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University student Akshay Gonpot never expected to be evicted from his Chippendale home just weeks after agreeing to a rent rise.
He knew Sydney’s rental market was becoming increasingly expensive, but thought paying an additional $45 per week would be enough to satisfy his landlord. It was not.
International student Akshay Gonpot’s rent rose by $45 per week. Less than three weeks later he was told to move out. Credit: Janie Barrett
Within three weeks the 27-year-old international student and other tenants at his boarding house were given two weeks’ notice to vacate. And within three days, another tenant had put a deposit on his room that had gone from $295 per week to $430.
“They gave us an eviction notice to 16 tenants without reason … when my friend asked why they said it was because they wanted new tenants as [they] thought [we] wouldn’t agree to pay the new rent,” he said.
Some negotiated to stay, paying up to $90 per week more. Gonpot scrambled to find a new home, a $200 per week room in a Pendle Hill share house.
It was a stressful process. Many homes were out of his budget, there was strong competition and he had to move further away, but was grateful to find somewhere.
Gonpot’s situation is not unique amid Sydney’s rental crisis. Median house and unit rents are at record highs, Domain data shows, and the vacancy rate is a record low 1.1 per cent.
International students are particularly vulnerable, experts say. They are more likely to be in informal tenancy arrangements in shared houses, shared rooms or unregistered boarding houses. Even those in expensive student accommodation can have fewer rights.
Limited local support networks and a lack of government assistance put them at risk, alongside less awareness of rental rights, work restrictions limiting earning capacity and wage theft issues.
The return of migrants and international students, which virtually halted when borders closed, has added to rental demand. Experts fear the situation could worsen as more students return.
International students are particularly vulnerable in the rental crisis, experts say.Credit:Louise Kennerley
More than 40,000 international students arrived in Australia in August, two in five of those in NSW, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows, 26 per cent below the national intake pre-COVID in August 2019.
It comes after a tough few years for international students. Many returned home during the pandemic, and those who stayed had less support than locals.
Antona Bursa, international students officer for the UTS Students Association, said finding any apartment to rent close to universities, let alone an affordable one, was an increasing challenge, and called on universities to provide more support.
“Students want to move back to the city, but because the rent is getting higher every couple of months … they have to move far away,” she said.
“It’s getting very difficult and affecting them mentally and financially.”
Tenants’ Union of NSW chief executive Leo Patterson Ross said international students face more tenancy disputes than locals.
“Sometimes we even hear that landlords might take passports as a form of security which is completely unlawful, or people are told their visa will be put at risk if they don’t pay their rent,” he said.
While some came from affluent homes, many worked to support themselves, and about a quarter were in a precarious financial situation, said professor Alan Morris, from the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at UTS.
Finding an affordable rental close to universities is becoming an increasing challenge for students.Credit:Peter Rae
A survey he conducted in late 2019 found a quarter of students were sharing bedrooms, and 3 per cent claimed to be hot bedding — sharing a bed with others on a roster.
“About one in six students said they feared becoming homeless, which is obviously a huge issue and impacts directly on their academic work,” he said.
While purpose-built student accommodation was a “huge business”, it was pricey and not the solution, Morris said.
Subsidised student housing, as in other countries, would help, as would increasing rental supply, and ensuring international students were well-informed of their rights.
Patterson Ross added: “The universities themselves and all levels of government should be working to make sure that if we’re going to ask people to come here … that we have housing available.”
Sean Stimson, a solicitor for International Student Legal Service NSW, at Redfern Legal Centre, said more support from government and education providers was needed.
He would like education providers “who profit significantly off the backs of the international students” to provide more affordable accommodation. Even if limited to semester one, it would give students the opportunity to settle in.
There was an economic case for supporting international students, all three experts said, as they made a large financial contribution to universities and the state economy, and were important to addressing the nation’s skills shortage.
Akshay has said goodbye to inner city living, and now rents a room in a Pendle Hill share house for $200 per week.Credit:Janie Barrett
Gonpot sought advice from Redfern Legal Centre, but the eviction notice and multiple rent increases were allowed under boarding house regulations.
He would like universities to provide more affordable accommodation, and to be eligible for student concession prices.
“I feel like students are not very well protected in Australia, and like the government kind of doesn’t really care, they’re just using students like as cash cows.”
“We even hear (stories) that landlords might take passports as a form of security which is completely unlawful.”
Peter Chesworth, acting chief executive for peak body Universities Australia, said he was aware of the difficulties international students could face finding accommodation, and encouraged students to discuss accommodation issues with their university, adding some universities guaranteed accommodation to first-year international students.
“Ensuring all students have a good experience is a key concern for universities, which is why a comprehensive range of services and support systems are available,” he said in a statement.
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