International students at risk of housing exploitation

By Sharee Ratten | @Sratten_RMIT

Photo by: Aspect Property Group – Unilodge

National reports reveal international students in Melbourne are at increasing risk of being exploited by landlords and subject to unhealthy living conditions

In recent years, international students have been reporting deceptive rental advertisements, landlords who don’t return bonds and overcrowding in single bedroom apartments.

Reports have found that international students are also  underrepresented in wages. In 2017, studies from the University of Technology Sydney and the University of New South Wales found that 43 per cent of students earned $15 per hour or less, well below the minimum wage.

The number of international students travelling to Australia to study is on the rise, making education Australia’s third largest export, behind iron ore and coal. In 2016-17, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found education exports were bringing in $28 billion to the national economy. However, the cities in high demand for student lodgings (Sydney and Melbourne) are receiving numerous complaints from foreign students who are not fully informed of their rental rights and responsibilities.

In 2017, UniLodge Victoria was fined $90, 000 for making false and misleading claims to students and not handling their rental bonds efficiently. UniLodge was required to pay $40, 000 to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund and $47, 000 to the Residential Tenancies Fund. The facility in question was the UniLodge on A’Beckett, a 109-room hostel at 106-116 A’Beckett Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

Tenants Union policy officer Yaelle Caspi said international students didn’t “necessarily know what their rights are” and had reported numerous complaints to her organisation.

“Large providers are able to get away with more because they hold significant market power,” Caspi said.

“This action by Consumer Affairs shows that there are consequences for non-compliance”.

Foreign students are also being exploited by the overcrowded rental market. An SBS report in 2018 revealed that a two-bedroom Sydney unit was holding nine students. Up to three people shared a single bedroom, with the living room set up to accommodate additional beds as privately as possible.

Consumer Affairs Victoria aims to assist international students understand their rental rights. Consumer Affairs Victoria  have received complaints from international students about misleading and false advertising, rental providers unlawfully keeping deposits and bonds and unsafe or unhealthy living conditions. A significant amount of foreign students expressed fear of losing their VISA should they assert their rights.

Consumers Affairs Victoria Media Manager Lucy Teal explained that international students are advised to:

  • book temporary accommodation before arriving and look for longer-term accommodation once in Victoria
  • only sign a lease or contract after viewing a property in person
  • check the property is clean and safe. Ask the rental provider or owner to fix any problems before paying money or signing any agreements
  • record any existing property damage in a condition report
  • check the rental provider has lodged the bond with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority

As of April 2018, Consumers Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services have been collecting student complaints and an investigation is pending. In addition, legal services are being involved to settle landlord and rental agreement violations.

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