Landlords in Galway are at the centre of a raging housing crisis, which has seen the city's housing market thrown into disarray.
In the last fortnight, a final year midwifery student in GMIT claimed she had a deposit of €2,400 accepted by a landlord, only to find the locks had been changed, and all her possessions had been locked inside the rented house. Another student said he had received an application form which requested his criminal history (if any ), his PPS number, his bank and credit history, and asked for the reason why he wanted to rent the house at the given address.
National housing charity Threshold says landlords are allowed request "some" of this information, but only if they are offering full-term accommodation. However, the charity also admitted that failing to supply these details often leads to students not being considered for the property. This puts students in a Catch 22 situation, especially when there is a limited supply of houses, and an overwhelming number of students vying for the same room.
Threshold reported a 128 per cent increase in the number of tenants asking its Galway office for support with rent increases. In the first eight months of the year, 248 tenants contacted the charity for advice, up from 109 for the same period in 2015.
Commenting on the figures, Diarmaid O’Sullivan, services manager for Threshold in Galway, says double digit inflation is rife.
"The increase in the number of people approaching Threshold for advice on rent increases underlines the pressure tenants are under. While previously, double digit annual rent inflation was primarily a Dublin phenomenon, it is now becoming the norm in Galway."
At the beginning of August, 3,600 properties were available to rent nationwide, which was the lowest figure on record, according to Daft.ie
"While a large number of purpose-built student apartments are either being built or are planned, these will take time to come on stream and will only cater for those on higher incomes," said Daft.ie economist Ronan Lyons. "The majority of students will face tough choices about where to study and where to live."
In Galway, rent across the city is an average 14 per cent higher than this time a year ago. Average rent is now €932, but some of the city's better locations are considerable higher - a three-bed apartment in the city can cost up to €2,150 per month. Currently, there are just 80 properties advertised for rent in Galway city on the property website, and nationally the stock of available rental properties is at an historic low.
Winters Property managing director Enda McGuane is calling for "immediate joined-up thinking" to address the increasing student accommodation shortages.
"We need to move away from a 'one size fits all' approach to housing," he said. "What is now required is a focused intervention by the Government to address this specific problem. Every year, students encounter the same problem securing accommodation, which limits their ability to attend their third level course of choice.” McGuane also believed student loans were not the answer, as they typically equated to spiralling debts which were hard to shrug off. In the UK, a loan scheme was introduced with students finishing their degrees with an average of £41,000 debt, before finding find a job.
Under the Living City Initiative, many city central areas had undergone incentivised regeneration, and McGuane believed this scheme should be revised to include student accommodation.
"Third level institutes should be asked to indicate where their recruitment focus is, and where they see their accommodation shortfalls. This will allow the development of appropriate accommodation, designed to best meet specific student needs. One thing that has always been lost is that different types of students, say, first years versus post-graduates, Irish versus international, all have vastly different accommodation needs."
Recent changes to the law, introduced by the Residential Tenancies (Amendment ) Act 2015, mean rents can only be increased once in any 24 month period, and cannot be over market rent, that is, the rent one could expect to pay on the open market for a similar property in a similar area.
"While the change to the law is welcome, further measures are necessary to regulate rent increases to make the private rented sector a viable housing option," added Threshold's O’Sullivan. Threshold has proposed rent certainty measures are introduced, that would link increases in rent during a tenancy to the annual percentage change in the consumer price, which would be subject to an overall percentage limit over a four year period.