“There’s certainly financial exploitation where some property providers and landlords are taking advantage of the fact that international students aren’t aware of standard housing practices in Sydney and don’t know their legal rights,” Ms Farbenblum said.
“The landlords see this as a pretty easy and productive business model.”
The study found exploitation ranged from forcing students to pay $10 each time they needed to use their oven to blatant racism, with landlords refusing students from particular countries.
An analysis of Kingsford Legal Centre cases as part of the study found that almost 40 per cent of international students who sought help did so for deceptive or exploitative conduct by landlords, while a quarter had problems recovering their rental bonds.
Ruturaj Khenat, who arrived in Sydney from Mumbai in 2016 to study engineering, was told by his landlord that rent for his single room – one of 12 on a floor with shared amenities – would increase from $300 to $410 per week halfway through his lease.
“I was pretty stressed because it’s not easy to find a place in Sydney,” he said.
He sought help from the university’s legal services office, which sent a letter to the private accommodation provider, who backed down.
Mr Khenat, who was an overseas student’s officer at his university, said while he was made aware of the assistance on offer to him, many weren’t.
He said many others on his floor received the same rental increase demand and decided to move out.
“Landlords really do take advantage of this because they know they’re not going to do anything because they’re international students,” he said.
“We came from different countries and we didn’t want to get in trouble, that’s why we don’t take action.”
The study also uncovered an Australian company with offices in China that sold “all inclusive service-accommodation” in Sydney with airport pickups.
The accommodation was contracted under an occupancy agreement in an attempt by the company to allegedly evade their Residential Tenancies Act obligations, and students were forced to pay three months of rent in advance.
Upon arriving in Australia, some students were told their accommodation wasn’t ready and were forced to make alternative arrangements.
Many students were not able to recover their money, while others who eventually moved into the accommodation found it was not what they were told it would be.
Ms Farbenblum said overseas students subjected to these rorts often felt like they had no way out.
“They’re paying large sums of money and then they arrive and in some cases the property doesn’t even exist and in other cases it’s completely different or there are two or three people in the room,” she said.
“Then they’re really stuck because they’ve paid a lot of money up front to these people.”
The report found evidence that ongoing overcrowding, exploitation and harassment by landlords could affect student’s mental health.
It made 12 recommendations, including that universities increase the amount of on-campus housing. It also recommended local councils work with developers to incentivise construction of affordable housing for international students.
Greater accountability and transparency in the market was also needed, according to the report, which recommended the NSW government provide public transport concessions for international students, so they could live further away from university.
Asked whether the NSW government would consider offering concessions, a Transport for NSW spokeswoman said some international students were entitled to them if their study was fully funded by an Australian government scholarship.
Tom Rabe is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald