NewsRent a Room: Survival Guide for Owners and Tenants

September 9, 2017


This week many people’s lives are going to change; university students will leave home for the first time, parents will feel the nest emptying and for brave home-owners  who answered the crisis call to rent out a room, they will learn what it is like to sell a slice of their own private space.

Ireland’s rental market is at crisis point, we simply do not have enough rentable units to keep pace with growing demand.  And this demand is spread universally across all types of homes.  In the past, tenants were either students – with low budgets and even lower expectations – or they were young professionals, renting somewhere nice but affordable as they saved for a deposit to buy their first home;  because that what we do here in Ireland.  Or at least it is what we used to do.  Fast forward a decade or two and we see professional families in long term rentals; in fact, for the first time in modern history, we are seeing professional families in social housing.  We have working people facing homelessness and first-time students paying €800 to €1,100 per month for a bedroom in Dublin.   Dysfunction has become the new normal and we are still a few years away from delivery of new homes in any meaningful way.

Despite a disproportionate push by builders and developers to deliver new student accommodation nationally, and particularly in Dublin, we are still tens of thousands off the volume needed.  For the past few months, the State, non-profit housing organisations and the third-level institutions themselves have been urging people to rent out any spare rooms.  And it makes sense financially to do this, with up to €14,000 potentially tax-free under the ‘rent a room’ scheme.  But does it make sense for people on a practical, social and mental level?  Just how challenging is it to become a first-time landlord to first-time tenants?

I have been writing dispassionately about the property market for more than a decade but this week my only daughter leaves our home and it’s raising more issues than finance. This broken property market is starting to feel personal.

After a disheartening placement on the on-campus accommodation list, we accepted that was to be our only friend in the search for her first home away from home.  And it took a mere 130 property enquiries to secure six viewings and, ultimately, the right offer of a room.  We ruled out bedsits with no cooking facilities, in favour of sharing with other students but this started to feel like a tall order.  Instead, we compromised.  We compromised much faster than an experienced property negotiator ought to do (I am reminded that it is the cobbler’s children who have holes in their shoes!).

Two painful weeks later and my young adult is moving into one of two rooms being rented out to students by a young couple, recent first-time buyers themselves, in Dublin 6.  The rent costs about the same as a two or three bedroom house by the sea in Wexford, we’re obviously not thrilled about that but the market has spoken and we need to make the best of the situation.  So here goes…


Top tips for the homeowner:

  1. You are dealing with a stranger, do not make assumptions about their cooking, cleaning or living habits. Ask questions, set out the ground rules for sharing your home and make sure that your new tenant has an opportunity to do the same.
  2. Expect to be inconvenienced, you have agreed to sell the use of designated parts of your private home, this is the trade-off for the weekly or monthly rent you receive.
  3. Remember that this is a business relationship but you are likely to be dealing with someone younger and inexperienced so clear guidelines about shared space, basic house-keeping and bathroom schedules will help avoid petty disagreements down the line.
  4. Be friendly but start as you mean to go on, do not agree to things in the first week that you will not accept in six months time. Too many first-time landlords become over-familiar with their tenant at the start or adopt the role of a surrogate parent and this is difficult to pull back from without causing resentment.
  5. Finally, remember that this is an adjustment for both parties so make a determined effort to be patient, clear and respectful of privacy.


Tips for the tenant:

  1. You are living in someone else’s home so at all times, be respectful. This means your music, clutter and butter-popcorn smells cannot take over the whole house.
  2. Sharing a home with strangers (who, unlike your parents, will not love you unconditionally!) requires effort from both sides. Human beings are flawed, imperfect creatures, this is perhaps the most important lesson of adulthood.  Everyone has a bad day, forgive it and move on.  If issues persist, discuss them.
  3. Watch for social cues, for example, some people abhor bare feet, so planting your feet on the furniture will be deemed outright offensive.  This will also help you learn about habits you carry from your upbringing so aim for a little self-awareness here.
  4. Following from this point, clean as you prepare your food, clear away any mess, organise bathroom products and remove hair from the drain plug (yes, someone has done that after every shower you have ever had – go kiss your mother immediately). It’s probably worth pointing out that your converse runners are not ornaments and do not add to the decor of any space but your closet.
  5. Finally, remember that this arrangement is not a favour, you are not a guest in this house, rather, you are paying rent every week or month so that this room can become your private home. You are entitled to privacy and to enjoy the shared areas and facilities of the house, subject to the ground rules set out on day one and agreed to by you.



Carol Tallon