Landlords ‘deceiving’ foreign students in Australia

Australian study finds no difference between housing arranged overseas and lodgings organised locally

December 4, 2019
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Half of international students in Australia experience problems with accommodation, and those living in shared houses are the most likely to be hoodwinked by dodgy landlords, a survey has found.

Online research by lawyers at UNSW Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney has uncovered significant exploitation of newly arrived foreign students.

The survey of more than 2,400 international students found that shared houses had been the initial accommodation choice for more than a third of them. But 17 per cent arrived at abodes that were different to what they had been led to believe, with 7 per cent discovering that they had paid for non-existent accommodation.

Seven per cent reported having extra residents moved into their houses without their consent, while 5 per cent claimed to have been told that the accommodation was not ready and they had to stay somewhere else.

Respondents who had opted for homestays or commercial student accommodation reported similar problems, although not as frequently as shared house residents.

People who had lined up housing using social media or peer-to-peer websites, such as Flatmates.com.au and the Chinese language app Sydney Today, reported particularly high levels of deception and overcharging. Students who moved out tended to find that the situation was no better in their subsequent abodes, and people who had organised accommodation within Australia fared no better than those who had made arrangements from their home countries.

Co-author Laurie Berg said that the findings contradicted assumptions that the students “most vulnerable to scams” were those who had booked housing from overseas and had not seen it in person. “The prevailing wisdom in the sector, as far as we understood, was that it’s about getting them information before they’ve left home – when they get here, they’ll be much wiser and make better choices.

“We were very surprised to find that was not the case. The outcomes were equally bad for students who organised their accommodation from here.”

Equally surprising was the finding that students encountered just as many problems after shifting house. “Much more needs to be done here to educate students about the warning signs,” said Dr Berg, a senior law lecturer at UTS.

The accommodation woes of foreign students have been documented for years by Monash University management professor Chris Nyland, and more recently the University of Sydney’s Redfern Legal Centre and UNSW’s Human Rights Clinic. Dr Berg said that the new report provided insights into the house-finding “pathways” that delivered the worst outcomes, as well as baseline data for further research.

The survey found evidence that unethical financial behaviour was rife among landlords, with 28 per cent of shared house residents saying that they had not been given receipts for upfront payments and 18 per cent saying that they had been forced to pay unreasonably large sums in advance.

Thirteen per cent said that landlords had refused to return some or all of the prepaid bonds, 6 per cent reported having their rents suddenly increased and 5 per cent said that they had been unfairly evicted.

Fifteen per cent said that their accommodation was overcrowded, with 11 per cent saying it was unfit for habitation. Fourteen per cent said that their landlords had refused to make repairs.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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