As Melbourne’s international student population continues to rise, the “Most Liveable City’s” infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the rapid numbers which results in quite unliveable situations.
Despite the Australian government’s future plans to accommodate the growing international population, exploitative landlords exacerbate the issue of overcrowding through false advertising, overloading students above capacity, and not fulfilling their appropriate roles as landlords.
Further, the scarcity of affordable housing puts enormous pressure on international students, who face paying tuition fees in advanced, yet are only limited to 40 hours work per fortnight.
International students as a result are forced to compromise their living arrangements. Sleeping in old flimsy beds, having to share a bathroom with four other tenants, feeling boxed in an uncomfortable in their own “home”.
Despite this seeming like doom and gloom, it does not have to be. Here are eight simple steps, that will help you locate the warning signs early, and steer clear of dodgy share houses.
Understand what share housing is
There is an array of different living options when arriving to Melbourne, however, share housing is the most common.
Share houses are usually a stand-alone house or flat that you share with other people called your ‘house mates’, but they are not commercial businesses (like student accommodation complexes).
You can make a share house by moving into an empty place together with people you know. Or, you move into an existing share house with people you don’t know. Be aware that your rights and responsibilities might be different depending on the arrangement!
Inspect the property
Before agreeing to move into a share house, it is vital that you see the property in person. Online descriptions or photos are unreliable. If you can’t inspect the property, a friend or someone you trust will suffice. It is important to ensure you know exactly where you will sleeping and if you are sharing a room.
Figure out who’s who
We can not stress enough how important it is to know who is renting the house you will be moving into. Once you’ve located this person, make sure they are either a landlord or an agent, making them either:
- The owner of the house – you could ask to see the title of the property to make sure they are the owner. The owner would either be an individual or a company (like an operator of commercial student accommodation).
- A registered agent – this person acts on behalf of the homeowner. You should only deal with a formally registered agent. You can check if an agent is registered here.
- A head tenant with authority to sublet – this is a person who has an existing agreement with an owner to legally rent out one or more rooms in a share house. They may or may not live in the house themselves. A head tenant is only allowed to rent out a room in a share house if they have written authority from the owner of the property. You should ask to see this written authority and contact the owner directly to confirm.
- A tenant who is assigning their lease – this is a person who has an existing agreement with an owner and wants to transfer the existing lease into your name so that you now have the agreement with the owner. Ensure you take note of their full name, address and telephone number. If a company owns the property, you should ask to see their ID, or the business details (the registered name, ABN and address). That way you can contact them if anything goes wrong.
We recommend moving into a share house managed by a registered agent rather than going through a home owner or another tenant directly. It gives you the best protection.
Put the agreement in writing
Conversation is wonderful, but it is informal and unreliable if there is a dispute about what was said and agreed upon. Your agreement should be in writing and signed by yourself and the landlord/agent. Read it to make sure all the detail are correct and understood before signing. If you do not understand certain aspects of the tenancy agreement, have someone you trust look over it. There is no need to feel rushed or pressured.
The residential tenancy agreement sets out rules for you and your landlord/agent to make sure you are treated fairly. It also helps you if problems do arise. It should set out:
• Who your landlord is
• Who the real estate agent is (if any)
• How long you can stay
• The amount of rent, when and how it is to be paid
• The amount of bond and how it is to be paid
• The safety and condition of the property
• Your right to quietly enjoy the property
• Any special terms agreed, like whether you are sharing a room
A template for a formal residential tenancy agreement can be found here.
You can enter into one rental agreement with the landlord and all your housemates as co-tenants. Or you can enter into separate agreements with the landlord (either the home owner or a head tenant).
You should get legal advice about this before you make a decision because it will affect your rights and responsibilities. For free advice you can call Tenants Victoria or your local Community Legal Centre.
Beware. If there are four people or more in your share house and some of you have separate agreements or none at all and you have no control over who lives in the house, your share house could be a rooming house. Rooming houses must be registered and meet minimum standards.
Your rights and responsibilities are different in a rooming house. This includes different rules about when you can choose to leave or be asked to leave. You should get legal advice before moving into a place like this.
You should avoid unregistered rooming houses. Students often have poor experiences in illegal places like this due to overcrowding, poor conditions and unfair evictions. If you come across one, you can report it to Consumer Affairs Victoria (1300 365 814) or your local council.
To check if a rooming house is registered, look here.
Know a landlords/agents power
Under the law the person who rents out a share house must follow rules. This includes rules around: how much rent and bond you can be asked to pay, when and how the landlord/agent can enter your property for things like inspections, when and how they can ask you to leave (for things like non-payment of rent, or if the property is to be sold or renovated), and also rules about property repairs.
There are things you can do if the landlord fails to follow the rules.
Know what your obligations are
Generally, if you have a joint written agreement (a legal document summarising the agreement) with your housemates or sub-lease, you are all responsible for the full rent, bills and any damage.
It is up to you to figure out how you would like share these costs. If you are in a rooming house, you are only liable for bills if your usage is separately metered and you have your own exclusive room.
Depending on the written agreement you have, you might also need to pay if you decide to leave your share house earlier than agreed. Be careful, it could be expensive.
It is important to know that your obligations in a rooming house are different. This includes how and when you can choose or be asked to leave.
Do a property condition report
Before you move in, you and your landlord/agent should prepare a condition report noting the condition of the property. This is crucial as it could help you in the future if there is a disagreement about who caused damage. We all have phones, take a quick snap and save it ensuring the time and date is stated.
A condition report template can be found here.
Keep records of all your payments
It is best to pay your rent by electronic transfer. If you pay by cash, make sure you get a receipt and keep a copy. There are rules around how much bond you can be asked to pay. Your bond must be lodged with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority. It is advisable that you lodge the bond yourself.
To learn more about housing rights and where to get help, Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) provide free services and advice to help you through any legal struggles. Their team mostly help people with legal problems relating to family law, family violence, fines, debts, tenancy, criminal law and victims of crime.
They are also holding an information session on November 22 where the complex area of tenancy law for international students will be explained to you. They will also be holding free one-on-one advice appointments immediately after for any specific questions you may have.
More information on this info session can be found on their Facebook page.