In 2018, there were a record 548,000 international students at universities, vocational colleges, English colleges and schools in Australia. Due to the limited availability of student housing and the high costs of renting, most live in share houses, boarding houses and other insecure arrangements in Sydney and major cities. Students in the UNSW Human Rights Clinic have undertaken an 18-month investigation into exploitative practices by private landlords and others that leave many international students deceived, financially exploited and living in poor housing conditions in Sydney. These conditions can seriously undermine international students’ physical, emotional and financial wellbeing, and in many cases, their basic human right to adequate housing. The Clinic has published its findings and recommendations in the report titled No Place Like Home.
No Place Like Home: Addressing Exploitation of International Students in Sydney’s Housing Market
On 9 July 2019 the Human Rights Clinic released a report detailing exploitative practices that international students encounter in Sydney’s informal housing market, both when finding housing and as tenants. The Clinic has found that in this under-regulated space, landlords take advantage of international students’ vulnerability and their lack of knowledge of local conditions and their legal rights. For example, the report finds landlords may demand that international students pay a much larger bond or more weeks of advance rent than the law allows. Some students have been harassed by their landlord or fellow tenants; others are subjected to overcrowding or a refusal to repair unsafe conditions.
Many international students find their accommodation online before they come to Australia, and pay large sums of money upfront to unverified landlords and accommodation providers. International students in share houses commonly do not get a receipt for their bond and do not have a written tenancy agreement. If they need to leave because they were deceived about the conditions of the housing or their housing situation is intolerable, or if the landlord suddenly evicts them, they often lack tenancy rights under NSW law and often cannot get their bond back.
Unlike many local students, when things go wrong with their housing, international students often have no family or social support – and often nowhere else to go. The Clinic’s investigations revealed that serious housing problems can affect international students’ physical and mental wellbeing and place them under significant financial pressure that can impact their academic studies.
The report draws on focus groups with international students at multiple universities across Sydney, as well as interviews with a range of legal service providers and international student advisors, and an analysis of a legal centre’s housing case files relating to international students.
The report concludes that the NSW and Commonwealth governments, local councils, and education providers can take important steps to address the identified problems immediately, while pursuing longer term goals of building additional quality student housing. These include improving international students’ access to information and tenancy services and strengthening legal rights. It also includes establishing greater accountability for unscrupulous landlords, enabling students to identify quality providers, and increasing international students’ ability to pay for better accommodation by providing travel concessions as in every other Australian state. Implementation of these measures will reduce international students’ vulnerability to deception and exploitative conduct by landlords and ensure they can get help and redress when their rights are violated.