A MILLIONAIRE landlord has been stacking up to 48 Nepalese students in a single house in northern Melbourne and dozens in two other rundown properties, say council investigators.
Hem Tamang, 36, lives in a modern double-storey Coburg property and runs a city restaurant - but makes big money by filling three suburban homes with dozens of students in each.
One six-room house in Loch St, Coburg, had beds for 48 people when council officers raided it last week and slapped an unsafe premises notice on the property.
"One house is believed to have had up to 48 occupants and another had 28 people sharing appalling and squalid conditions," Moreland Council chief executive Peter Brown said.
Another of Mr Tamang's houses, in Fowler St, had up to 28 students packed in and living in what was described as third-world conditions.
It has four bedrooms and a study, and two bungalow rooms in the back yard.
"We understand 18 people lived in backyard sheds and one building has barred and locked windows," Mr Brown said.
A third property was located at Lorensen Ave, North Coburg. Council inspectors believed there were 17 students living at the three-bedroom house.
Mr Brown said subsequent investigations had found as many as 100 students from Nepal might be living at the three properties Mr Tamang owned and a fourth house linked to an associate.
"This is at the very least exploitation of vulnerable young foreign students," Mr Brown said.
"Students were believed to be handing over $250 a month each to live in circumstances where their health was seriously at risk.
"We were also told another wave of students is expected to arrive in July."
The Herald Sun visited the homes following the council raids and found filthy conditions, numbered dormitory-style rooms and mattresses stacked ceiling-high.
One room was filled with dismantled bunk beds after government inspectors forced Mr Tamang to reduce tenant numbers in each house to five.
Moreland Council became aware of the unregistered rooming houses when locals reported seeing large numbers of foreign students using a nearby park facility as a toilet and to clean themselves.
Mr Tamang yesterday denied having 48 students in one house, claiming the most he ever had at one property was 22 students.
He said he was offering Nepalese students cheap accommodation out of the kindness of his heart and making $7500 a month rent, not up to $25,000 as council investigators claimed.
He said a total of 48 students lived in his three homes - but only 30 were charged $250 a month each for accommodation, gas, electricity and water, and others stayed rent-free.
"My idea is that there is maximum each house 10 people," he told the Herald Sun from his Flinders St restaurant, Ghurka's Express.
"But some don't have jobs and nowhere to live. I don't want them to go on streets because I'm also Nepalese so I let them stay."
Students yesterday rallied around him, saying that without him many Nepalese students would be lost.
Rajendva KC, 27, who is studying film, said he had lived at one of the houses for seven months and even though it was crowded at times, it was what they were used to in Nepal.
Mr KC said Mr Tamang was not exploiting students at all.
"He's a social worker for the Nepalese and is highly regarded," he said.
"The reality is he is surely helping the students. It's not easy to find housing and he takes everyone in."
Student Dev Ghimire, 21, said he was looking for new accommodation because he was tired of the noise and people arriving at all hours.
But he said the most he ever saw at the Loch St address was 15 people, and the six-room house was rented for $500 cash a week.
But he acknowledged he was there only briefly, working night shift from 11.30pm to 7am and attending a computer course from 8am-5pm.
"There were 10 people here but sometimes there were more, friends of the guys would come around," Mr Ghimire said.
He said he knew Mr Tamang and he described him as "cool".