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Housing shortage for Rotterdam students seems to be bigger than ever. Read everything…
Last year saw a 10 per cent increase in requests1 to the Legal Desk, a Government-funded organisation that can also help tenants resolve any conflicts with their landlord. This increase is partly due to the higher pressure on the housing market. Rotterdam is becoming more and more popular. The shortage of student rooms is expected to increase significantly; a shortage of around 9,000 rooms by 2026.
Michelle Leeflang and Marco van ’t Woudt from the Legal Desk have many years’ experience in helping people when they have issues with their landlord. Leeflang: “The disputes are often about money. And students also often have questions about the maintenance of the house.” Expats – which also includes international students – often face high costs: the deposit is extremely high, they pay a huge amount of money per month for the furniture, or they need to pay unfair amounts in brokerage fees. “Not everyone knows the rights they have as tenant, even though many of these rights are prescribed by law”, stated Van ’t Woudt.
Is a landlord allowed to seal off your room?
The first contract is an open-ended contract for the rental of a student room in Spangen. A striking clause is that the landlord can terminate the tenant’s contract if the rent is paid over a month late.
The tenant understands that, by not paying the rent for a period of 1 month, the tenant gives the landlord permission to seal off the property.
Leeflang: “You can’t simply refuse someone’s entry to their property. Of course you need to pay your rent in time, but you only really run a risk of being evicted if you have not paid the rent for several months. And then the landlord still needs to appeal to the district court before doing this.”
Van ’t Woudt: “In this case, the law overrides the contract. The landlord cannot just terminate your contract, whatever your contract states. If you run into problems and you can’t pay your rent, try to reach a payment arrangement with your landlord. ” After you didn’t pay the rent for a few times, the landlord could go to court. Does your landlord send you a letter to end the lease or does he lock you out of your house? Then contact the Legal Help Desk for assistance. “
The tenant understands that a reminder will be sent at a fee of 10 euro if the rental is not paid before the 7th of the month.
Van ’t Woudt: “This is a more complex situation. There are situations in which contractual fines can be imposed, but it does need to be in relation to the costs that the landlord needs to make in this situation.”
Leeflang: “Usually, the landlord can send you a reminder if you pay too late. In the first instance this should be without charge. The usual payment term is then 14 days. After that, it is possible to impose a contractual fine as reimbursement for administrative costs. Without a reminder, such a fine is unreasonable.”
If the tenant does not have a Dutch bank account, the landlord is permitted to check the apartment for illegal activities every two months.
“That this only applies to tenants with a foreign bank account is very strange, but the question here is particularly about whether regular inspections are allowed”, stated Leeflang. Van ’t Woudt: “We know of situations in which a judge has accused landlords of letting out rooms illegally on Airbnb. Although the landlord claimed to know nothing of this, the judge still fined him. This implies that the landlord does have the obligation to stay informed of what goes on in his properties.” Leeflang: “This also applies to buildings in which there is a higher risk of pot farms. But an inspection every two months without reason is not actually allowed. It certainly needs to be announced, and there needs to be a clear reason. The landlord cannot simply walk in unannounced. He has to take the privacy of the tenant into account.”
The second contract for an apartment in Blijdorp also states that regular inspection is possible. The contract also contains what seems at first to be a dubious clause that Leeflang has not previously seen in student rental contracts.
The tenant must secure six months’ rent in an ABN Amro Bank Guarantee Coverage Arrangement. If necessary, the landlord is entitled to claim this amount.
“This is common for the hire of business space, but I have never seen this for houses”, stated Leeflang. “We’ve deliberated a lot about this one, but based on jurisprudence, we cannot decide whether this is permitted. As tenant, in any event you must make clear agreements about the conditions. Because currently these conditions contain vague clauses. For instance: ‘If the claim is justified, the bank will transfer the claimed amount to the landlord’. But who determines whether a claim is justified? At that point, you will be in a conflict situation with the landlord, so you’re unlikely to be able to resolve this with him. And the bank won’t take on that role either.”
Exorbitantly expensive furniture
Three students are renting a house together near Zuidplein. As well as the exorbitantly expensive furniture (according to the contract, this amounts to 350 euro per month2), their contract contains many more strange conditions.
Parties agree expressly to disregard or exclude article 204 section BW (the defects’ regulation).
The abbreviation BW in the above clause stands for Burgerlijk Wetboek (Dutch Civil Code). The landlord is thus attempting here to neutralise a statutory provision that arranges which repairs should be paid for by a landlord and which are to be paid by the tenant. That is not allowed.
“Additions to the defects’ regulation are possible though”, stated Leeflang. “But only in favour of the tenant. The other way around is not possible.” Further on in the clause, it is stated that the home is delivered without defects. “If you sign that, it’s difficult to come back on this”, warned Van ’t Woudt. “What can help is that before the signing of the contract, you view the home with the landlord and write down any defects that you come across. Then in any event you have two contradictory documents, which puts you in a stronger position.
If any big repairs are needed, you can then ask the landlord to repair these, in spite of what is stated in the contract. “Give the landlord a reasonable period to carry out the repairs. The Legal Desk provides example letters for this on its website. If the landlord does nothing, you can usually request a reduction in rent from the Residential Property Tribunal. If the repair is needed urgently, you can appeal to the courts.”
Longer terms of notice
The fourth contract – a top location in Kralingen, close to campus Woudestein – contains an anomalous clause that is prevalent in student rental contracts, but is not permitted.
In deviation from the general provisions, a term of notice of two months applies to the tenant.
The rule is very simple: if you pay your rent to the landlord every month, your term of notice is also one month. Not two months and not three. “Here too it applies that the rental contract cannot override the law. So don’t worry about signing this. When it comes to the crunch, you only need to take a one-month term of notice into account.” With temporary contracts you can, however, be tied to a minimum rental period. But the same applies here: the term of notice is as long as the period over which you pay your rent; so it’s almost always one month.
But that’s not the end of it: the contract contains more oddities.
Parties agree that on termination of the rental agreement, the tenant will have the property cleaned professionally.
“This is also something new for me. It’s usual that you leave the house clean and tidy. You cannot be obliged to have it cleaned professionally”, stated Leeflang.
The tenant is not permitted to play an instrument that results in noise nuisance. If there are complaints, the tenant will stop playing at the first request of the landlord and will no longer use the instrument in the rented property.
“That is an empty clause”, responded Van ’t Woudt. He explained: “You can’t cause any noise nuisance anyway. It doesn’t seem fair to me that you as a tenant must immediately stop making music in a private space, if only one complaint has been filed by another tenant. A complaint only tells one side of a story. If a landlord demands you stop playing music after a single complaint, he is interfering with your privacy. That isn’t allowed.
If a neighbour is bothered by you, he can report this to your landlord. The landlord can then talk to you, so you can also give your version of events and maybe look for a solution together. Sometimes it is also possible to use neighbourhood mediation. Only if all of that does not help, a landlord might go to court. But one report of nuisance can never be sufficient for a ban on playing instruments.
It is not permitted to smoke in the property.
“This actually also concerns nuisance”, stated Van ’t Woudt. But in principle, as long as you don’t cause a nuisance, the landlord cannot say anything about your lifestyle, however unhealthy, as long as it’s confined to private areas. This also applies to recreational use of soft drugs, for example. “That is an intrusion into someone’s private life. A landlord is not allowed to do this.”
Rental costs unclear
The contract for a house for three students to the east of Hofplein is translated into extremely poor English, probably using Google Translate. This contract has a common problem: the amounts on which the rental is based are unclear.
Rental including service costs: 1325 euro
Furniture/remaining inventory/internal finishing: 205 euro
Advance payment for heating: 85 euro
TV/Internet: – euro
Total: 1615 euro
“First of all, this rent extremely high. But more importantly: you cannot see what the basic rent is. Service costs are not calculated separately. And as tenant, you want to know what the basic rent is, partly for requesting housing benefits, but also to know whether you’re renting in the private or social sector”, explained Leeflang. “You can use your contract to ask the Residential Property Tribunal to calculate a basic rent. The tribunal will decide on a relatively low amount to stimulate landlords not to do this. The landlord will then actually have to account for the other costs.”
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In the end, it seems that there are strange clauses in every contract; clauses that are not permitted according to law or that are in any event extremely unreasonable. “That doesn’t surprise me at all”, stated Leeflang. “Most of the contracts that I see contain illegal conditions.. And yet it doesn’t always really matter in practice: as long as such a clause isn’t used, you don’t suffer from it.” And as the majority don’t suffer from these illegal provisions, there are no clear legal pronouncements about these. “Hardly any people will go to court to contest a 10-euro fine.”
In any event it is clear that you often have more rights as international student than you think: you don’t need to worry about some clauses, such as a term of notice that is too long or the threat of sudden eviction. You can contest other clauses, after which the landlord will have to amend these. The Legal Desk offers standard letters and assistance where necessary for these types of situations. If you have questions about the level of your rent, you can contact the Residential Property Tribunal.
What does the university do?
On its website, the university offers international students a helping hand in finding a room, but only a little: ‘Finding housing in the Netherlands is your personal responsibility’ is stated prominently at the top of the page. The university reserves some 800 homes for internationals (around 5,000 are studying at EUR) and also offers links to external providers including Housing Anywhere, RoomPlaza, XIRO and Stadswonen. If international students have problems with their landlord, the International Office can refer them to the Legal Desk.
The University Council is focusing on the housing market shortages. Council member Dolly Vellanki (RSM), an international student herself, would like the university to do more about this. She is also not informed about all the rights that a tenant has, but she is aware of many abuses. “In my own house, the landlord just came by unexpectedly. And I have a friend whose house had mould on the walls, but the landlord didn’t do anything about it.”
According to Vellanki, the university must support international students more in finding good housing. “In many other countries, the university arranges housing for you, and you can select which type of housing you prefer. You may not always get your first choice, but you don’t need to sleep under a bridge. Here in the Netherlands, you’re mainly referred to commercial parties, which are often extremely expensive. I was 17 when I came here. I had no idea how to arrange things myself or what my rights were.” Vellanki wants to plead in the Council for more student accommodation on campus and more assistance for first-year students in finding a room.