No place like home

Addressing exploitation of international students in Sydney’s housing market
International students student accommodation Rental housing Rental housing law and legislation Sydney

In 2018, there were a record 548,000 international students at universities, vocational colleges, English colleges and schools in Australia - nearly double the number in 2013. Education providers, government agencies and others are concerned about unscrupulous conduct by landlords and others that leave many international students living in poor housing conditions. These conditions seriously undermine international students’ physical, emotional and financial wellbeing, and in many cases, their basic human right to adequate housing.

Sydney (and other major Australian cities) has very limited dedicated student accommodation on campus or within commercial Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). As a result, most international students in Sydney rely on private rentals. Cost and other barriers render the formal rental market inaccessible to most international students. Instead, most live in share houses, boarding houses and other insecure arrangements in the marginal rental sector, which they find online. International students are therefore highly vulnerable to deceptive and exploitative conduct both when finding a place to live, and as tenants.

Most international students living in share house arrangements do not have a formal tenancy agreement, leaving them without tenancy rights and other protections under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW) (‘RTA’) or other laws. They are therefore significantly more vulnerable to unscrupulous conduct and unfair evictions because in the face of unfair housing practices, they will generally be unable to access the legal remedies that are available to tenants through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘NCAT’). This includes access NCAT to recover a bond. When international students are unable to recover their bond or obtain remedies for other unscrupulous landlord conduct, leaving accommodation becomes financially stressful or impossible, forcing some to stay in housing that is inadequate or unsafe. Students’ lack of access to NCAT to address unscrupulous landlord conduct provides those landlords with impunity and enables them to repeat the conduct with other international students.

International students under 18 also encounter a range of problems in unregulated homestay arrangements.

This report focuses on Sydney because of the large number of international students in the city, and the particular challenges to housing affordability in general. It concentrates on problems international students encounter in the marginal rental market. Though some of these problems are experienced by other disadvantaged groups, their implications are particularly acute for international students who are especially vulnerable to deceptive and unscrupulous practices and have limited family or community support in Australia when problems emerge.

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