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Gardaí have reported a 65% increase in accommodation scams since 2019. Alamy Stock Photo
THE MORNING LEAD

Student accommodation dash: Scarce rooms, few protections and potential scams

A warning from the CCPC is paired with a severe lack of affordable student accommodation in Ireland’s four largest student towns.

THE COMPETITION AND Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has alerted third-level students to warning signs of potential rental scams and asked that they bear this in mind during their accommodation search.  

According to the CCPC, Gardaí have reported a 65% increase in accommodation scams since 2019 and students are under “severe pressure” this year in their hunt for accommodation.

The commission said that rental scams will attempt “to trick you out of your money by pretending to offer you a property or room to rent”. The watchdog says “a major red flag” would be if the landlord says they are away or live outside Ireland.

Vice President for Welfare of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Colette Murphy said that this issue is common for students in Ireland, especially international students.

Murphy said: “This report came out right at the correct time because it is over the next few weeks, particularly when September hits, that we’re going to see cases of students ending up in those situations. In terms of prevalence – yes, it’s very prevalent among international students.”

Murphy told The Journal that domestic students usually have much more freedom in their choices and can spot a red flag easier, compared to students who are attempting to find somewhere to stay from outside of the country.

The CCPC said other methods to scam potential victims include the request of a deposit and a month’s rent before “any mention of a lease”. The commission added that in some cases, “you may even be sent a false contract to sign or fake keys to make it more convincing”.

Other red flags include being offered accommodation without any questions being asked of the student or unsolicited offers sent to students by text or email.

The commission said any students who may be struggling to find accommodation should not fall for these scams and should take precautions such as agreeing to rent only after seeing a property and paying deposits using a card or bank transfer.

Murphy said the USI suggests similar precautions, such as refusing to accept through email or text alone. The union also advises international students to request phone or video calls with the landlord to view the property, if they cannot view in person.

The CCPC say those who do fall victim to a potential rental scam should contact their bank or credit card company immediately, and report the incident to Gardaí.

“Doing this may stop a scammer altogether and save other people from becoming victims,” the commission said.

‘Absolutely insane’ lack of accommodation

The warning from the CCPC is paired with a severe lack of availability in purpose built student accommodation complexes in Ireland’s four largest student towns: Dublin, Galway, Cork and Limerick.

The commission said students are under “severe pressure” this year in their hunt for accommodation. However, Murphy says the scarcity of accommodation in the private rental sector is “a hangover from years of inaction”.

At the time of publication, there are only three available rooms or apartments to rent in country that are below €500 a month, one in Dublin and two in Galway, on the two largest property websites: Daft.ie and MyHome.ie.

One of the advertised properties, specifically targeting students, is a hostel that offers to “match you up with roommates” if a potential tenant does not have three friends to fill the room. The property also requires tenants to leave the property every weekend.

Murphy said it is “absolutely insane” that so little private accommodation is available for students on these portals.

We know the budgets that students are living on, with minimum wage jobs and trying to work upwards of 20 hours-a-week, on top of doing their coursework, to try and fund their education as well as their accommodation.

“That is standard, unfortunately. It would be very rare for a student to be renting somewhere that’s under €500 a month, unless they’re living in a digs situation – but obviously they’re a lot more precarious and there’s not a lot of them on the ground,” the Union representative told The Journal.

The USI launched a campaign last year in an attempt to highlight the cost of attending university in the country and called for more protections for renters, a reduction in rent with the introduction of rental caps and the subsidisation of affordable, purpose-built, student accommodation from public funds.

Murphy said: “Most problems we’re seeing now is a historical lack of investment in student accommodation. Even with the current grants that are being made available to universities, they still have to pay VAT on those funds that they get.”

“[The government] also hasn’t committed to building all the beds that each institution needs to build.”

Murphy added that it’s great that progress is being made but she believes it could go further.

A spokesperson for the Department of Higher and Further Education told The Journal that an additional 938 beds will be available in publicly funded Higher Education institutions for this academic year.

Additionally, the department understands an extra 2,057 private accommodation beds will come on stream during the third quarter of this year. However, a recent report from Daft.ie found that the “extraordinary shortage of rental accommodation” is continuing.

This shortage does not only impact students looking for short-term rentals but also other potential tenants looking for a home nationally.
Daft.ie said “On 1 August, there were fewer than 1,200 homes available to rent nationwide. While this marked an increase of over 460 on the same date last year, availability remains extremely tight compared to other years.

Indeed, the level of homes on the market is less than one third of what had been typical in the 2015-2019 period, which was already one of scarcity.”

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 Dublin City University, University of Limerick, University of Galway and Maynooth University.

The union representative said that while the department has changed government policy and provided third-level institutions with investment, the plans are “moving too slowly”.

“[The department] are relying on institutions that [already] had planning permission to build and a lot of them would’ve been universities, and not technological universities,” Murphy said.

Murphy added that university accommodation is “a two-tier system” where more traditional institutions would have accommodation, and plans to build more, which leaves technological universities “further behind”.

Murphy believes that the government needs to move quicker to help develop those campuses and their accommodation units as, currently, technological universities “have to do most of the leg work”.

‘Band aid’

The department spokesperson told The Journal that proposals are being examined from more traditional institutions such as University College Dublin, Trinity College, University College Cork, but also across all five Technological Universities in the state.

The department also claims that digs, where a student rents a room in a home, play “a vital role” in the accommodation process.

A spokesperson said that the department is currently creating guidelines for homeowners and students to consider before engaging in the rent-a-room scheme. It has been promised that these will be published before the start of the academic year.

But Murphy says that the government are over-reliant on the rent-a-room scheme, labelling it a “band aid they’re using to put over the problem”. 

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

The Vice President for Welfare 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.

Overall Market

The level of competition was further highlighted yesterday in a report by Daft.ie which found that market rents in the second quarter of this year increased by an average of 2.4%, compared to the first quarter.

This means, compared to the same period last year, rents in the open-market are now 10.7% higher.

The property portal found a “noticeable difference” between trends in Dublin and elsewhere in the second quarter, as market rents rose by just 0.3% quarter-on-quarter compared to an average of 4.3% outside of the capital.

The 4.3% figure represents the second largest quarterly increase recorded outside of Dublin since the start of the Daft Report in 2006. The three other college towns, Cork, Galway and Limerick, all saw market rents increase.

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