Written by SIAN CAIN
International education has a roaring trade in Adelaide. The SA government has a target of 64,000 international students by 2014. It is a billion dollar industry – $1.052 billion to be exact – and is Adelaide’s second biggest sector, second only to wine.
But with this success come a lot of issues. Some landlords exploit international students who lack the confidence to speak up, subdividing rooms to make more bedrooms and cash in on a busy market. With English as their second language, siphoning through long lists of rules and regulations can be an intensely stressful process for international students. Subsequently, many students have no idea what their rights are as a tenant in South Australia. The place to go is a student’s second home – their university itself.
Jianwei has lived in Adelaide for nearly two years and has moved four times. The main problem she has had with accommodation was communication.
“The landlords lived in Hahndorf. I only met them once, for five minutes,” Jianwei said. “They were my housemates’ parents. I gave my rent to the older son, and he gave them the money.”
There were no receipts and no records. Most startling, there was never a contract.
“I never signed a contract, never saw any papers. His son told me, ‘If you want to move out, you must give me one month notice’. I said that was fine. After six months, I met an old woman at church who needed help, urgently. I moved in with her. I told them ten days in advance. They refused to return my bond because I didn’t follow the rules.”
Having lost nearly $500, Jianwei did not know what to do.
“I felt so guilty, because my parents gave me that money to come study here. I lost my confidence. If I had been wrong, I would have paid. But I wasn’t sure if I was wrong or if they were.”
Jianwei went to the accommodation department at UniSA and told them about her landlord.
“They contacted [the landlord] for me and she had to return my money. If you sign a contract, you need to follow the rules. But this was just a conversation I had with their son.”
Currently working her way through her PhD, Diana has lived in Adelaide for 18 months and has moved three times.
“While I was still in Colombia, I was searching for a place on the Internet and I found a really beautiful house in Adelaide,” Diana said. “It was in the city, two bedrooms and only $200 a week. Three weeks later, when I was about to send the money, I searched for the landlord on Google. I found out it was a scam.”
Diana found her first house through a friend. She lived there for four months, with nine other people. Only after she left that house did she realise how hard the circumstances had been.
“When I moved, I realised how much money we had been paying. It was unfair because there were nine people in the one house, with one kitchen. The family who owned the house lived there too. The rooms were very small and I shared a bedroom.”
She now pays almost half what she did to live in a unit with her boyfriend.
Yuko has lived in Adelaide for almost two years. In that time, she has changed accommodation seven times, living in one place for just two weeks.
Yuko had been finding places through websites such as Gumtree and Realestate.com by herself, when she went to UniSA’s accommodation service.
“I was sick of sharing places with others and changing places so often, so I talked with a service officer,” Yuko said. “She gave me some tips.”
According to Patricia Petronio at UniSA’s Accommodation Services, approximately 85% of the students asking for accommodation help are international students. She says the accommodation seminars for international students are advertised as compulsory and important, yet there are very small turnouts. She puts this down to lack of know-how.
“They see the emails and they think as they already have accommodation, they don’t need to go,” Patricia said. “But the sessions are about stopping the problems that occur after they move in.”
Diana summed the whole issue up well. “We just didn’t know the rights that we had. So we never did anything.”
If you have any issues with accommodation, you can visit http://www.unisa.edu.au/accommodation/Default.asp. Alternatively, contact the Tenancies Branch on +61 8 8204 9544 or visit at Level 1, 91-97 Grenfell St, Adelaide 5000, S.A.