Students are facing a Sydney housing crisis. The cost of rent has increased, and it is difficult to find an affordable rental property. As a result, SUPRA is seeing an increase in rental scams targeting students, particularly international students. These scams advertise properties that do not exist, posted by fake landlords or real estate agents. Students are being scammed out of holding fees and are paying a deposit for a property that does not exist or is different to what was advertised. Sometimes, the real estate agent will come up with a reason why they cannot rent the property to you at the last minute.
SUPRA has important tips to protect yourself from rental scams when searching for a place to live:
- Try to communicate in English and via email where possible. Make sure you get the agent or landlord’s full name and contact details. If an agent or landlord wants to keep all communication in a language other than English and on social media like Messenger, WhatsApp or WeChat, there is a strong chance they are not legitimate.
- Always view the property yourself first before signing a rental contract or depositing any money. If you can’t view the property yourself, try to find a friend or classmate who could view it for you – and ask them to take their own photos or a video.
- Try searching for the agent or landlord’s name or the address of the property they are offering on Google. Sometimes this will be revealing, like if the address does not exist, or Google Street View pictures look very different than the ones presented by the agent or landlord. In Australia, most legitimate real estate agents will have a listing on their company website, as well as a profile on Real Estate.com or Domain.com.
- A holding fee should only be 1 week’s rent and should only be paid when you have viewed the property or confirmed the property exists.
- Contact SUPRA immediately if you are having any issues with real estate agents or landlords. The sooner you contact us, the better we can help. SUPRA caseworkers do not judge, and will always do our best to help 😊
- Do not pay any money before physically viewing a property – even a holding fee. In NSW, you should not be asked to pay any money in order to view a property. If you are being asked to pay before a viewing, there is a strong chance the agent or landlord is not legitimate.
- Do not pay money into an overseas bank account: if you are being scammed, it will be almost impossible to retrieve your funds.
- Do not pay money from an overseas bank account: sometimes even legitimate real estate agents will refuse to refund money into overseas accounts, because of the cost involved for them (even though they might be happy to take money from you this way). This can mean it takes a really long time for you to get your money back.
- Do not sign an agreement before viewing the property: this can leave you stuck in a legally binding agreement for a property that is overcrowded, unsafe, or just not right for you
- Do not accept copies of passports or other ID as a sign that the agent or landlord is legitimate. In many scams, the fake agent has stolen these documents from somebody else.
Real estate agents are allowed to ask for a holding fee in NSW, but they must:
- only ask for a holding fee if you have applied for the property and they have accepted your application
- not ask for more than one week’s rent
- not take a holding deposit from more than one person at a time
- give you a receipt
- refund you right away if they do not move forward with your tenancy. If you have any issues regarding holding fees, get in touch with SUPRA right away.