his belief in the possibilities around the rent-a-room scheme.

Under the scheme a homeowner must establish eight things with their tenant, including the cost, transaction method and frequency of rent, duration of tenancy, the division of utility bills, restrictions on noise levels, notice and rent review periods.

Currently, student who avail of the rent-a-room scheme – which are commonly referred to as ‘digs’ – are not protected by the same rights as normal renters, such as a requirement for a landlord to be registered to the Residential Tenancies Board.

Harris added that he plans on publishing draft licensing agreements and guidelines for the scheme in the coming days.

The Union of Students in Ireland Vice President for Welfare Colette Murphy claimed earlier this month that the government is using the rent-a-room scheme as a “band aid” for the problem of student housing in Ireland.

She said that the USI want guidelines to include increased protections for students living in digs, such as the legal permission to lock their room and access to basic necessities such as kitchen and toilet facilities. 

Murphy added that the USI would like for those renting their room to be classified as landlords, through the Residential Tenancies Board, and the introduction of written and clear agreements between both the renter and the rentee.

This would also allow for students in digs avail to rent relief schemes, such as the €500 tax credit for renters introduced in Budget 2023.

This week, Harris published the annual cost of education paper, which highlighted that “the construction price for Student Accommodation in the greater Dublin area currently estimated at in excess of €200,000 for a single room en-suite”.  

The report said: “This has had a significant impact on new supply both within the public University sector and private PBSA sector with over 12,500 units currently with planning permission not being activated.”

The department has taken steps in an attempt to solve the scarcity through investing to support the construction of nearly 1,100 new student accommodation units at four separate universities.

Murphy told The Journal this month that while the department has changed government policy and provided third-level institutions with investment, the plans are “moving too slowly” and rely on institution’s that already have planning permission.