Homeless students inundate flat agencies

Originally published in Volume II, Issue 1 on 27th September 1995 by Observer Reporter. Letting agencies have been swamped by thousands of students looking for houses in what is emerging to be Dublin’s worst ever student accommodation shortage. One agency which has over 2,000 clients on its books, has only one phone line to deal with client inquiries. The most common grievances among agency clients were the difficulties getting through to the agency offices by phone and unacceptable length of time required to find suitable accommodation with the agency. One aggrieved mother from Co.Wicklow registered with an agency in the hope of finding accommodation for her daughter in UCD. She claimed that the agency’s phone-in service was constantly engaged. On one particular day, she attempted thirty times to get through without success. When she finally did get through, she was given a phone number for a property in Terenure. However, upon phoning the landlord she learned that the house was not the requested size and that he did not want to lease to students. When she rang the following day to complain, she felt her complaint was not taken seriously. Other clients have similar stories. Dave McDermott spoke to us after a month with an agency and complained of receiving very little service. He thought that he would have more luck looking through the papers and walking the streets. Agency managers claim that they have to go with what any landlord tells them concerning the condition and description of the property, as “the properties are not on the catalogue long enough to view them”. When the University Observer reporter went to an agency last week, there was as many as 25 people in the office looking for service at one time, some looking through the lists, but most just waiting to be served. One man we spoke to in the agency reception area said that he had been waiting for over half an hour for them to ring a landlord for him. Those who came to pay seemed to be dealt with the quickest. One young man told me of how he had been looking for almost two months with one agency, but with no success, and claimed that he had called into the agency office over 20 times in that period. Letting agencies are distinct from auctioneers and estate agents in the eyes of the law. The latter are required by law to be licensed and bonded, and many of members of professional institutes. The Housing organisations, Threshold, contends that the agencies are not actually affecting lettings to tenants, but rather putting landlords in contact with potential clients. As such they are not subject to the legal regulations and controls which apply to landlords and auctioneers. For the customer, this means that there is no means of redress when dissatisfied with the quality of service they receive. Threshold, in a recent report entitled ‘Vetting the Letting’ have called for urgent reform of the law governing the activities of letting agencies in order to protect, the interests of both landlords and tenants. Perhaps the most telling story comes from Shane, a commerce graduate who went to a letting agency last July. The service fee was £30 at the time, but as he knew the assistant who was dealing with him, he was advised not to spend his money there. The assistant told Shane that he would be better off looking in the Evening Herald.