Arc Legal on how to avoid rental scams

By Pia Lenarduzzi

International students have emerged as the new victims of Sydney’s worsening rental crisis, with UNSW’s Arc legal and advocacy team receiving increasing numbers of complaints about young tenants being exploited by unscrupulous landlords.

According to an Arc Legal and Advocacy representative, who asked that their name not be used for the article, the lack of rental stock, affordable student accommodation and weak tenancy laws are contributing factors for students being exploited by landlords.

“Worst case scenarios are things like severe overcrowding, with multiple people sleeping in a room only big enough for one or two and, at absolute worst, students using the same bed at different times, [which is] known as ‘hot bedding’,” the representative said.

“Another major concern is rental scams – these tend to happen when students search for accommodation through places like Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree. A property will be advertised for rent, with photos and an address, which can be secured if a person transfers money to the ‘landlord’ in advance, who will send keys when they get the money, but it turns out to be fake. It’s very hard to get money back in that case because scammers cover their tracks well and the platforms take no responsibility.”

The representative said there was ‘no practical consequence for rogue operators’ and called for tougher penalties for unscrupulous landlords who repeatedly fail to lodge bond, or use the correct agreements.

But the representative said there are practical ways students can do to better protect themselves in their search for rental properties:

  • Insist that the landlord uses the standard form agreement from Fair Trading NSW. Nobody should be using a hand written or typed agreement they have made themselves. If a landlord has written their own agreement, it is because they are choosing to include terms which are probably suspect and even unlawful, and this is a warning sign that they are dodgy – there is no reason any landlord in NSW needs to write up anything themselves because NSW Fair Trading provides the contract for free download, and they have done this for years.
  • Insist that the landlord gives you proof of their real name and address (unless you are using a real estate agent – because the agent will give you that information). Ask to see their driver’s licence or other proof of ID.  
  • Insist that the landlord does a condition report and gives you a copy when you move in. This is essential for when you are moving out and getting your bond back.
  • Put all communication with your landlord in English, and use email to communicate any requests for repairs etc.   
  • NEVER EVER pay money to someone advertising a property for rent unless you have seen the property and you know it is genuine. It may be a scam.
  • Don’t trust a landlord who wants you to pay rent in cash, or through a portal like Western Union.
  • Be aware of scams – if you are asked to transfer funds to the landlord before you have been inside the rental property and given a tenancy agreement, it is almost certainly a scam and you will lose your money 
  • You MUST have a written contract with your landlord, or the head-tenant in the property – don’t listen to anyone who tells you that a written contract doesn’t matter. Make sure your name is on the contract.
  • Don’t ever give your passport, national ID card or student card to your landlord, or any other person.