USI: One-third students in digs do not have written agreement with homeowners

According to the survey, 11% of students reported having full access to services such as a bathroom, fridge, living room and washing machine

One-third of students living in digs-style accommodation do not have a written agreement with the homeowner, according to a new survey by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

The USI Students Digs Survey 2023 aimed to shed light on the experiences and challenges faced by students renting out rooms in owner-occupied properties.

The survey conducted with 1,973 students found 34.2% of students in digs did not have a written agreement with the homeowner.

Of the two-thirds that have a written agreement, 68% said the written agreement was suggested by the homeowner themselves.

The survey also found that 11% of students had access to a bathroom, fridge, iron, living room, oven/stove, television, washing machine and dryer.

43% of respondents could stay in the rented room for the full week, with many told to leave over the weekend.

59.3% of students surveyed said they were living in digs because they “couldn’t find another room”, while 39% said they chose digs because it was “handiest for them”.

57% of the students showed they would like to move out of digs if they could.

USI President Chris Clifford said students in digs “have no legal rights or safeguards, and a student can see themselves on the streets without notice”.

“This is not sustainable and results in significant numbers of sometimes complex and insurmountable cases each year,” he wrote in a foreword for the survey.

“Simply, we believe the use of public funds to promote and encourage the use of the rent-a-room scheme must come with checks and balances ensuring fair use, safety and wellbeing for those participating.”

The survey also researched other issues facing students in digs, including the security of tenure, the student-landlord relationship, and overall freedom of those living in digs.

Students living in digs are not able to report issues to the Residential Tenancy Board (RTB).

Taking testimonies from students, one said, “If I was still in digs, I probably would’ve dropped out.”

Speaking about the relationship between students and homeowners, one respondent who previously lived in digs noted, “I felt obliged to text them every time I would be home late and felt uncomfortable in the home.”

Another student said: “Family were lovely to live with, I just felt that with not being able to have visitors I felt like a guest in a place I was renting.

“In terms of a digs experience it couldn’t have been better given the circumstances.”

Clifford emphasised the need to introduce rights for students in digs: “Students availing of digs should not be left vulnerable without legal rights or safeguards.

“Public funds to promote the rent-a-room scheme must come with checks and balances to ensure fairness, safety, and wellbeing for all participants.”

The USI calls on policymakers and relevant authorities to address this issue urgently.

They are advocating for extending current Residential Tenancies legislation to include specific protections for students living in digs and create clear guidelines and regulations for their living arrangements.