Sunday 22 April 2018

Rent? Astronomical. Deposit? Ridiculous. A room of your own? Priceless

It seems more like a scene from a Dickensian slum than modern Ireland, but young professionals are increasingly forced to share rooms, space and even beds to afford a place to live.

Move over, darling: Leah McLennan and the four people with whom she shares a house in Dublin 1.
Move over, darling: Leah McLennan and the four people with whom she shares a house in Dublin 1.

LEAH McLENNAN

'We've run out of shower gel," my 26-year-old flatmate informs me with a shocked look on his face. "Well, go and buy some," I reply. It seems that Neil - even in his late twenties - believes in magic.

For him things just seem to materialise - magic milk, magic toilet paper and magic lightbulbs. And with five adults living together under the one roof things also seem to disappear - quickly.

A lazy flatmate is just one of the myriad of frustrations that this generation of property-poor is forced to endure while living in communal dwellings well into their twenties, thirties... though hopefully not forties. And although my entire Dublin household is made up of professionals working in such areas as accountancy, marketing and the public sector, stratospheric house prices mean that even the bottom rung of the property ladder is out of our reach.

But then again I shouldn't be complaining. I might not be able to afford to buy my own apartment or to rent a one-bedroom flat, but at least I can pay for my own room.

According to a recent report from Daft.ie, the busiest flatshare website in Ireland, the cost of rent has been increasing significantly in Dublin since the end of 2004. However, it wasn't until the middle of last year that growth really picked up and reached double figures (10.5%). The biggest jump in rent over the last 12 months occurred in Dublin 2 - no surprise there.

The average rent for a one bedroom home in that post code is now €1,234, and €1,178 in Dublin 1. Unfortunately, growth in rental values is expected to continue throughout 2007, rising by an average of 10% this year.

If this happens, and wages do not rise to match it, all those people flooding in to Dublin might have to quickly flood out again. Either that or people will start renting beds in shifts like my neighbours already do.

Alessandra, a 25-year-old Italian neurosurgery student on a scholarship at Trinity, came to stay on our couch while looking for a room to rent in Dublin. After four weeks of searching she realised that even if she was lucky enough to be accepted into a shared house, she wouldn't be able to afford it anyway.

She now rents a third of a single room in a five-bedroom house in Dublin 2 that sleeps 19 in total. For her small bed, with space underneath to store her suitcase, she pays €350 each month - a bargain compared to the €550 per month I pay to sleep in my own room in Dublin 1. I asked her how she'll get on sharing a room.

"Just fine," she said. "I will share with two gay Brazilian guys."

"Perfect," I replied, trying to wipe the concerned look off my face. How she will get any study done is anyone's guess.

But Alessandra's situation is not unique. There are droves of people arriving in Dublin each day, fresh off planes from places such as Poland, Italy and Spain, eager to find a place to call home.

This high level of inward migration has caused an increase in tenant demand and landlords are now in an ideal position to ask big bucks for poor quality. This means that for the ordinary Dublin worker and many young people, "a room of one's own" is fast becoming a luxury.

Angelo, also from Italy, has slept on our much-loved couch for the past six weeks while looking for a room. He has diligently attended two interviews for a shared house each night and suffered countless knockbacks.

But recently he excitedly informed me that he has finally found somewhere to rest his pillow - on one half of a double bed in Dublin 8 for €300 each month. He dreams of one day being able to afford to rent his own bed.

"One might expect to share a house when you are in your teens or early twenties," Angelo said, "but when you're 31, working full-time and renting one half of a double bed you begin to feel like someone's ripping you off."

Last week one of my flatmates, Roisin, decided to move home to Kerry to save money. She advertised her room on Daft.ie thus: "Single room available in a five bedroom house in north city centre, very close to O'Connell Street and 20 minutes walk to Grafton Street, living with four people, €550 per month plus bills". The description attracted 149 responses.

Roisin is now busy maintaining various Excel spreadsheets. There is "the spreadsheet of interesting applicants", "the spreadsheet of 'only if desperate' applicants" and "the spreadsheet of not-a-chance-in-a-million applicants".

To get on the first spreadsheet you need to impress with a 500 word mini-autobiography. One applicant, by the name of Michael, who wrote, "Hi, when can I move in?", was immediately placed on the not-a-chance-in-a-million spreadsheet.

The one lucky applicant who makes it through the written test and impresses a panel of four judges at interview will then be offered the prize: a 2x2 metre box room at the top of the stairs with a 15-year-old mattress and coffee-stained carpet, right next door to a toilet that sounds like Niagara Falls when flushed. Roisin hopes the new flatmate will bring some earplugs and a mattress protector... oh, and €1,100 for the first month's rent and bond.

Before making the decision to move back to Kerry, Roisin searched on Daft.ie to see if she could find some cheaper accommodation in Dublin. Thinking she would like to move to the other side of the Liffey she typed in "Dublin south city, single furnished room for a female".

One ad looked suitable: "Lovely new flat in Dublin 2 with wooden floors, nice kitchen and big bathroom, sharing with Italian couple.

Ten minutes walk to St Stephen's Green". It's a bargain, she thought, for just €85 per week.

The catch? She has to sleep on the sofa. Understandably, Roisin has now moved back to Kerry.

Phil (28), a warehouse worker from Santry, has managed to escape the share room and share bed dilemma and is one of the fortunate stay-at-homers who rent their former childhood bedroom from their parents. He told me about the delights of living at home.

"Living at home allows me to have enough money left over from my wage to buy things like an Xbox and a flat-screen television. I wouldn't be able to afford any luxuries if I was renting my own place. The only thing that is annoying about living at home is not being able to have friends over until really late to play the Xbox."

But for Jason, a 25-year-old taxation accountant working in Dublin, living at home is not an option. Instead he pays €50 a week to sleep on a sofa in Ballsbridge while saving for a deposit for his own flat.

Compare that with an average of €150 a week for your own room in a shared flat and you can see why more and more people are turning to couches and shared rooms as a solution to Dublin's high rental prices.

But for me, when all the flatmates have gone to bed, the television is turned off and no one is flushing the toilet, I can get a pretty good night's sleep in my room. Sometimes when I'm lying in bed at night my thoughts drift off to poor Angelo over in Dublin 8, fighting with his bed rental partner over who has the most duvet.

When I think of him I feel rather fortunate that I have my own room - all five square metres of it.

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