A growing number of international students say they have had to sublet their apartments as short term rentals while travelling, in order to afford Sydney’s rocketing rent prices.

As demand for rental properties continues to outstrip supply in Australia, students who might normally leave accommodation empty while visiting families abroad can no longer afford to do so.

Most landlords require prior consent for subletting, but Central News found informal arrangements are more common among students we interviewed.

“Rent is too expensive,” said Lu Ming Lee, a 23-year-old international student from China. “There is no way I can leave [my apartment] empty while I go home.”

“If someone responds [to my ad] after I leave Sydney, I’ll just hand my keys over to a friend and let him handle everything else.”

Lee, who rents a modern one bedroom apartment in Chippendale, in Sydney’s inner west, said it was the first time he had needed to sublet, but wouldn’t be able to afford to stay otherwise.

Rental vacancies remain alarmingly low while median rent in Sydney is $699 a week, over $100 higher than the combined capitals average, according to a rental report released in April by property analysts CoreLogic.

Rents are at a record high across all capital cities, and in Sydney rents in several outer suburbs are up more than 30 per cent from early 2020 to January 2023, while some inner city areas have experienced rises over 90 per cent. Costs have been driven by the 12 interest rate rises implemented by the Reserve Bank of Australia since May last year, in response to rapidly rising inflation.


  Change in rents (all dwellings) Gross yields (all dwellings) Vacancy rates (all dwellings)
Region Median weekly rent Monthly increase Quarterly increase Yearly increase Current A year  ago Current A year ago
Sydney $699 1.6% 3.4% 12.6% 3.22% 2.48% 1.2% 2.1%
Combined capitals $594 1.3% 3.0% 11.5% 3.7% 3.0% 0.9% 1.7%
National $570 1.0% 2.5% 10.1% 3.9% 3.2% 1.1% 1.6%

Data from CoreLogic Rental Review, released April 2023.


Coupled with the rising rate of inflation and landlords increasing rent to cover mortgages, international students also have to contend with unfavourable foreign currency exchange rates, adding a further financial burden.

Many students travelling home during term break, often for one to two months, advertise their rentals on Xiao Hong Shu, a Chinese social media app.

Kun Zhao, a 23-year-old international student from China who has posted on Xiao Hong Shu, also cited expensive rent as one of the reasons behind doing so.

“The real reason I’m doing this is because [I’m] broke,” Zhao said. “I’m going back to China for a month, so if I leave my apartment empty, I’m paying over 10,000 Chinese yuan ($2,048) in rent for nothing.”

She maintains she would not have rented out her apartment if rent wasn’t so expensive.

“After all I’m slightly [OCD],” she said, adding that she felt uncomfortable knowing strangers were living in “her space”.

Students also advertise their apartments as short term rentals through accommodation groups on Facebook.

I’m going back to China for a month, so if I leave my apartment empty, I’m paying over 10,000 Chinese yuan ($2,048) in rent for nothing.

While Zhao found success after lowering the asking price for her room in South Eveleigh from $450 to $430 per week, Lee’s one-bedroom apartment in Chippendale is still being advertised for $900 per week.

“I think I was more successful with [renting out my apartment] while I was still living in Central Park,” Zhao added, referring to a popular building close to University of Technology Sydney, Notre Dame and University of Sydney.

Zhao said she had sought approval from her landlady to sublet the flat, prior to advertising it.

“I said [to my landlady] that I’m going back home for a month, is it okay if I let a friend stay in my apartment?” Zhao said. “She said to just send her [the renter’s] identification documents.”

Lee, however, did not seek any approval from his landlord, telling Central News: “I didn’t tell my landlord. I don’t really see the point.”

Under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 it is a tenant’s duty to ensure the number of residents in the rented premise does not exceed the number listed in the tenancy agreement, however most rental contracts contain clauses disallowing subletting without approval.

In the 2023 NSW state election, Labor promised to address the renting crisis by banning secret rent-bidding and boosting housing supply through a “Build to Rent” program.

Main image by Erin Hee.