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Rent-a-Room: The Solution To Student Housing In Galway?

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With the ever-rising costs of living and the high rates for rent in Galway, students are struggling to find affordable accommodation for the new term. The Rent-a-Room tax relief scheme allows a homeowner to accrue a tax free income of up to €10,000 per annum. Aidan Clifford, technical director of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants promotes the idea, citing that “The Rent-A- Room relief is a good option for Galway home owners with a spare room located near good transport routes”. But is this what is best for both the homeowners and the students? On the surface this wonderful scheme seems ideal, with the homeowners able to earn potentially tax free earnings and students being able to find affordable accommodation, yet there seems little structure or security for the tenant and the homeowner seems to hold all the power unmonitored.

The intrusion of opening your home to a total stranger is daunting at best, especially if that person is a lively, energetic teenager free from the shackles of his/her parents for the first time. Homeowners have earned the right to enjoy the privacy and safety they have worked so hard for and giving that up will not be an easy decision for anyone. The cold hard fact that the cost of living is higher than ever, and that jobs are sparse could cause many who are not prepared for such responsibility to do so out of necessity as opposed to choice. The elderly people touted as ideal for the programme may not be able to cope with the arrival of a young person in their living space. Students are notoriously loud, disruptive and often seen as a nuisance in big college or university towns. How would an elderly person cope with a nineteen year old man bringing home his drunken classmate for a roll in the hay at 3am? They won’t, they can’t. It is as simple as that. The risk to some potential “landlords” in this case seem to be vastly under examined, as are the dangers to the students in question.

Citizensinsinformation.ie say “it is strongly recommended that you and the tenant agree some ground rules and put them in writing”. This is not a necessity, nor a requirement; meaning the homeowner has all the power, leaving the tenants vulnerable. The homeowner is not required to register as a landlord with the Private Residential Tenancies Board and are not covered by landlord and tenant legislation. Regarding students, the concept that accommodation with so little safety is being recommended is frankly irresponsible. When I was at University studying my under-grad I lived in student halls, then a shared house. The landlord was legally prepared for such responsibility and with a strict tenancy that protected both our interests a feeling of safety and security was felt by all. But living in a shared house and living with your landlord are two very different things. University is a time of experimentation and rebellion for many students as they explore the world and themselves to find their place in it. And I am sure that had my landlord lived with me and my friends on a daily basis, seeing our normal student lifestyles he would have been crying out for us to be evicted. With no guaranteed contract to protect the students and the homeowner having the right to retain the tenant’s deposit this could lead to students being evicted from their homes for simply being what they are, young. Without the return of their deposit and potentially having little to no time to find new and suitable accommodation; students may be forced to drop out, or defer for a year. This could cause a mass disruption to their education.

The scheme itself would bring a large income to any homeowner, at their own risk, but there is simply too little protection for the students and tenants in general for this to be a viably safe option. I am now a post-grad student in Galway, and due to the soaring prices of rentals in the city I opted to live almost an hour away. For my wife and I, who both drive, this is an option; but how many under-grad students have this luxury? The Rent-a-Room scheme is a brilliant idea, and one that with a little fine-tuning to protect all parties, could be the solution to many people’s problems. With what appears to be a completely unmonitored policy the risks are simply too high to recommend this type of accommodation to students.

All potential tenants should seek professional advice on this matter if they are considering taking a room under these circumstances, for students the student support at your college or university may be a good place to start.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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