Saturday 21 July 2018

Boarded-up doors, bunk beds and smashed-up toilet bowls - the price of renting in college

Student room (stock) (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Student room (stock) (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Everyone says students have it easy – but last-minute cramming for an exam at Christmas, in a shared bedroom with no central heating, is not everyone’s cup of tea.

More than 50,000 CAO offers were issued to prospective first years this week, leaving thousands in search of accommodation for the first time.

The cuter and more experienced students on college campuses nationwide would have had a head start in their search.

Any second-, third- and fourth-year student has had since June to look for accommodation – a full two-and-a-half months before the unfortunate first years.

Even then, with the continuing housing crisis and a shortage of quality homes on the rental market, pickings were slim.

One student house advertised in Dublin this week was made up of two bedrooms and one bathroom.

For €500 per month (plus bills) you could have one of the nine bunks in the two bedrooms, with a share of the only desk in the property.

It consisted of a large living area with a broken couch and an electric heater that was not only damaged, but barely clinging to the wall.

My own search started beside the Shannon as my housemates and I scoured the housing estates around the University of Limerick (UL).

In previous years, the property websites would have been awash with potential homes. However, this year’s search had to be widened.

With our standards lowered from “that’s lovely” to “that’ll have to do”, my housemates and I set off for a place within 10 minutes of the sprawling UL campus.

“Whatever chance you have of making class at all, never mind on-time, is gone out the window if you’re half an hour away and it’s lashing with rain,” one friend told me.

Our initial search included a budget of €210 per month for a five-bed house with the hope of bin collection or some utility included.

Read more: Union calls on DCU staff to house students

We scoured all the usual sites and it showed up nothing until we stretched our budget by an extra €50 each per month.

Eureka. Houses aplenty.

However, upon viewing the properties the quality left a lot to be desired. Not that it left the landlords rattled or embarrassed.

“Now, I know I’ve a bit of work to do,” each said.

“It needs a rub of a vacuum but it’ll be grand when you move in,” became the token greeting at every doorway, except for the house with the broken front door.

The state of disrepair each house was in made you confident that the “rub of a vacuum” required would never materialise as they clearly had not seen any repair or proper cleaning for some years.

Upon entering one property, the stench of rotten damp was so strong that we had to ask our prospective landlord if we could open a window.

The smoke alarms were broken and hanging from the ceiling as a sort of decorative feature – and as soon as we saw the fire hazard that was the burnt-out cooker in the kitchen, we knew we had to leave.

At our next potential home we were greeted by an unassuming and friendly landlord. “I’ve a bit of work to do,” he insisted.

The handrail on the stairs was rickety from all of the missing bannisters, and we were greeted with that familiar damp stench when we reached the landing.

His fireplace was boarded up and there was no central heating to help cope with those long, damp winters tied to the books.

Our third would-be home initially seemed lovely.

That damp smell we were now familiar with and expecting was not there.

Read more: One student's experience: No one returns my calls

We had a television in the sitting room, a nice leather couch and double glazing throughout.

However, a doorway to what was previously a dining room was loosely masked with a piece of plywood standing behind the TV, so as to create the fifth bedroom that would boost the rental income.

Walking on in to the kitchen unveiled another snake in the grass.

The paint was flaking from the walls and ceiling, and we left with the thought that paint in our porridge every morning was not too appetising.

House number four was a five-bed with a couple of en suites, a big open plan living area and a lovely garden for those sunny evenings when we will probably have exams.

The fact that each of the en suites didn’t have a toilet seat was probably not too worrying for a gang of lads – but the actual toilet bowl lying in smithereens on the main bathroom floor made us question how likely our landlord would be to remedy any future issues.

A colleague said this week that a girl would never go out with a guy who only has a single bed.

Well in the end, we settled for a lovely home that the landlord had recently renovated himself.

The walls were pumped with new insulation and were freshly painted.

There was new furniture throughout and it came in under budget with water charges, internet and the TV licence included.

The catch? Single beds throughout.

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