In the past, fraud, rack-renters, and long waiting lists didn’t seem to be such a problem in Rotterdam, but the housing shortage is rapidly growing. One of the main causes of this is the increase in the number of international students.
- The shortage of student rooms in Rotterdam has more than doubled in recent years
- All major student housing organizations see an increase in subscriptions
- The influx of international students causes additional pressure on the housing market
This summer she thought she had found the house of her dreams. Vietnamese student Huyen Vu (19) and a girlfriend from Vietnam were looking for living quarters in Rotterdam. She responded immediately to an ad and asked if she could view the house. But: “The owner lived in the UK and wanted an advance payment of 1,000 euros before he would travel to the Netherlands for a house viewing. Using Western Union, we were able to transfer the money to a friend of ours in London. If we sent the owner proof of the money transfer, he would show us the house and collect the money later.” The dream house turned into a nightmare. The house owner never showed up, the house didn’t exist, and it turned out the 1,000 euros was collected in China.
Housing shortage doubled
These are the commonly heard stories about swindles involving rooms for rent and rent-rackers: in cities suffering from a housing shortage, students are left holding the bag. They have to deal with poor maintenance, sky-high rents and downright fraud. It never seemed to be quite as bad in Rotterdam, but the housing shortage is getting worse. Only Amsterdam and Utrecht have a more acute shortage of student housing. According to the 2016 National Student Housing Monitor, the shortage in Rotterdam has more than doubled.
In the 2013-14 academic year there were approximately 2,300 students who failed to find accommodations. Two years later that number grew to 4,800. And there’s no sign that the scarce housing situation will improve. While there is ongoing construction, expectations are that student numbers will continue to rise in the coming years.
This summer, residents of student houses noticed their rooms were in demand among house hunters. Three rooms were up for rent at the ‘BP’ student house on the Bergpolderstaat, recounts Nikki Jansen (22). She arranged a viewing evening in early August. There was huge interest in the rooms: “We had 130 responses on Facebook and 30 on the kamernet website.” The 21 year-old Max van Winden has also noticed the high demand for student accommodations. Together with his housemates, he was looking for a fifth housemate for their student house on the Gerard Scholtenstraat. “Within four days we had 60 responses to our invitation and the messages kept coming, even during the selection evening when we were already interviewing candidates for the room.
Name: Annabel Hellemons
Study: Pedagogical Sciences (2nd year)
Looking for: A clean house and cosy room mates
“I currently have a place to live in Rotterdam, but I’m not happy there. My landlord ignores the complaints I’ve made. The light in the bathroom hasn’t worked for a long time and I’ve mentioned that to him a few times. And there’s also not much of a bond between housemates. When I wanted this accommodation last year, I had to sign a contract for a year, so I can only start looking for something new now.
“When I started looking early on in the summer, it was disappointing. There are a lot of expensive accommodations for rent on Facebook pages, and there’s often a crowd on the evenings where candidates are invited to a meeting to see if one of us will get the room. I’ve been to 10 of them at this point. There was even one evening where I was there with 25 other candidates. Try making an impression on all the potential housemates in that kind of a situation.
“What’s difficult about finding the right accommodation is that there are conditions attached to the places for rent: male roommate only, must be older than 22, must be a member of a specific student association and so on. It’s difficult enough just to be invited to a selection evening. I sometimes hear that some houses had 80 responses for a vacancy. In those cases a selection is made based purely on Facebook profiles.”
‘Massive shortage for internationals’
An identical picture emerges when surveying the various student housing providers who service about one-third of the market. For the last few years in a row, Stadswonen, the largest provider in Rotterdam, has seen a slight increase in the number of people looking for housing, says spokeswoman Hedy Brak. This year is no different. “We’re seeing a strong increase in the number of participants in our housing promotions. Last year we had 850, this year 1050. The housing provider organises an annual promotion every summer offering student housing specifically for first-years. All the accommodations were taken by the final day of Eurekaweek.
The new building just outside of the Woudestein campus was also almost immediately at full occupancy. In the last week of August, before the building was even completed, students already started moving into the first habitable floors. The 280 units are exclusively for new international students. “We anticipated this”, says a spokesperson for the Belgian housing provider XIOR, the company renting out the apartments. “We’ve noticed that there’s a massive shortage of accommodations for international students.”
