Why rental rights are important to int’l students and what you need to know

It was my first time visiting my friend, who was on a one-year exchange in Melbourne. The entrance door to her home was lurking behind two gigantic trash bins. The door, she told me, was never locked. When we entered, I noticed her kitchen was a dark icky area and her bedroom was a mouse-hole shared between three people.

I expressed my concern, but she assured me that the owner was a nice and trustworthy guy. Placing trust on an owner of a shabby, unregistered apartment without any door lock is a risk that I would not take, neither would any international student.

She revealed a year later that she had not been aware of renting rights, but even if she had, she wouldn’t have changed her decisions. Her shared home was a few walks away from her university and quite cheap for its location. Other more comfortable and secure options were either too expensive or too far away. Comfort and safety were a small price to pay for convenience.

Later on, I talked to another friend who was living in the same property, but decided to leave the country after one month. She expressed her accommodation played quite a role in her decision to leave in the midst of her exchange journey. She was never informed about renting rights, prior to arrival or during the time she was here. It was a shame, leaving behind opportunities, exciting adventures and not to mention the bond money she paid. The low-quality facility, as well as the discomfort of living, were too much to handle.

When it comes to affordability, it can be tough to take a firm stance. For some, comfort and safety are of utmost importance, and they are willing to pay or travel extra. But for others, finding a cheap and convenient accommodation is of top priority, despite the forthcoming risks.

The only common factor between the two former tenants of that building was their lack of knowledge regarding renting rights at the time. The renting process can be quite tricky and overwhelming for newcomers.

Several stories have reported international students living under horrible conditions or being scammed by their landlords or property owners. But by understanding their renting rights, international students can avoid these situations and find a suitable place where they can call home.

Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of

Consumer Affairs Victoria, the state’s authority that provides information to consumers on renting, offers a few useful tips for new international students seeking accommodation:

  • International students have the same renting rights as any Victorian residents
  • Never sign anything you do not understand
  • Never transfer money without inspecting the room first
  • Seek advice and learn more about your renting rights and responsibilities at CAV’s official website: consumer.vic.gov.au/intertionalstudents
  • Download the free RentRight app on your smartphone to access more information on how you can prevent renting problems

These are just a few of the many tips and information that are available on CAV’s website. Other information such as how to best prepare for renting matters prior to arrival, where to get help with renting question, minimum standards for rooming houses and different types of rental options and rental agreements can also be obtained there.

Additionally, international students should consider these measures to avoid renting and housing problems:

  • Do not rush while house hunting. Be thorough with all your options before making one final decision.
  • Watch out for rental scams. If the landlord requires you to pay the money without meeting or letting you inspect the apartment, or ask  that you pay an unusually high security deposit, they might be a scammer. If you are told that you don’t need a lawyer or a lease, it’s possible that the “landlord” does not have any lease to show you.
  • Consider different types of housing: student accommodation, homestay, shared housing and private rentals. Each has their own pros and cons as well as rental agreements. Prioritise your needs and budgets so that you can determine the most suitable option.
  • There are plenty of organisations that can provide help: your education institution, the Study Melbourne Student Centre, the Tenants Union from Victoria are just some. Don’t be afraid to seek advice if you are unsure.

After checking the CAV website, I found out the shabby place my two friends shared did not reach the minimum standards listed, nor was it publicly registered. Had they been equipped with the information on renting rights, they could have had a better understanding of their rights as international students, prevented housing issues and improved their overall well-being.

So remember, before packing your bags and enjoy the wonders of Victoria, know your rights first. You will be glad that you did.

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