Our contributor Sarah O'Brien investigates the rental market and the living conditions students face today, and explains what pitfalls you should look out for when you are hoping to rent.
A great deal of houses being rented out to students (and young people more generally) in Limerick are in varying states of disrepair. In this climate of economic decline, both landlords and tenants are feeling the pinch.
 
Making do is certainly not something this writer grew up living, but as a twenty something year old student, who’s disposable income is not so disposable any more, twenty cent beans in Lidl or Aldi have become a diet staple.
 
Cheap and nutritious, two words not often heard together in the same sentence (and usually for good reason).
 
Saving on your weekly grocery shopping though is a far cry from what (in my own experience at least) students are willing to scrimp on in terms of accommodation. The age old adage where students wreck houses and therefore landlords need not bother fixing anything or treat their tenants with respect, needs to be knocked on the head and fast.

This “they’re a wild bunch, students sure you know yourself" attitude is having serious repercussions the length and breadth of the country.
 
Is it affecting our health? Remember that winter, you couldn't afford oil so everyone huddled around the TV in three pairs of socks and your duvet, watching a whole series on Netflix, drinking buck fast? (To, ahem, keep warm.) 
 
Or what about the time you got a severe chest infection from that suspiciously mouldy looking patch on your bedroom ceiling? It is high time landlords were held accountable for the substandard conditions that are in the houses they’re renting out.
 
Living off campus means cheaper rent and if you’re anyone other than a first year or an Erasmus student, it’s usually the preferred option. Unfortunately it could also essentially mean a trade-off in standards of living, security and proximity to the college campus. 
 
There are plenty of unregistered bully boy landlords only too delighted to see students coming, because usually they will accept less and will put up with more.
 
Steven, a past UL student explains: “Some landlords steal deposits, actually steal them. They will quite literally refuse or dodge you. I had to leave one house because the landlord refused to fix anything and you can’t do without something as basic as a shower.” Cowboy landlords like Steven’s are ten a penny. Over the last three years of his degree, Steven was denied nearly €2,000 in non-returned deposits.
 
His landlords blamed him for everything, from telling him he was responsible for the inch thick black mould growing in the bathroom,  even though there wasn't adequate ventilation in the room, to forcing him to foot the bill for a house mate that bailed without sorting their share of the bills, even when that said individual was only renting an individual room.
 
When asked why Steven didn't report any of this behaviour, he simply said: “Landlords know students are usually young, naïve and lack experience with the rental market. Young people will often stay living in sub par accommodation because they simply can’t afford to move. Landlords are aware of this and take full advantage.”
 
Fiona, a previous Elm Park resident, explains that: “Some of the student houses were built in the boom and aren't properly insulated and the walls are paper thin.” These houses are freezing as a result, encouraging dampness in the houses. 
 
One house Fiona viewed recently didn't even have a washing machine. When she asked the letting agent, she was informed she was to use the local laundry mat like all the other students. “But it was the bedroom that really shocked me, there was no plaster on the walls, just painted concrete bricks. I seriously doubted it was insulated,” Fiona added.
 
Learning how to recognise potential pitfalls when viewing prospective accommodation and how to deal with them is an absolute must. Shane McCormack, ULSU Welfare Officer has been a Castletroy resident for the past 5 years, living in a number of student hotspots including College Court and Elm Park (infamously known as cardboard city) and has become well acquainted with the perils of student housing.
 
Shane recommends students look out for troublesome tell-tale signs such as blocked vents/ or no vents and check for soot on appliances which can indicate a potentially lethal carbon monoxide build up. He also recommends that landlords present their tenant with a BER energy rating cert-so that the student can gauge how much they will be spending on heating in the colder months.
 
Though a written lease is very important, if the tenant does not have one, but the front door key and deposit have changed hands, a verbally binding contract is in place. Knowing your rights protects both you and the landlord. Your landlord should be registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board Ireland (PTRB) and will be paying tax on the rental income you provide.
 
Students having difficulty with the quality of the accommodation they’re living in can contact the PTRB or the local housing authority.
 
Photo: Håkan Dahlström/ Flickr