With the majority of students having all or some of their deposit withheld, Elizabeth O’Malley and Aoife Brophy debate whether students are treated unfairly by landlords
It’s finally that day. You’re moving out of your parents’ house and into an apartment with your mates for college. You can’t wait to tack up your posters in your bedroom, fill your fridge and take advantage of your independence. But in this rush there is a good chance you’re going to forget a couple of things. Did you get a receipt for your deposit? Did you ask your landlord for some form of identification and contact details when you met them first? Did you check the place as thoroughly as you should have?
Students are extraordinarily vulnerable when renting. Any person new to the market will often not have as much information on their rights and what to look out for as is desirable. However, students are in a worse position than most between a lack of money, a lack of options and what seems to be prejudice against them. Many landlords refuse to rent to students when it’s often only a few people who give everyone a bad name. It’s also well-known that students often pay above average rent because of competition for places near their college.
Even in a recession in which most people who bought property during the boom are now renting, it is still almost impossible for students to find a decent place to live within their price range. Some landlords refuse to rent to students at all, preferring to keep the house off the market if they can’t find their preferred tenants. As a result, students are often forced into making the error of signing up to a 12 month lease when they only plan on living in the accommodation for 8 months, in an attempt to make themselves more desirable tenants.
Students sometimes put up with pretty dismal conditions, their need for freedom allowing them to ignore the fact that the shower barely works or the windows let in a draught. It’s almost seen as a right of passage to live in somewhere less than luxurious during college years. Landlords may be aware of this and will not try as hard to make their property comfortable to live in.
Not only do students have an uphill battle when it comes to finding somewhere to rent, they are statistically more likely to lose their deposit than keep it. If you were renting last year then there is a chance that you were part of the 20% of students who had in excess of €200 withheld from their deposit. And you would have been lucky compared to other 40% who didn’t get their deposits back at all.
These figures are more baffling when put into context. The law allows normal wear and tear of a property. Just because the carpet is dirtier than when the tenants moved in isn’t a reason to withhold a deposit. If you did damage the property, say, broke a window, then the exact amount needed to fix that window should come out of the deposit; you don’t forfeit your entire sum. And if asked, the landlord should be able to show you a receipt for that window repair.
Now unless I’m missing something, I don’t think there has been an outbreak of students completely trashing houses or breaking their contracts. In fact, I think most students are quite conscientious when it comes to their accommodation, proving that they can take care of themselves.
So why do these students not get their money returned to them once their contracts end? There is an extent to which landlords take advantage of students, knowing that they probably aren’t aware of all their rights or would be afraid of confrontation. Students rarely initiate legal action to get their money back, even where they are aware that it’s being wrongly withheld. According to Threshold, the housing charity, most deposit retention cases are resolved only when the parents of students intervene. Landlords are aware of this and unfairly, and illegally, withhold deposits knowing that they are likely to get away with it.
– Rebuttal by Aoife Brophy
The argument that students are vulnerable is a futile one. Yes, they are entering the big bad world, and yes there are people, not just landlords, ready to prey on them. However, they need to learn how to protect themselves and educate themselves about their rights. Very few of the students that sign twelve months leases pay their own rent anyway. Mammy and Daddy pay it for them. If they had to earn the money to pay an average of one hundred euros a week for rent they would not be so quick to sign a 12 month lease.
This same spoilt attitude comes into play again in the disrespect shown to the rental property. Most students are less than conscientious when it comes to their accommodation, and some are just plain slobs.
Most landlords see their rental property as an investment, and therefore they quite rightly want to maintain its value. This means keeping it clean, proper and in good repair. This also means being selective with tenants and being reluctant to rent to students, who have the worst reputation of all occupants among landlords.
I can’t help but feel sorry for landlords. Not only is the value of their investment falling faster than the Late Late Show’s ratings, they also have to rent out their second home to the dirtiest, most slovenly creatures known to man: students.
The Irish Times recently claimed, “60 per cent of students are being ripped off by rogue landlords.” Well I say that 60 per cent of students are young, care free, party-loving (borderline) alcoholics. Enclose four or five of these creatures in a 70 square metre space for nine months and you will have a serious mess that someone has to clean up. Broken banisters, overflowing bins, scratched walls, torn sofas and the smell of an Amsterdam coffee house is the norm in most student houses. No other smell lingers like the smell of shame and debauchery.
Even if you yourself are a tidy and respectful tenant, I’m certain you know many people who are not. A friend of mine once found that two British pence pieces worked in the electricity coin meter in her student flat. Needless to say, when the choice came between putting in two Euros and asking her friend from the North to bring down more two pence pieces, she wasn’t thinking about not getting her deposit back.
An increasing number of landlords are refusing to rent to students at all, knowing the cost of getting the house repaired afterwards will cost them most of the money they earned from the rent. I heard one horror story about a Ranelagh landlord who had a bad infestation of students. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get rid of them and finally, he decided to release a bag of rats into the house. All he did was replace one species of vermin with another, but he obviously thought rats were the lesser of two evils.
The destruction of someone else’s property is the ultimate act of disrespect, and respect is something I think our generation lacks. The outrage when the landlord holds back some of the deposit is incredible. “I needed that money to go out Saturday night!” It is reasonable for a landlord to hold back some of your deposit to pay for a new hoover because you broke the old one trying to suck up a spilled pint. Why should landlords have to pay for their tenants’ idiocy?
It really shocks me that some students don’t even clean up after themselves before moving out of their apartment. It’s bad enough to leave all kinds of stains on the bedroom walls, but leaving behind your washing up for a complete stranger to do is just plain lazy. If you’re not going to clean up your mess, then make your parents come to Dublin and do it. Ultimately, it is they who are responsible for not house-training you.
The Union of Students Ireland (USI) has started a petition encouraging the establishment of a ‘Deposit Protection Scheme’ for students. This would mean that an independent body would be in charge of looking after deposits until the lease is up. The inconvenience would only discourage landlords further from renting to students at all. Some advertisements read “no students or rent allowance.” Unfortunately, most landlords cannot afford to be picky about tenants any more.
The USI also staged a protest against so called “rogue landlords” back in August outside the Custom House. USI President Gary Redmond is quoted in the Irish Times as saying “Often landlords simply disappear once they get the keys back.” Far more often, students disappear at the end of May, leaving the landlord short of rent. I know protests are very in fashion at the moment, but surely the USI should avoid annoying the government as the budget looms. As much as we all enjoyed the massive session…I mean… ‘Education not Emigration’ march, a protest may not be enough to change the government’s mind this time round.
– Rebuttal by Elizabeth O’Malley
It’s fair to say that students tend, as a group, to enjoy drinking and partying. But even students will get sick of the mess in their living room and clean up every once in a while. That aside, property damage costing above €1,000 tends to be quite rare. Even assuming that students do in fact wreck all the houses they’re in, which I highly doubt, the point of the deposit is to cover any costs for repairs. It’s not that expensive: a case in the PRTB (Private Residential Tenancies Board) only costs €25 and you don’t require representation.
I think that it clearly makes sense to hold deposits in a separate place to the landlord’s account. It is simply too tempting to think of the money as something you own instead of as insurance. And the so-called inconvenience is not getting the chance to take the money illegally at a later date. Not only would this scheme insure against landlords using the deposit for any reason other than the proper one, it would significantly clear up room for other housing cases in the PRTB for other situations, such as where people have been illegally evicted.