Unscrupulous landlords are taking advantage of postgraduate students desperate for a home, according to the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students' Association.
A survey conducted by the association found 57 per cent of respondents didn't have accommodation secured before their arrival in Canberra. More than 50 per cent of those people took at least a month to find a home.
Nine per cent of survey respondents were homeless or at risk of homelessness when they were contacted by PARSA and 29 per cent rated their experience finding accommodation in Canberra as bad or terrible.
Varun Nair, studying a Master of Renewable Energy, moved to Canberra from India last year. He first lived with a friend in Tuggeranong but, finding the distance from ANU a challenge, would spend his days in Chifley Library then sleep over at a friend's house.
"We tried applying to houses around here, independent houses, and what the people told is they prefer people who have stable jobs, people who have been here for a year and can show steady income," Mr Nair said.
"We were at the bottom of the list. We went for about 22, 23 inspections, and we couldn't get anything."
A landlord offered him a bed in a small bedroom on the condition he share with someone else. He declined and, after living at the University of Canberra and travelling to ANU, now lives in a share house in O'Connor.
Such offers from landlords in private rentals are not uncommon, according to PARSA vice-president Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope. He attended about 30 house inspections before finding somewhere to live.
"I saw quite a number of examples of homes which had been turned from an ordinary single-fronted home ... one of them had had essentially a barricade erected in the middle of the home such that one half of the home was a quote-unquote share house and the rear half of the home was another quote-unquote share house," Mr Hovenga-Wauchope said.
"Any tiny room had been converted to a bedroom but in actual fact these rooms were not fit for anyone to live in unless you're talking about living in a slum. People shouldn't have to live in slums in the capital city of Australia."
International students - about 40 per cent of postgraduate enrolments at the ANU - were revealed as especially vulnerable in the PARSA survey.
Association president Alyssa Shaw said a group of international students were swindled out of $5000 just this week, having paid for a bond on a house that didn't exist.
The students had been communicating with a prospective landlord on WhatsApp before their arrival in Canberra but the person could not be contacted after the payment was made. The students have since been placed in emergency accommodation.
"They went to the physical house and the person just slammed the door in their face and said 'don't talk about that person, they don't exist'," Ms Shaw said.
"They'd just given $5000 of their money thinking they'd secured accommodation and they'd had this whole scam."
Recommendations in PARSA's Home Away from Home report include that the ANU provide guaranteed on-campus accommodation for first-year postgraduate students, build relationships with trusted realtors to provide a dedicated amount of off-campus accommodation and develop family-friendly on-campus accommodation.
The ANU currently guarantees accommodation to first year Indigenous students, students with a disability and first-year undergraduate students from outside ACT.
A university spokesman said the ANU had opened new student accommodation last year with three new halls slated for 2019.
"The university has also commenced preliminary planning for another student accommodation community for up to 1000 students that will cater for both undergraduate and postgraduate students," he said.
"The ANU goal is to provide accommodation to every student who wants to live on campus."
ACT Higher Education and Training Minister Meegan Fitzharris said: "Should the ANU wish to discuss further work on accommodation options for their students, we would be happy to facilitate further discussions.
"Ultimately how the organisation utilises their students accommodation is a matter for the university."
More than 730 ANU postgraduate and research students responded to PARSA's survey.