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Cents & Sensibility: Student accomodation

The first round of CAO offers has been published and the new college term is imminent.

The next challenge is finding suitable accommodation. Avoid hasty decisions and make sure you research the market and explore your rights and entitlements before you go house-hunting.

Never accept the first offer

It is a renters' market out there so make sure you haggle. Tenants don't just have more power to ask for a reduced rent, but more scope to request additional fixtures and fittings. If you can't get the price down, consider asking that the property be equipped with items you need before you commit. If a one-year lease isn't ideal, ask for a nine-month one instead. Some landlords will cut the rent if you offer to pay two to three months in advance. When negotiating, tell the landlord why you will make the ideal tenant/s. Perhaps you're non-smokers or you leave Dublin at the weekend. According to Daft.ie, this is the third consecutive year rents have been lower than the previous year. Compared with 2007, a student renting a two-bedroom property can expect to save between €1,500 and €4,000 over the year.

Compile a check-list

Work out what you need from your property in advance. If you plan to leave Dublin at the weekend, make sure you live near national bus and train depots. Does the accommodation have broadband? Will the landlord object to you having it installed? Is a garden necessary? Is there a car-parking space or a suitable storage area for your bike? Is the area noisy at night? Make sure all your queries are answered before you view the property, says Ronan Lyons of Daft.ie.

Location, location, location

Try out the local transport service in the area and make sure you can travel to and from your college within the estimated travel time. Remember that while on-campus residences offer the freedom of being located close to lecture halls and other facilities, they can also impose curfews and other rules. It can also be the more expensive option when compared to the private rental market. Likewise, because rent is often payed in two block instalments, it may cause long-term cash-flow problems.

Know your rights

Remember, your landlord is not allowed to enter the property without your permission, except in an emergency. You are entitled to be reimbursed for any repairs that you carry out that are the landlord's responsibility. You can have friends to stay overnight or for short periods, unless specifically forbidden in your tenancy agreement. However, you must tell your landlord if someone extra is moving in. The Rent-a-Room scheme is covered by different laws so make sure you agree rules with your landlord in advance. See www.citizensinformation.ie for a full list of tenant rights.

Know your government entitlements

Students who are also in full-time employment are entitled to a rent-relief tax credit. The maximum amount a single person under 55 can receive is €400 per annum. To claim your rent relief, complete Form Rent 1 and send it to your tax office. Those in full-time education are not entitled to a rent supplement. However, those receiving a Back to Education Allowance or participating in the Back to Education Programme may be entitled to it. To apply for Rent Supplement, contact the Community Welfare Officer at your local health centre.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

Beware of advertisements promising properties at unusually keen prices in good locations. It may be part of a "phantom landlord" scam. These schemes usually involve meet and greets at the property where the prospective landlord will ask for the deposit upfront. In other scenarios, the tenant is asked to pay the deposit directly into a bank account. Always make sure you use a traceable method of payment such as a cheque or banker's draft when paying the deposit for a property. Don't make any payment until there is an exchange of keys and rental contracts and check to make sure that the keys you are given fit the locks. Be wary of incorrect contact details and phone numbers and landlords who claim to be operating from another country.

Itemise everything

It is your landlord's obligation to give you an inventory of all furniture and appliances provided. The inventory helps protect your deposit. Arrange a personal inspection with the letting agent or landlord and make sure any damaged items are noted and all the items described are present.

It's also important to keep records of all rent that changes hands in case of future disputes. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) recommends that all students use a USI Rent Book as proof of all payments and an inventory book. See www.usi.ie to find out how to get yours.

Choose your housemates wisely

Choosing the wrong housemate isn't just a drain on your energy but on your finances too, particularly if you have to opt out of a rental agreement before the lease is up. Don't just meet prospective housemates at the accommodation; spend some time with them in a neutral location, too. Agree on how costs will be split and when bills will be paid in advance, and make sure all financial transactions are transparent.

Know where to turn

If you have a dispute with a private landlord, you can contact the Private Residential Tenancies Board (www.prtb.ie). Ensure that your landlord is registered with this body before you sign a contract. National housing charity, Threshold, also offers information on legal rights and mediation, as does the Citizens Information Centre and most college welfare/liaison officers.

Don't panic

"I think what happens at this time of year is that people tend to get into a panic," explains Mr Lyons. "There's enough supply on the market around the city so people can take their time. They will find something of good quality even if they don't rush in."