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Unregulated student digs: A home away from home or an isolating experience?

University students give wildly differing accounts of their experience of living in rented rooms in private homes

It is the accommodation of necessity for thousands of third-level students, but “digs” accommodation in private homes still remains unregulated, can be costly and can be a wildly positive or horribly negative experience.

The small supply of on-campus accommodation and the expense of private student accommodation facilities means that students are turning to rooms in private houses during the college year.

But the lack of regulation or contracts means that students are often asked to leave at the weekend, could be evicted at any time without warning, have no right to access the Residential Tenancies Board for dispute resolutions and can live with strict rules or in rooms that are not fit for purpose.

The Irish Times spoke to students about their experiences living in these rented rooms.


One student in Galway, who was paying €850 a month including utilities, encountered a rat in the property.

The student, who didn’t wish to be named, said the entire experience felt quite restrictive.

“I was lucky that I didn’t have a curfew and I could’ve stayed there for the weekend, but I never wanted to. I felt uncomfortable, like I was intruding on someone else’s life.”

“It felt like I was living with my parents – you always had to let them know where you were going and when you’d be home.”

After only being there a month, the student began to see problems with the accommodation.

“There were issues with the main door, occasionally my keys wouldn’t work. My own bedroom door didn’t fully close. I didn’t feel safe.”

“It was near the end of my time there, I was studying for my summer exams, when I overheard them discussing an exterminator.”

It was four weeks later before the student received confirmation that there was a rat in the home, which she had lived with for over a month.

“I didn’t feel like a student, I felt so isolated. In first year, you need to be in student accommodation to make friends and settle in. It’s so hard being on your own.

“You never felt like it was your space. I couldn’t invite friends over; I didn’t want them to see where I lived.”

Another student, who lived in digs in Dublin for first year, paid €630 each month to stay from Sunday to Friday, which included the room and utility bills.

The student did not have a curfew to entering the property, but it was preferred that they did not use the kitchen past nine o’clock at night.

The student stayed in private student accommodation for second year and described it as being “completely different”.

“I felt so much more independent, and I can do whatever I want, whenever I want to. Digs are so lonely. I wasn’t meeting a lot of people, so I had to join societies to make friends and I wasn’t on campus, so I felt like I was missing out.”

However, Dylan Hand from Carlow, who is studying in DCU, really enjoyed his digs experience, describing it as “the best decision I’ve made”.

Hand had originally wanted to move into student accommodation in first year but did not receive a place in the college accommodation lottery system.

“It wasn’t what I wanted at the time, but I had to make do with it. It wasn’t possible for me to commute.”

Hand found a spreadsheet of those who were listing available digs in the area on the DCU website, which provided names and numbers to contact.

He started e-mailing and ringing people in “panic mode”. Luckily for him, the second person he contacted was “a lovely lady” who got back to him quickly and offered him a viewing in the home.

“The thought of going to live in student accommodation was very daunting for me. Digs has been like a home away from home.”

“I don’t have a lot of rules, there is no curfew, I make my own food, I can come and go as I please, I have a key and I know the alarm code.”

“I couldn’t recommend digs enough; I’m saving so much money as it is much cheaper than student accommodation.”

Hand is paying €480 a month.

“People might argue that you’re losing out on the ‘student experience’ but I don’t find that. I’ve never missed a night out because I’m living in digs. I feel as free as what I would be if I was in student accommodation.”

Hand remained living in the same digs for his second year at DCU and will stay there again for his third and final year.

The costs of private rooms varies significantly. On, a room in a property in Dublin was advertised on the website for €750 a month withoccupancy available from Sunday evening to Friday; in Galway a property was listed for €700 a month, which included breakfast and dinner and occupancy from Sunday to Friday; and in Limerick, one of only four advertisements on the site is charging €120 per week.

In April 2001, the rent-a-room scheme was introduced by the government to try to provide for more student accommodation. The scheme allows the occupier to rent out a room from their home on a long-term basis or at least more than 28 days and earn up to €14,000 tax free. The occupier does not have to own the property but must occupy the home as their sole residence.

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science estimated that, as of April 30th, 2024, public higher education institutions had approximately 2,178 digs beds advertised through different channels.

The department has established a voluntary framework, with a sample licence agreement available for the homeowners and the tenants.

Also, some universities across Ireland have sample licence agreements online with an online advertisement service where homeowners in the locality can advertise their room to rent on the university’s website.

Maynooth Students’ Union’s website has a Studentpad section dedicated to housing which explains how to look out for scams, how to apply for on-campus accommodation, what websites to look for rental properties on, and the importance of signing a lease or contract.

Alex Balfe, the president of Maynooth Students’ Union, described the conditions that some students experience who are living in digs as “disgusting”.

She explained how the rent-a-room scheme can allow “unvetted landlords with unvetted properties” to earn up to €14,000 tax-free per year.

“Digs is a huge issue that we deal with,” she said.

“We’ve heard horror stories such as a student who had no access to water so couldn’t shower or wash their clothes in their digs accommodation or a student who had limited access to the kitchen and could only use the microwave to make meals.

“Eighty per cent of our students commute. There are students who are living in digs accommodation in Clane, Celbridge and Lucan as they could not find anything closer.”

Balfe explained how the students’ union team have dealt with at least 150 students in this academic year who have had issues with their digs accommodation, and said that the issue needs to be correctly addressed.

“Especially coming up to Christmas and the summer, a lot of students have problems as their landlords won’t let them terminate their contract and want them to pay while they aren’t living there, or the landlord will terminate their contracts too early.”

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