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Student accommodation drama in Australia

Australia has been hit with another international student housing drama, this time in Adelaide. Last week, Australian newspaper The Age reported that 53 students had been found living in overcrowded and illegal conditions.

“These students have poor English skills and are in a new country which is leading to them being exploited"

The students, who had poor English, had been housed in 12 one-bedroom apartments – an average of four per apartment. Living areas had been converted into bedrooms with curtains and screens used as dividers – a practice banned by Adelaide City Council.

In another recent report by the Sunday Mail, exploitation of international students, either through unethical apartments or rental agreements, was said to be commonplace in Adelaide. Students are regularly charged more than AUS$100 a week for makeshift bedrooms and many students struggled to get their deposits back at the end of their tenancies.

“These students have poor English skills and are in a new country which is leading to them being exploited,” Karen Hannon, presiding officer at a Consumer and Business Services tribunal investigating the King William Street apartments.

“You often have a situation where someone leases a place legitimately and then stacks people in, with two or three sharing a bedroom. In one case, a person was paying money to a head tenant to have a balcony as a bedroom,” said Hannon.

The King William Street scam was uncovered when the Bank of Western Australia repossessed the apartments on King William Street in the city centre, after the Chinese owner defaulted on the mortgage.

A representative of the bank said the overcrowding had created “serious potential for disaster and loss of life in the event of a fire”. The apartments were also found to contravene building safety rules.

Hannon warned the case was just “the tip of the iceberg” and that students were routinely being exploited, typically by those from their own country

Hannon warned the case was just “the tip of the iceberg” and that students were routinely being exploited, typically by those from their own country. Other evidence suggests landlords can sometimes be international students themselves.

To tackle the problem, Consumer and Business Services staff give talks to raise awareness newly arrived international students. Other institutions have set up teams of older international students to look out for their colleagues.

However, due to tenancy laws, Hannon conceded the authorities could not conduct the random inspections required to quell the problem, and was reliant on international students coming forward with complaints.

Australia is no stranger to this issue, with a major scam uncovered in Sydney last July. And last month, a New South Wales parliamentary report proposed giving international students greater powers to bring landlords to book in court – one of numerous measures designed to increase ethical student housing in the state.

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