Finding the Right Accommodation
Deciding where to live will be one of the most important decisions facing you when you arrive in Australia. Be aware that there is significant competition for affordable private rental accommodation in major cities and towns and it takes lots of time to find exactly the right place. But don’t be discouraged, you just need to be patient and persistent.
Before you leave home
- Contact your institution’s International Student Office. They will be able to give you information on a range of alternatives including Homestay (living with an Australian family) and on-campus accommodation. They can also provide links to websites listing shared and private rental accommodation. (Larger universities usually maintain an Accommodation Database but this can only be accessed after you have enrolled and obtained a password.)
- On-campus accommodation must be organised well ahead of arrival by contacting the university housing officer or the individual college of the university.
- Homestay should also be arranged in advance by contacting the university. Institutions maintain registers of reputable families who board international students during the academic year.
- Be sure to research the type of housing available in the city in which you'll be living and compare rental costs prior to arrival. As a start, check the real estate sections in local newspapers online as well as real estate agent listings online just to get an idea of availability and the costs associated with different areas.
If you decide to live in a suburb that is a long way away from your institution, research the travel costs and time it takes to get there and back. Living closer to the institution may cost more in rent, but you may save on travel time each day. As a rule, rental costs are higher the closer a property is to the city centre or university (as demand is higher).
- It is wise to book some short-term accommodation – hotel, hostel, serviced apartment – for your first few weeks so as to have time to search for suitable permanent housing.
Renting a property
Do not accept long term accommodation or pay any deposits until you can inspect the property in person. There are unscrupulous people who offer accommodation over the internet, take your deposit but then do not provide the accommodation. Inspect each property thoroughly.
Decide how much you can afford to spend on rent. As a guide, you should not spend more than 30% of your weekly income. Remember that living by yourself is generally more expensive than sharing as you are responsible for all expenses.
If possible, inspect properties during the week as you’ll avoid the often large queues at weekend inspections.
Prospective landlords will expect you to supply proof of your ability to meet monthly rental payments (usually your bank account statement). They will also ask for details of some contacts (referees) in Australia who can vouch for your character, your reliability etc. Written references from past landlords in your own country (have them translated into English) might also be useful.
Landlords can ask for an application/reservation deposit. If the application is not successful, this deposit must be returned to you in full. If your application is successful, the deposit goes towards the bond or the first month’s rent. If your application is successful but you decide not to take the property, the agent can keep the deposit. If a landlord, however, asks you to pay a holding deposit as a condition of not leasing the property to someone else, do not pay it as this is not a legal charge.
When your application is approved, you will be expected to pay a bond, usually equal to one month’s rent, as well as the first month’s rent by cash, bank cheque or money order. The bond is a security deposit which is held in trust for the duration of your tenancy. Its purpose is to cover the landlord against any damage you might cause to the property. If no such damage occurs to the property, the bond will be fully refunded to you when you leave.
You will be able to note any pre-existing flaws at the beginning of your tenancy on the Condition Report. This report will be used to compare the state of the property when you moved in to its condition when you move out.
A written fixed term agreement (lease) of six or 12 months is usually preferable to a month to month verbal agreement. But, consider how long you intend to stay as it can be expensive to break the lease before the end of the agreed term. Make sure you read and understand the terms and conditions before you sign anything, and keep a copy of all the rental documents and rental receipts.
Most rental accommodation in Australia is unfurnished; household goods are not included. Check second hand stores, markets and garage sales, institutional notice boards, online auction sites, newspapers and specialised press for reasonably priced items.
Electricity, gas, telephone & internet
Tenants are responsible for the connection and payment of the fixed line telephone and Internet connection (cable etc).
If separate meters are provided, tenants are responsible for connection and usage of water, electricity and gas. Otherwise, the cost of gas, electricity and water is your landlord's responsibility. Tenants are not responsible for water service charges or local council rates.
Arranging the connection of services
Contact the relevant companies several days before you move in to your new property to ensure that services are connected when you arrive. A connection fee will be added to your first bill.
There are several telephone, electricity, gas and internet providers, so shop around to find the one that offers the best deal. Start by checking the Yellow Pages directory, or ask friends for recommendations.
Insuring household contents
Insurance companies may require the property to have home security measures such as deadlocks, window locks with keys, smoke detectors or a burglar alarm system.
To be fully covered, you must provide evidence of the value and ownership of items. This can be done by way of receipts, instruction manuals, warranties, photos and serial numbers. Take a photo or video of your items so you have a record of them.
If you live in a share house with other students and want to insure your personal possessions there may be some difficulties as most insurance companies don’t usually issue separate policies for each individual's contents. Remember that the more your contents are worth the more insurance you pay.
If you’re thinking about moving into a share house consider the kind of people you’d like to live with – other students, professionals, a mix of both, or a family?
Do you want to live in a communal atmosphere where cooking and cleaning is shared, and you all contribute to general expenses, or would you prefer to do your own food shopping and cooking? These are very important considerations.
Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to move into an established household than it is to have to set one up. You will, however, have to furnish your own bedroom.
If you apply to join a share house, ask lots of questions before you commit, find out how the house works, what kind of tenancy agreement they have, how much notice is required if you leave the house. Meet as many members of the household as you can and try to get a feel for whether it will suit you. Remember, though, it’s a two way street as the existing housemates have to decide whether you will fit in, too.
Look for share house notices in the real estate sections of newspapers, in student cafes and bookshops, or on university housing notice boards.
Redirect your mail: Relying on the next tenants to forward your mail is a bad idea. Instead use the redirection service offered by Australia Post www.movepost.com.au; it costs about a month.
Notify your change of address: Let people know you have moved - Student Administration, your bank, your work and medical fund, newspaper deliveries etc.