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Deposit protection scheme- good or bad news for students?

Hayley Maher investigates the new scheme proposed by the USI.

Finding accommodation has for many years been one of the most stressful aspects of starting or returning to college in UCD. However, this year seems to have been a particularly bad year, with many students struggling to find somewhere to live near campus.

Sarah Walsh, a second year neuroscience student, drove the 140 miles from Galway to Dublin to view a house having called the landlord minutes after he had put the house up on daft.ie, only to arrive in Dublin and be told the house was already gone. “I arrived at the house and the landlord did show me around because he knew I had come all the way from Galway, but at the end he confessed that he had gotten a phone call from students who could come and view the house straight away and he had given the house to them.”

It has been questioned whether the calls from the USI for the government to introduce the Deposit Protection Scheme, promised in the programme for government, might have a knock-on effect on the willingness of landlords to rent to students. The scheme is an attempt to protect students from so-called “crooked landlords” by changing the current system so that deposits to a state-run deposit protection scheme.

Similar reforms have been implemented in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, which has led to a great reduction in the number of tenants unfairly losing their deposits. Unfortunately, no research has been done to see if there is a link between the number of properties put up for rent and the introduction of these schemes.

A survey carried out amongst the main rental agencies in the vicinity of UCD reveals that that opinions of estate agents and the landlords they represent is mixed in relation to whether a deposit protection scheme would have a positive or negative effect on the ability of students to find accommodation. Some agents feel that it could potentially make it harder for students to find accommodation as it might add another layer of bureaucracy to the rental market and create a disincentive for landlords to rent to students. Students would also have to deal with getting the first month’s rent to one party and ensuring at the same time that the deposit was paid to another party.

 On the other hand, some agents support the introduction of a deposit protection scheme, seeing it as something that would be a positive step in the relationship between landlords and student tenants as it would simplify the existing landlord tenant relationship and would ensure landlords would not have to deal with the hassle of keeping students’ deposits themselves.

 Gary Redmond, President of the Union of Students in Ireland, feels that the introduction of the scheme will not have a negative effect on the ability of students to find accommodation as the scheme will apply to all tenants, not just to students. “At the end of the day it will be up to landlords who they want to rent to, but certainly with such a large stock of accommodation out there it’s a renters’ market and certainly students have far more choice than they had a number of years ago.”

On the 25th of August the USI organised a student campout outside the Department for the Environment, Community and Local Government to try and pressure the Minister, Phil Hogan, into introducing the scheme. The response of the Government seemed to be that it would look at the introduction of heavier fines and levies on landlords who fail to return deposits, rather than introducing the deposit protection scheme favoured by the USI.

However Redmond said that the USI had met with the special advisor to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Willie Penrose, last week. “What has happened is the Department for the Environment has asked the PRTB to go away and come back with plans by the end of October on how the scheme can be implemented, and certainly it’s the opinion of the Government that it is in the Programme for Government and that they will be implementing the scheme.”

 The USI President stated that already the USI had two and a half thousand signatures from students calling for the scheme to be introduced and that the petition would be handed to the Minister in the coming weeks to keep up the pressure. The USI hope to have the scheme up and running by September 2012.

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