As an international student, you may be new to renting in Australia and not fully aware of your rights. It can be difficult to find secure affordable housing, which means international students may agree to the unreasonable demands of someone providing accommodation. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of scams when you are looking for somewhere to live, and what to do if something goes wrong.
Study Melbourne is here to help. If you have a bad experience when you are searching for accommodation, call our Study Melbourne team for advice about your situation.
How to spot a scam
Unfortunately, students can sometimes be victims of scams. There are examples of students paying a bond and rent in advance and later discovering the property does not exist. Others have been shown a property at inspection, but upon payment of money the person stopped responding to them and became uncontactable and untraceable.
In Victoria, it is most common for properties to be rented through a real estate agent. A real estate agent is a company, or a person from a company, that is employed by the owner of a property to rent it out. You should be able to check if an agent is genuine by looking online and seeing if they have a legitimate website and other properties available for rent.
There are also other ways to rent a property – for example, directly from the owner of the property or sub-letting from another renter. While these situations can be more accessible and lead to great living arrangements, there is also a greater risk they may be a scam.
Some things that might warn you something is a scam is:
- If you are asked to pay money before seeing the property – you should not be charged any fee for arranging an inspection.
- If you are asked to pay a very high bond, more than one month’s rent and any other fees –usually, a bond cannot be more than one month’s rent. A rental provider can only ask for more if the weekly rent is more than $900. They are also not allowed to ask you to pay more than one month’s rent in advance.
- If you are asked to pay in cash or if they ask for your credit card information.
- If the photos online look too good to be to be true or look to be much better value for money than most other properties.
- If the person you are dealing with tries to rush or pressure you into paying or agreeing, particularly without asking you to put in a formal rental application with some details about you. Feeling under pressure and a sense of urgency can be indicators of a scam.
- If the person you are dealing with does not give you a standard residential rental agreement or is unwilling to provide their contact details.
Tips to avoid a scam
- Do not pay any money before you have inspected the property and met the person (the owner or a real estate agent) who is renting it out. Be cautious if you are asked to pay too high a bond and more than one month’s rent in advance
- Call the person you are dealing with on the phone and arrange to meet them in person. That way you can see if you like them and if the person is genuine. Seeing a property on a video call is not enough. Sometimes these properties do not exist or are not available to rent.
- Make sure you have the contact details of the person you are renting from. This includes their full name, email, phone number and postal address. Without a correct name, postal address or email, it will be very difficult to take legal action if there is a problem. If you are dealing with an agent, make sure you know the name of the owner/rental provider.
- Be cautious if someone is trying to rush or pressure you into paying.
- If you have concerns, ask to see proof the person has the right to rent the premises. If the person owns the property, they should be able to give you proof of this. If you are renting off another renter (sub-letting), you should ask to see that they have permission from the rental provider to sub-let.
- Do an internet search for the address. Most properties will appear on websites like realestate.com, domain.com or at least Google. You should be able to see if the property is currently advertised through an agent and check its rental history. You can also check to see if the images in the advertisement of the property match the photos online.
- If something looks too good to be true, then it usually is. Very cheap rent for a nice apartment is a common scam.
If you think you’ve been scammed
If you think you have been a victim of a scam, you can get help.
If you’ve provided personal details to an unknown site or person, visit the Australian Cyber Safety Centre for advice about keeping your information safe.
You can report accommodation scams by contacting
- Scamwatch - https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/
- IDCARE - https://www.idcare.org/
- Victoria Police - https://www.police.vic.gov.au/report-cybercrime
Study Melbourne is here to help
If you’re a victim of a scam you can contact the Study Melbourne Student Centre for support and assistance. You can also make an appointment for legal advice with the International Student Employment and Accommodation Legal Service. Phone 1800 056 449 and speak confidentially with the team about your situation.
Find out more
The International Student Employment and Accommodation Legal Service have created this article about rental scams targeting international students.