International students are the most vulnerable group at universities amid the current rental crisis in Sydney, according to a leading academic.

The general perception that international students are well off is false according to Alan Morris, a professor in the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at the University of Technology Sydney, who said many came from quite modest households and were struggling to get by.

“People on temporary visas, for example, international students, people applying for asylum… these groups are very vulnerable,” he told Central News.

“People tend to see international students as a homogenous wealthy bunch, but a lot of international students come from very modest homes.”

A recent report by the NSW government found there had been a rental price increase in NSW of 11 per cent in the 12 months to September 2023.

Professor Morris said international students were also not as aware of their rights in renting and a majority of them lived in shared accommodation.

“People don’t know their rights… you know, there’s so much ignorance,” he added. “The problem with share housing very often is that there’s no lease, it’s all very vague… like you’ll have somebody who’s in charge of the house who is not necessarily the landlord of the real estate and they’ll be collecting the rent from everyone and then they will go and pay it.

“Then you know people come in and go out and there’s no proper lease. So that’s a real problem. That’s another area [of policy] which should be tightened [by the government].”

International students are facing many silent struggles as renters.

One friend had bed bugs and no one could really help her with that… a lot of my friends are overpaying for the places.

Korean international student named Yuing Choi, 26, was given only a week to find a place after her landlord, who was subleasing the property, decided to suddenly leave.

“I’ve only been given one week to find a place,” she said. “It was very sudden, he basically decided to kick us out because he was moving away somewhere else.

“It is a very stressful experience.”

Another international student from Poland, 21-year-old Susana, said that while she was lucky to manage to get affordable student housing, her friends (also international students) had horrific experiences, including paying very high rent for a place with bed bugs and dealing with sporadic rent increases.

“One friend had bed bugs and no one could really help her with that,” Susana said “A lot of my friends (international students) are overpaying for the places… another friend was also paying a lot and she did not even have a proper contract so the landlord was changing the price all the time.”

Professor Morris said while the job market is quite strong for international students some of the jobs are very poorly paid.

“A lot of these students would be struggling, really struggling,” he added. “The advantage which students have, which include domestic and international students is that they can work and of course, the job market is reasonably strong. So that’s one advantage.

“But, nevertheless, there are international students who can’t find jobs or are in jobs that are very, very poorly paid, they will obviously be in very vulnerable situations.

“There is a power imbalance. So, you know, landlords can just ignore tenants…. enforce no grounds evictions…. they don’t even have to give a reason.”

Main image of Susana by Elena Garcia Araujo.