Francis van der Starre stares ahead, dejected. She is one of the neighbourhood residents at a walk-in consultation hour held by the municipality in a back room of the Protestant Christian conference centre Pro Rege on Oudedijk. She declines coffee. “When I asked them at six o’clock in the morning if they could stop making noise, the drunkards threw things at me. Luckily, I was on the other side of the water so I didn’t get hit. But I was scared.” She lives on Oostmaaslaan across from the Erasmus International House, a large complex for international students. Students stay up partying on the building’s rooftop terrace until late at night. She has been lodging complaints for seven years without a solution.

Traffic light system

Van der Starre is therefore pleased that she can now at least tell her story during the walk-in consultation hour. The municipality is trying to organise these walk-in consultation hours every other Wednesday. Neighbourhood networker Cherif Jeffali, residential nuisance expert Rob Keereweer, enforcement agents Ramon Hoen and Nino Papa and fellow resident and director of citizens’ movement Stop Overlast Kralingen (STOK) Hetty Rommers wait for the residents with a cup of coffee or tea.

The ongoing nuisance that Kralingen residents face from student houses called for more drastic measures. Since February, the municipality has therefore implemented the so-called ‘traffic light system’. This system places student houses in the category of ‘green’, ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ or ‘red’. If a house is categorised as red, there is a chance that the police will pressure the landlord to revoke the room permit and that the tenant will have to pay a penalty of €3,000. Stewards will also patrol the neighbourhood to deal with the noise on the street during the night. As of 1 September, it is no longer possible to apply for a permit to rent rooms to three or more students. Rob Keereweer from the municipality is pleased with this change. “Hopefully, this will reduce the number of houses being divided up into separately rented rooms.”

Screaming Italians

Measures were taken prior to the introduction of the traffic light system, but they were often ineffective. For example, student housing provider SSH, which manages the Erasmus International House, installed a smart Mosquito alarm above the rooftop terrace. This allows neighbourhood residents to activate a high-pitched tone via an app, which is meant to drive the students away. But that device does not work, according to Van der Starre, who also controls the alarm with an app. “They put the thing on the rooftop terrace at the international students’ house, but they don’t even seem to hear it. They keep coming back.” Enough is enough, she says. “I don’t really like students anymore. Every night, I hear screaming Italians.”

According to Van der Starre, SSH is officially supposed to close the rooftop terrace at 10.00 p.m. That is what the cooperative has agreed with the municipality. But in practice, this does not happen. “The DJs don’t start spinning until after ten o’clock. Sometimes as many as two hundred students come to these house parties. Then they all call their friends. And even if the police come and ask them to stop, the party will keep going once the police are gone. You don’t get a wink of sleep all night.”

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Metal container

Neighbourhood resident Rob van Houwelingen is the last to visit the walk-in consultation hour. He doesn’t have an appointment. Oudedijk is just a stone’s throw from his house next to the RSC nightclub Bikini on Robert Baeldestraat. Like Van der Starre, he has had trouble sleeping for years due to the nuisance. “It was especially awful during the Eurekaweek. Party music blasts through the neighbourhood all night long. Everything gets ruined because of the ruckus, and at night, the students in the fraternity building throw broken furniture into a large metal container with a loud bang. Sometimes, this continues until four o’clock.”

But the misery doesn’t end there, Van Houwelingen says. “During the day, there’s always garbage on the street and vomit and urine around the neighbourhood, or a group of students camped out on the pavement with a table as if the neighbourhood belongs to them. There are also rental scooters everywhere that they just leave lying around.”

Talking doesn’t work

Even if students are easier to approach than the drunken students who threw things at Van der Starre, talking to them about their behaviour still isn’t very effective, according to the angry neighbourhood residents. That’s why Van Houwelingen will be reporting noise disturbances to environmental service DCMR from now on. “I’ve had bad experiences talking to students. If you call RSC, the president will promise to have a serious conversation about it, but then nothing happens. And if you approach students on the street, they’ll just mouth off.”

Van der Sterre has often tried to start a conversation with students, but to no avail: “It seems like international students only live in the same place for a year. So every time you make an agreement with them, they leave again. That is the revenue model. One of these slumlords also lives next to me. He says I just have to deal with it. You don’t get used to something like that.”

Thankfully, no one is throwing things at her anymore. “I’m keeping a safe distance”, she chuckles. Perhaps the new traffic light system offers a glimmer of hope after all. Enforcement agent Ramon Hoen sees a noticeable difference compared to the situation in the past. “If I knock on the door at the Erasmus International House and say that their address is being put on orange, they’re scared to death and afraid that, if they don’t change the situation, they could eventually be kicked out of their house. So I expect them to be more careful next time.”

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