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Landlords 'exploiting' tenants in 'wild west' rental market

Landlords are 'exploiting' particular tenants, a landmark study has revealed. Source: Getty

Australian landlords are commonly ‘exploiting’ international students, a new study has concluded. 

The study, conducted by the University of NSW and the University of Technology, Sydney, found that out of 5,064 international students surveyed, 57 per cent had experienced illegal or poor living conditions. 

Respondents revealed they had experienced overcrowding, unsafe accommodation, paying in advance for accommodation that did not exist, intimidation or harassment by a landlord or another tenant, sudden increases in rent or landlords moving others into the accommodation without the student’s consent.

They also experienced other financially exploitative practices, like not getting their bond back or an unfair eviction. 

Students in share houses also reported experiences of sexual harassment by a landlord or another tenant. 

Problems were most commonly experienced among respondents who organised their share house through social media platforms like Facebook, or peer-to-peer sharing sites like Gumtree. 

“We now know that it’s the advertisements on peer-to-peer sharing platforms like Gumtree and Flatmates.com.au and social media that lure the most international students into exploitative housing situations,” co-author and University of Technology, Sydney senior lecturer Laurie Berg said.

“In fact, 11 per cent of students who used Gumtree paid for accommodation that did not even exist. These sites must invest resources in protecting and empowering these vulnerable users.”

But problems didn't occur just when they arranged their accommodation from their home country.

“We found that deception and poor housing conditions were just as common for international students who organised their housing here,” co-author and University of NSW director of human rights clinic, Bassina Farbenblum said.

“Exploitation is thriving unchecked in the 'wild west' of the share house market, and international students can’t avoid it simply by organising housing after they arrive in Australia.”

What can be done?

Farbenblum and Berg said the findings demanded an investment of resources into “timely and systemic responses”.

“Education providers must provide services to empower and support international students,” they said. 

The authors said there was a need for increased government enforcement, in order to hold landlords engaging in deceptive and exploitative practices accountable.

“At the same time, the data indicates a pressing need to strengthen international students’ legal rights and access to justice, particularly in share houses, boarding houses and elsewhere in the marginal rental sector,” they said. 

“This includes, for example, extending the application of tenancy laws to all share house tenants and ensuring international students can easily reclaim their bond or other large sums of money improperly demanded by the housing provider upfront.”

Gumtree’s response

Gumtree contacted Yahoo Finance with the below response:

Gumtree is a community marketplace that connects buyers and sellers in the local community, and the safety and security of our users is our main priority.

We rely on users’ feedback to keep the platform safe and free from discrimination. We operate a report and take down process and we strongly encourage our community to report any listings believed to be unlawful or discriminatory in any way a scam.

Our ‘report ad’ function and 24/7 live chat means our community support team are always available to answer questions on issues like this. When it comes to making payments, our community should always avoid paying bond or rent for a property before it has been viewed.

You should also check that the real estate agent or landlord is real before sending them money. Further safety tips for anyone looking to rent on Gumtree include; asking lots of questions and speaking to current tenants, finding out as much as possible about the landlord and meeting face-to-face and inspecting the property before agreeing to the rental.

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