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Donegal’s rent crisis: I am 24 years old and ‘can no longer afford to live in the Republic’

Donegal has seen one of biggest jumps in rental costs recently as local tenants compete with tourists for scarce properties

There are no rent pressure zones in Co Donegal but there is pressure on its renters.

Kamile Satinskaite, who moved to Letterkenny from Co Sligo in 2018, says she has “never felt as overwhelmed” as she does as a renter in the northwest.

When she first arrived in Donegal, the 24-year-old lived in a four-bedroom house, where she and three housemates each paid €400 per month rent or €1,600 altogether for their accommodation.

Now, she pays €700 a month to live in a converted garage, with one bedroom, a joint living room-kitchen and a bathroom.

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“Going from something that was four bedrooms to a literal shed, it can definitely be very, very stressful. I feel it has a massive impact on people’s mental health,” said Ms Satinskaite. “I know from my own experiences that finding a decent place to live that has decent rent is near to impossible here in Letterkenny. I moved into this house myself in July last year and it took me so long to find a suitable house that suited my income.”

She also at one point lived in a three-bedroom house in Letterkenny, Donegal’s largest town, with one other person. They paid €640 monthly altogether to a private landlord and had a back garden, sittingroom, kitchen, and a spare bedroom. Now she is paying more than that on her own for a place that is “half” the size.

Her choices, she said, were either a two-bedroom apartment for €1,250 a month or the converted garage, as the other options she had were “rotting and mouldy”.

The problem is only getting worse she believes and she would love to leave the country, but her entire family is in Ireland.

However, her boyfriend lives in Northern Ireland and she can see herself moving there, as she understands rent prices are lower there and the cost of living is not as high.

“I know for a fact that I can no longer afford to live in the Republic and as a 24-year-old, that’s not something you want to admit, but it has got to the point where people our age are literally fleeing the country because they can no longer afford to live here and I’m going to be part of that statistic.”

Ms Satinskaite, who grew up in Co Sligo, added that if the rental situation in Co Donegal “keeps going the way it is going, Donegal is going to lose the 18- to 28-year-old generation, if not the whole way up to 30.

“I can see it, I’ve had so many friends that have left the country in the last six months because they can’t afford to live here,” she said.

Rents have increased nationally, but in Co Donegal, new tenancy rents were recently reported by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) to be 39 per cent higher than existing tenancy rents for the third quarter of 2023.

This is significantly higher than the national average increase of 17.7 per cent.

In Co Donegal new tenancies standardised average rents stood at €987 compared to €708 for existing tenancies in the period.

The struggle to find affordable rentals in Donegal is not exclusive to urban areas as Stephanie McNern, from a small seaside village in the southwest of the county quickly found out.

When she and her then-boyfriend, now fiance, decided they wanted to move in together, and out of their family homes — which were a two-hour drive apart — they didn’t expect it would be a whole year before they found a place of their own.

“We couldn’t get anywhere. There’s loads of vacant houses in our area but they are all holiday homes and most of them weren’t willing to rent because they have them on Airbnb and they were making more money,” said Ms McNern.

The couple wanted a place in Ms McNern’s local area, as that is where she works and her partner could work remotely.

After months of looking for a rental property, a house went for sale locally and they decided to try to buy.

“It was scary, especially when we hadn’t lived together before but we were willing to try it out. We were at the end of our tether,” she said.

“[The house] was fairly cheap, so the mortgage wouldn’t have been much more than we would be paying in rent per month, but after a couple of weeks going back and forth, we decided the house wasn’t for us,” she said.

They went back to the rental market and contacted “loads of local people” as well as holiday homeowners who only used properties occasionally.

“You were driving past vacant houses every single day and houses that might only be used a couple of weeks of the year and knowing you couldn’t rent any of them was really frustrating,” she said.

“Even trying to buy, there’s not many houses available. There’s a lot of people in our area working in Dublin and abroad and when they come to move home, there’s not going to be anywhere for them to live unless they build,” she said.

“Eventually we were just lucky that one of our friends moved out of his house and we were able to then rent it, after a full year of trying to find a place.”

And she said: “People are definitely willing to pay more to rent because they are desperate.”

A spokeswoman for Threshold said the difference between the cost of new and existing tenancies in the third quarter of last year, as outlined in the RTB rent index, is of particular concern, putting significant stress on renters.

“Changes like this in Donegal would indicate the potential need for Donegal or parts of Donegal to become a rent pressure zone(s),” said the spokeswoman.

For an area to be designated a rent pressure zone, the annual rate of rent inflation in the area must have been more than 7 per cent in at least four of the last six quarters and the rent in the area in the previous quarter must be above the appropriate standardised average rent for that area.

At present, there are no zones in Donegal falling within these parameters.

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