Moving into a new home or need to refresh your knowledge on renting in Victoria? As an international student, it’s helpful to know that you have certain rights.
Starting your tenancy
When you’re renting an apartment or house, you’ll usually have one contact – the property manager (who works for a real estate agency) or the landlord. If you’re in a shared house, you might report to a head tenant who acts as the middleman between other tenants and the property manager or landlord.
Signing a rental agreement
If you’re starting a new tenancy through a property manager or landlord, you’ll need to sign a rental agreement. This will include all the terms and conditions of your arrangement. If you’re moving into an existing share house, you might be added to the rental agreement (this is known as a ‘co-tenancy’), or you may lease through the head tenant (this is known as ‘sub-letting’).
It’s worth getting familiar with your tenancy agreement, as this will form the basis of your tenancy and will help you understand your rights and responsibilities. The rental agreement will include things like:
- Your rental amount
- How often to pay rent and where to pay it
- How long you’ll be renting the property (usually six or 12 months for fixed-term agreements)
- Your rights and responsibilities as a tenant
- The landlord’s rights and responsibilities
Make sure you’re asked to sign the correct RTBA form and that you receive confirmation that the payment has been made. This is to ensure you get the money back when you leave (as long as no damage has been caused and you’re ending the agreement on the correct terms set out in your lease) and that your landlord or property manager isn’t keeping the money for themselves.
Your landlord is not allowed to increase the rent during a fixed-term agreement and then never more than once in a twelve-month period (for leases that started after 19 June 2019).
If you’re in a sublet arrangement, generally you’ll pay rent to the head tenant who is then responsible for paying the property manager or landlord. You may also pay the bond to the head tenant when you first move in.
Note that if you are continually late paying your rent at the agreed intervals (weekly, fortnightly or monthly), you may be charged a penalty fee to cover the admin required to follow up on these payments. You can easily set up a direct debit from your bank account so that you never miss a payment.
Knowing your rights
Be aware that no one should hold any of your important personal documents, especially your passport, or possessions while you are renting living space from them or with them.
If anyone refuses to give you your own key or passcode to enter the building or asks you not to answer the door, these are warning signs that the situation you’re in is unsafe, illegal or unfairly controlling and you should immediately contact Consumer Affairs Victoria for advice. You won’t get in trouble for doing so and you will have someone to help you navigate the situation.
If you’re in a sub-let, know that you’re also entitled to certain rights – even if you’re not listed on the rental agreement.
Renters who sublet do still have rights and protections,” says Dr Holst. “Instead of taking action against the owner of the property, you can take action against the head tenant, even if you do not have a written contract or lease. These disputes can be harder and I encourage you to get advice from Tenants Victoria or WEstjustice to understand your options.
Trusting your instincts
Sometimes, though, it pays to simply trust your instincts. If something seems wrong, it may very well be.
Dr Holst encourages all international students to take precautions.
It can be hard to know what you should expect when you are first living in a new place with different laws and ways of finding housing than you might be used to, but if it doesn’t feel right to you, there could well be something wrong with what you are being asked to do.
"My advice is to check in with Study Melbourne or Consumer Affairs Victoria before you sign a contract and at any point where you are worried that something is not right."
Rental support during COVID-19
Financial support for renters
- Check your eligibility on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website.
- Register your rent reduction agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria (this is a prerequisite if you want to apply for the rent relief grant). Even if you can’t get a rent reduction you may still be eligible for the Rent Relief Grant
- Gather important things like your financial and employment records (you’ll need to provide proof that your employment has been affected by COVID-19), contact details for your landlord or property manager, and information on your tenancy. Even if your name is not on the lease you may still be eligible for the Rent Relief Grant
- Fill out the electronic form on the DHHS website and submit your application.
- A DHHS representative will be in touch regarding the outcome of your application. If your application is successful, the rent relief grant will be paid directly to your real estate agent or landlord.
Where to go for support
- Our International Students’ Housing and Accommodation Legal Service can provide free, confidential advice on accommodation issues faced by international students. Call 1800 056 449 to make an appointment.
- Tenants Victoria has advice on any renting issues and offers legal support if required. You’ll also find a useful fact sheet on shared households on the Tenants Victoria website.
- West justice runs a legal service for renters and workers who are international students.
- Consumer Affairs Victoria has a phone service and website for renting advice.
- You can access a dedicated translation and interpreting service for renting issues on 1300 405 282.