The experience no international students expect

‘It all happened so fast. We were both leaving our jobs, organising ourselves … and we got married, too. I can’t remember if we even thought about renting before we left,’ recalls Camila.

The 32-year-old is talking about her move from Colombia to Melbourne in 2014. She and husband Ricardo, 35, decided to travel to Australia to pursue English language and culinary studies, respectively.

Being tied up with everyday tasks before they left Colombia, the couple eagerly accepted an offer from Ricardo’s cousin to stay at her place when they arrived in Melbourne. But their first experience of Australia was soured when they found themselves ripped off by the unscrupulous operator of an illegal rooming house.

The couple urgently needed a proper place to stay. A post caught their attention, advertising a room for a couple in a fully furnished, spacious house, complete with two bathrooms and amenities, for $345 per week. The couple excitedly arranged to view the room. They paid $1,045 as bond as well as one week of rent in advance and moved in. ‘That’s when we realised we weren’t sharing with two other couples. Instead, we were sharing with nine other people.’

‘We wanted to leave but the landlord said that if we did, there was no way we would receive our bond back. It meant we had no choice but to stay.’

Soon after, a letter arrived in the mail informing all the tenants that they had to leave the property as it was being demolished. Instructions noted all tenants had to be out at least one month before the demolition date.

‘We were entitled to have our bond back if we wanted to leave. Of course the bond hadn’t been lodged with the Residential Tenancies Board Authority at the start of our tenancy – by law, this should have been the case. This is something we had no idea about because in Colombia they don’t have bonds,’’ Camila explains.

‘We truly had this thought that this sort of dishonest behaviour did not happen in Australia. We now know that while most people do the right thing, there are still some that try to take advantage of international students who don’t know the renting rules here.’

On a quest to retrieve their bond, the couple sought assistance from a collective of organisations: the Salvation Army, Study Melbourne, the Tenants Union of Victoria and Consumer Affairs Victoria.

It was after they took the landlord to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that they finally managed to get their bond back.

‘My advice to other international students is to read the information provided by the Tenants Union of Victoria and Consumer Affairs Victoria on your renting rights and responsibilities. Make sure you receive a bond receipt after your landlord lodges your bond, otherwise it may not have been done legally.’

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