Interview: Int'l students at risk of exploitation in Sydney's rental market: law expert

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-09 15:00:51|Editor: xuxin
Video PlayerClose

by Levi J Parsons

SYDNEY, July 9 (Xinhua) -- A new report on Tuesday has shed light on many of the exploitative practices that some international students face in Sydney when finding a place to live in the Australian harbor city.

With a lack of affordable student housing available and sky-high rental costs, the No Place Like Home report by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Human Rights Clinic found that international students coming to Sydney most commonly live in share houses.

Because this area of the housing market is drastically under-regulated, international students are at risk from Sydney landlords who look to exploit "cultural and language barriers, and students lack of knowledge of rental laws," Maria Nawaz, a lecturer and clinical supervisor at UNSW Human Rights Clinic, told Xinhua.

"We think what makes international students especially vulnerable to exploitation is that they face greater barriers to getting help and redress when things go wrong," she said.

"So for example, they might pay money upfront for a room that they found online while they are overseas before they arrive in Sydney, and when they get here, they might find that the room is completely different or doesn't exist."

"Other problems included that they might pay a much larger bond or more advanced rent than the law allows, or they might be subjected to overcrowding or unsafe conditions," she added.

The targeted focus group conversations which uncovered the extent of the issues facing traveling scholars also revealed that international students can sometimes have difficulty getting basic documentation from landlords such as tenancy agreements and payment receipts.

A number of students were also found to have experienced obstacles in recovering their bond money and were asked to pay exorbitant charges for utility bills.

"We think that international students need more information about what their rights are in Australia and where to go for help when things go wrong," Nawaz said.

"Unlike many local students, when things go wrong with their housing, international students often have no family or social support and nowhere else to go."

As well as being a tough financial and emotional burden for international students, the report noted that these issues can often have a big impact on a scholar's mental health and academic performance.

"International students generally aren't aware of how to get help when problems do arise in housing, but we are starting to see some positive developments recently to address these issues," Nawaz said.

"A key finding of our report is that international students would benefit from peer to peer information networks and there are already some good examples of this."

At the moment, UNSW and the University of Technology Sydney are currently leading a study to determine the most effective way to distribute information about housing to international students.

The City of Sydney Council also have a student ambassador program which provides international scholars with information and tools about how to identify legal problems and where to go for help.

"So we are seeing governments, local councils and education providers take really strong action in this area, to improve this housing situation for international students," Nawaz said.

"We know that the government, universities and other education providers aware are concerned about the problems that international students are encountering in housing, but the path forward hasn't been too clear before today."

"But we think our report and the 12 recommendations within provide a really clear foundation for plan of action," she added.

Among the recommendations, the report urges that a multi-pronged approach to make it easier for students to identify quality housing providers, as well as greater travel concessions (as in every other Australian state) to ease financial pressures on students and greater accountability for landlords.