Out of the 819 international students from 73 countries who participated in the research, more than one in 10 (13%) of respondents said that they have been a victim of an accommodation scam while in Ireland.
And some 5% of respondents had either been directly offered a room in exchange for sex or seen an ad for a room in exchange for sex.
The report comes as Ireland battles a housing crisis that has left young people facing soaring rents and overcrowding.
“The housing crisis is jeopardising Ireland’s excellent reputation as a study destination and risks undermining the fantastic work being done in colleges across the country, which go above and beyond to create a quality student experience in Ireland,” executive director of ICOS, Laura Harmon said.
“It is important that we listen to first-hand accounts and experiences of students, understand them, and take action to address them.
“Among a range of other serious issues, we are particularly concerned about the evidence of predators seeking sex in lieu of rent and are calling for urgent legislation to clamp down on this.”
According to the research, less than 11% of respondents who said that were a victim of an accommodation scam reported the incident to the Gardai. Only 18% of these people said they were happy with the outcome.
Some 81 respondents explained why they did not report being scammed. Reasons included a belief that the Gardai would not do anything to help students.
A masters student from Vietnam said, “Gardai does not do anything, why bother.”
And a PhD student from the USA said, “I didn’t think they’d take me seriously. I’d just be another statistic, another foolish international student. Why would they care?”
ICOS said that 37 respondents had either received an offer to rent a room in Ireland in exchange for sex, or had seen a room that was being advertised in exchange for sex.
Out of the respondents who replied ‘yes’ to this question, 20 were female, 15 were male, one person said they were non-binary, and one person did not provide their gender. Some 26 respondents said they saw the advertisement on social media.
Students provided researchers with, at times, harrowing accounts of landlords who tried to rope them into sex-for-rent deals.
“‘Before arriving in Dublin, on the recommendation of a person close to me, I found out about a vacancy that would be available right at the time I would arrive,” one male respondent from Brazil told researchers.
The student arranged a visit to view the property in person.
“The day I arrived in Dublin I went to his house to see the property, he lived in a studio and I thought the vacancy would be for a sofa bed, but when I got there he showed me the place and said the vacancy was for sleeping on the bed with him and asked if we could have sex.
“I was shocked, I immediately refused and said that I was not looking for sex in exchange for accommodation. It was very scary, especially because I didn’t speak English well and I found this type of situation absurd.
“It was very scary, especially because I didn’t speak English well”
“Luckily I had paid for temporary accommodation for a month when I arrived and I didn’t pay anything to the supposed landlord until I arrived and saw everything in person.”
And another female Brazilian respondent reported: “A group of people said that I could only move in if I was willing to have fun with those who lived there and some other people who live there.”
In August 2023, Sinn Féin published a Bill to make seeking sex for rent an offence.
Mental health impacts for students
The report also found that 55% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their mental health has suffered due to the housing crisis in Ireland.
Some 81% of English language students and almost a third (31%) of students studying in higher education share a room with at least one other person and one in 10 respondents said that it took them more than 100 days to find accommodation in the country.
Other findings were that just 54% of respondents in higher education and 44% of English language students said they have a lease agreement and 10% of respondents live more than 15 kilometres away from their college or school.
Researchers said that 10% of respondents reported that they pay more than €1,000 in rent per month.
Overall, nearly half (47%) of respondents were not satisfied with their accommodation.
ICOS has made a number of recommendations to improve the situation for students.
These include the construction of more affordable, purpose-built student accommodation, and an increase in inspections of private rental properties and follow-up to ensure minimum standards are met.
It is also calling for clear accommodation targets for the student population, targeted information campaigns to prospective students about how to find accommodation in Ireland, and a new student accommodation strategy.
A spokesperson for the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science told The PIE News that an additional 938 beds were available in publicly funded Higher Education institutions this academic year, compared to last year.
“In addition, the Department is aware of an additional 618 private beds completed so far this year, with a further 1,500 privately funded beds scheduled for completion this year,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition to that, the State is now, for the first time ever, directly investing to support the construction of circa 1,000 new student accommodation units across a number of higher education institutions. The Department is also examining proposals from UCD, Trinity and UCC.
“This landmark policy response will, for the first time, see the state providing financial support in the construction of on-site student accommodation, and underpins the policy commitments set out in Housing for All.”
The Irish government is also working with the five Technological Universities to assist them in developing their own individual student accommodation plans.
“Digs or rent a room accommodation is an important supply of accommodation for higher education students in Ireland. It provides flexible and affordable supply in close proximity to higher education campuses,” the spokesperson added.
“As of November 3 there were 1,980 digs beds available for rent, which are advertised through our higher education institutions.”