‘Being a student shouldn’t mean compromising on quality’: International students’ living experiences in Scape

“The rubbish stuck inside the chute stinks, and the smell fills the air of the corridor. There’s no window — there’s no air coming in and out. The smell is trapped inside the building.”

The air-conditioner in Olivia Hao’s room has broken four times since she moved into Scape Redfern in mid-July 2022. When she switched on her air-conditioner, the central control system somehow shut it down seconds later.

“I don’t know why the system is such a fragile one. Again and again it breaks, just a few days after the contractor fixed it. Especially after the new semester begins, almost everyday, someone in our WeChat group [for Chinese students who live in Scape Redfern] would say: ‘Why does my air-con break down again?’”

As “the biggest student accommodation owner and operator”, Scape claims that it “was born out of a simple idea — being a student shouldn’t mean compromising on quality.” From Hao’s experience, that does not seem to have been the case.

Libby Su, who lives in Scape Glebe, said that “service is nice, staff are kind”, but the quality of your room depends on your luck. “My room is quite good. However, some of my friends who also live here complained that their room has strange smells and it’s dirty.”

Staying in an 18㎡ medium studio apartment with rent of $639 per week, Hao seems to be one of the unlucky ones. “When I moved in, I found that the drawer missed a screw. Just one pull, the cabinet door fell off. I fixed it by myself later afterwards,” she said. 

Hao knew someone who found their bed frame broken when they just moved in, and someone who lived on the ground floor close to the railway track, who grew to be annoyed by the noise from trains. Speaking of noise, Hao described that the  noises from the ventilation system are“as big as the noise of range hoods.”

Living abroad before moving to Sydney, many international students lack the opportunity to have an inspection before arriving. “They just emailed me the room number after I booked,” Hao said. Students cannot apply to change rooms, according to Hao, as there are no empty rooms to change into. 

Stepping outside the room, there are problems that even those who lucked out with their rooms may not be able to avoid. Su said the public facilities appear to be “old”, including the laundry room. Hao wondered if Scape Redfern’s laundry facilities are regularly cleaned, as she often finds black clay-like things inside the rubber seals of the washing machines.

Another public facility, the garbage chute, is available on each floor to transit rubbish to the garbage room located on the ground floor for residents’ convenience. But, Hao has found that it often breaks too. When the chute’s door wouldn’t open, Hao had to go to the ground floor to throw away her rubbish.

This might otherwise be a minor inconvenience, if it wasn’t coupled with a continuing smell. Hao said that it smells “horrible. The rubbish stuck inside the chute stinks, and the smell fills the air of the corridor. There’s no window — there’s no air coming in and out. The smell is trapped inside the building. When it’s really serious, it also stinks in my room.” 

Scape states on their website that “at university, students will be doing some of the most important work of their lives. The place that they live needs to support them and make sure they feel safe, calm and at home.” It’s hard to see how Scape provides that kind of a calm space from Hao’s experience with loud noises, ongoing smells and an “unstable” air-conditioning system.

Su and Hao had received recommendations of Scape properties from their agents. Many agents seem to recommend Scape to students, including Student.com, UniAcco and Uhomes. Students in the waitlist of student accommodation at USyd will receive a list of recommendations of other student housing, including Scape.

Su moved to Scape because her first choice — on-campus housing at USyd — was fully filled when she applied around October. Hao made her choice as she recalled that Urbanest had a building close to the building where she had classes, but it had been acquired by Scape.

Hao has tried to move out before, struggling to find a studio with an affordable price whilst being close to USyd. Hao was troubled by the cost of furnishing the apartment, the trial and error involved in seeking roommates, and the inflexible rental contract length of 52 weeks.

As we move further away from COVID-19 driven online learning, international students are coming back to campus so student accommodation facilities are becoming increasingly in demand.

Occupying good locations, recommended by many agents, offered at high rental prices, Scape should listen to their residents’ experiences before they “reimagine what a student’s life could look like.”

When approached about the claims made in this article, Scape responded that “As with all new buildings there are some teething issues associated with operating at full occupancy for the first time.

“Our teams on the ground have worked hard to respond to any issues swiftly, always prioritising our resident’s safety and comfort.”