Internationals create extra pressure
The increase in the number of international students is creating extra pressure in the housing market in university towns and cities. Student housing provider SSH reserves part of its accommodations for international students. The newspaper Trouw reported this summer that all of these accommodations were rented out by the end of July in the cities of Utrecht, Zwolle, Maastricht, Groningen, Tilburg, and Rotterdam. This all happened much more rapidly than in previous years. All rooms Erasmus University reserves at SSH for international students were fully booked by the end of June. Dorota de Blanken of SSH Rotterdam sees the housing shortage getting worse. “The number of students enrolling is growing and more and more people are responding to ads for accommodations for rent, especially ones for self-contained housing.”
According to De Blanken, the growth in international student numbers is indeed the cause of the shortage. “The number of housing units reserved by educational institutions for international students has barely increased during the past few years, while the number of international students is rapidly growing.”
However, it’s not just international students who are responsible for the shortage. Rotterdam as a city is growing more popular. “The demand for housing is rising throughout the entire city”, says Heleen Zwebe, director of the rented accommodations team in Rotterdam. And where in past years housing providers were apprehensive that students would continue living at home longer due to the discontinued basic grant, Stadswonen’s Hedy Brak now sees the opposite trend. “We haven’t seen evidence backing up the narrative that students are living at home longer. In our case, the average age where students register with us is actually dropping.”
What can you do against abusive practices?
#01Excessively high rent; One of the most common problems is an excessively high rent. Many students pay too much, as was revealed in a Dutch Student Union (LSVb) study this past spring. Of the 215 respondents in Rotterdam, two-thirds were paying too much. On average the rent was almost 100 euros too high.
#02 Exorbitant service costs; Another problem is exorbitant service costs, explains Helen Zwebe of the rental accommodations team. Some landlords take the gamble that a tenant won’t ask for a refund. “It often pays to take that step, even if you’ve moved, because you can do it up to three years after the financial year in question.” A key deposit or mediation costs are sometimes requested when signing a contract, but that is only allowed when the costs are in proportion to the service. Zwebe: “In practice, we often see that tenants ask for a month’s rent.”
#03 Rent tribunal; If you’re involved in a dispute with your landlord, regarding the rent or overdue maintenance, you can turn to the Rent tribunal. You can do a rental price check on their website and you can initiate proceedings for 25 euros. The rental accommodations team can conduct the proceedings on your behalf and inspect the residence and the rental contract, for a sum equivalent to two months of the rental reduction.
#04 Housing hotline; On the LSVb website (www.dutchstudentunion.nl) you can do a rental price and fire safety check. You can also call the student union for free legal advice. Since this summer, the union also offers a housing hotline for international students. At the One Stop Shops of the International Office, you can also receive free legal advice about your housing situation.
Concerns following explosive growth
Last month, the political party SP submitted Parliamentary questions about the housing shortage among students. The party believes that housing providers are unable to cope with the ‘explosive growth’ in international student numbers and is concerned about the ‘potential increase in the number of homeless Dutch and international students and the driving up of prices for accommodations for students and others. Other concerns are an increase in the number of students signing illegal contracts, rack-renting, and fraud’. With an increasing housing shortage, Zwebe expects the situation to deteriorate further. “It’s not as bad as Amsterdam and Utrecht, where there has always been a chronic housing shortage, but the situation is slowly changing.” Students, and certainly international students, have always been a vulnerable group, she says. “They often don’t know enough about their rights as tenants, and they’re eager, they badly want to find a place to live. That makes them an easy target for rack-renters.”
For fraud victim Huyen, the warnings about abusive practices in an overheated student housing market came too late. Fortunately she has now found good accommodations in Kralingen. At the time of writing, just a few days before lectures start, her friend is still in Vietnam. Without a place to live in Rotterdam.
Name: Laura Houtenbrink
Study: Philosophy (2nd year)
Looking for: Accommodations within cycling distance of the university, not too expensive
“It all went wrong when I had a place to live in Rotterdam last year. It was a pleasant house: I shared the bathroom with only one other girl, and the rest was mine. But there were conflicts with that other girl. Her behaviour was very obsessive. If I made the slightest mistake – such as forgetting to buy toilet paper – she would go crazy.
At one point she lay in wait for me at home and attacked me with a pipe. “That’s when I immediately left that house. I moved back in with my parents in Blijdorp and I reported the girl to the police. She now has a criminal record. I have to say that living at home again is quite a nuisance after living on your own. You have to take others into consideration by letting them know where you are.
“Now I’m looking for a place to live again. I tried kamernet for a while but decided to stop. You have to pay them 30 euros per month to respond to ads for places up for rent. I find that excessive. I didn’t receive many responses and there are some peculiar people advertising who were impossible to reach or didn’t seem to exist on social media. So now I’m searching through Facebook groups, even though there are some ads there where I also have my doubts. What I would like most – after the incident at my last place – is to share a house with friends.”