A recent scandal wherein a young female tenant was offered an exchange of sexual favours in lieu of paying rent represents the exploitative, opportunistic and dangerous reality of Dublin’s current rental market. Students in the latter years of their degree will undoubtedly know people who have had, or will themselves have been victim to, landlords who are desperate to capitalise off of the rising prices of accommodation in the most expensive city to live in within the Eurozone.
The competitive climate which surrounds the process of securing accommodation in Dublin makes those looking for a living space for the first time – or those looking at the last-minute, such as those accepting second or third round CAO offers – vulnerable to illegitimate or untrustworthy property owners, who rely on the large gap between housing supply and booming demand in Dublin. At the end of first year, I recall showing up to a viewing with my friends and running into two other residents of our same dorm, alongside several other eager Halls residents. As the housing crisis escalates, so do the stakes for students looking for housing for the college year. Those who can’t commute, didn’t get into Halls, or can’t afford luxury accommodation, are prime targets for landlords seeking to make money off of the vulnerable.
“Those who can’t commute, didn’t get into Halls, or can’t afford luxury accommodation are prime targets for landlords seeking to make money off of the vulnerable.”
In second year, those who were lucky enough to have lived in Halls the first time around are suddenly thrown from the comfort of college-run accommodation and a secured living space into the competitive reality of the housing market. Not only do these students need to, for the first time, find accommodation for themselves, but they also need to consider their important new-found friendships. Maintaining these connections is developmentally important, these relationships representing some points of stability for many in their first daunting year of college. These friendships, however, are also important in helping prevent exploitation – lone, inexperienced students being far more likely to fall victim to scams or ambitious property owners.
Trinity’s long-standing status as a central Dublin landmark means it holds particular importance to the city, as well as extending its own branches of influence. It certainly would not be beyond the power of the College to implement safeguards for its more vulnerable students renting for the first time. Trinity’s Student Union does run an Accommodation Advisory Service, and provides ‘drop-in’ hours in August and September (and again in January for two weeks); for the rest of the year it operates online and over the phone. Offering advice about leasing and deposits, a place for the free (but limited) advertisement of approved accommodation and providing a ‘Living in Dublin Guide’ all represent positive initiatives by Trinity and an understanding of the need for serious consideration of the risks which come with living in Ireland’s capital. The free service is good – but it, unfortunately, cannot do enough. The cause at the heart of the housing crisis is supply and demand, and a prioritisation of profit over the welfare of people living in Dublin. Trinity’s continual emphasis on cash-grab policies, which encourage luxury accommodation over affordable living spaces, and a limited advisory service for students facing directly against experienced Dublin landlords, means that Trinity not only fails to do enough for the welfare of its students, but actively contributes to the crisis they are forced to navigate.
“…as an institution which holds the welfare of its students as one of its core values, simple measures to help prevent their exploitation can hardly be remiss.”
This is not to say that Trinity should act as a surrogate parent for its unfamiliar students, but rather that as an institution which holds the welfare of its students as one of its core values, simple measures to help prevent their exploitation can hardly be remiss. This move is a necessary transition for the vast majority of college students, it is not a process wherein total independence from the College’s governing body is advisable. The emotional independence that comes from arranging meetups, going to viewings, and organising finances is an important learning curve which should not be underestimated. It is not, however, a process that should require total separation from the college, as it does for the majority of first-time student renters. Dublin’s accommodation sector is in crisis, and this is not something every student is, or should be, equipped to deal with alone.
Landlords have been working the Dublin market for years. The current state of property prices and the never-ceasing need for student accommodation means an increase in exploitation is unavoidable. Throughout my years at Trinity, my experiences as a tenant have only worsened after leaving the comfort of college-run accommodation. The availability of safe and supervised spaces for student living isn’t unavailable for the majority of students. It’s simply unaffordable. Rent in luxury apartments like those in Kavanagh Court or on Thomas Street reaches over €1000 a month. Options such as these are simply not sustainable for a large percentage of students studying at Trinity, who are instead made to enter the rental market unsupervised and unadvisedly after a sheltered ten-month period in Halls. Referring back to the aforementioned “sex for rent” scandal heard in the Dáil, the College must acknowledge the risk undertaken by students who elect to live in Dublin. These are not risks they want or deserve, but serve as pertinent examples of the consequences associated with pursuing higher education in a financially booming capital city.
“For those who lack Dublin contacts or family friends to help sweeten the deal, the Dublin rental market becomes a web of exploitative landlords, fiercely competitive prices, and opportunities for the systemic abuse of young people.”
Fortunately, the case is not always so bleak for students choosing to live outside of College accommodation. Many will spend four years without horror stories or hellish commutes, though for such luxuries some may have to pay the price. For those who lack Dublin contacts or family friends to help sweeten the deal, the Dublin rental market becomes a web of exploitative landlords, fiercely competitive prices, and opportunities for the systemic abuse of young people. The “sex for rent” incident represents a horrifying extreme of the potentialities of Dublin’s severe housing market, but it is in no way an impossibility for more vulnerable students.
Cut the Rent TCD is a recently-established activist group comprised of students, tenants, political organisations amongst others with the aim of “[working] as a united front…[to] popularise the idea of striking and [building] alliances with others, on and off campus”. As the name suggests, the goal of the group is to kickstart rent strikes and build up a sense of solidarity amongst students, as well as with those off-campus in the grips of the housing crisis. Its genesis represents a growing understanding in Trinity that not enough is being done to help students, some of whom are among the worst victims of the current state of Dublin’s rental situation. In times of crisis for Dublin and for Trinity’s students, it is the duty of the College to take action and actively help.