Finding a home away from home – Practical Advice
One of the most important things to organise when you come to a new country from abroad is your housing. Compared to many locations, the Netherlands has some unique rules and practices surrounding renting, and the private housing sector contains different challenges than you might be used to. As such, it is always good to read up on things before you get here. Although Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences does offer student housing to accommodate all incoming international students – a unique feat for Dutch schools – the intention is that students will secure their own housing with time. While Wittenborg staff can certainly help you on your journey to find your own accommodation outside the organisation, you will still have to do much of the work on your own. This article contains helpful tips and guidelines for securing affordable, quality private sector rentals in the Netherlands.
Know your territory
Landlords and rental agencies have a monopoly on the Dutch housing market. This is because of structural economic factors. For example, there is legislation – which is currently under review – incentivising temporary contracts over permanent ones. This has had the opposite of its intended effect on the market, making things more difficult for renters. Additionally, since the global economic recession from 2008-2013, there has been a major deficit of construction workers, presenting logistical challenges to realising housing projects. There is also a law stipulating the reduction of social benefits for households with more than one person over the age of 21, as it is assumed that household costs will be shared after this age. The law contains no stipulations that the other adult(s) must be employed nor does it indicate how much they have to earn before benefits are reduced.
This can result in young people from low-income backgrounds being pushed out of their family homes before they secure financial stability for themselves, as parents must factor money into family relationships, putting increased strain on the pool of low-cost housing by people who would otherwise live with their families. The cost-sharing age is set to be raised to the age of 27 in 2023. Further, as with most countries, economic opportunities are mainly located in central hubs and big cities like Amsterdam and the Hague. With some of Europe's highest transportation costs, workers are thus incentivised to concentrate themselves closer to their workplace to suppress their own cost of living. This phenomenon has not changed significantly with the rise of remote work. All of this results in a housing market that is currently overwhelmed with people seeking affordable housing in select locations. However, innovative solutions are constantly arising. Hopefully, Wittenborg students and graduates will take part in these solutions, being empowered with an education that allows you to drive change.
Know your rights
Renters in turn are afforded certain rights and protections which are not available in other locations. You can contact your local Juridisch Loket for free legal advice, even if it is unrelated to housing and rentals. Agencies such as !WOON provide housing information for free. There is also Bond Precaire Woonvormen, a union representing those in precarious housing conditions. Your landlord will always make sure you are paying your rent, so you should make sure they are fulfilling all their responsibilities, respecting your boundaries and making sure your housing is up to code. For example, a landlord cannot subject you to unexpected visits, unless this is stated in the contract. However, it is best to refuse a contract that subjects you to such visits. A normal housing contract will mandate that your landlord notifies you between 24-48 hours before a visit.
As of 2022, it is mandatory for landlords to provide smoke detectors and fire extinguishers to a tenant. Make sure to ask about that before you move in, and make sure to take as many pictures and videos of the place as you can before you move in and before you move out. It is your right to complain to your landlord if there is a serious issue in your home, such as a leak, broken lock or window, malfunctioning appliance and so on. They have no right to threaten to evict you based on your complaints and must adhere to the terms of the contract. If your landlord refuses to fix the issues, you may contact the Huurcommissie (Rent Tribunal), who has a list of defects that your landlord must fix by law. The Huurcomissie is an independent third-party who represents both landlords and tenants. You may also contact them for an opinion on your situation. If you cannot come to an agreement with your landlord, the Huurcommissie will attempt to mediate between you, and may create a binding ruling based on the situation.
Additionally, it is not uncommon for landlords of low-cost housing to store some of their own items inside the home that a tenant is renting. This could range from clothing to furniture (which is not for use by you as the tenant), to what most cultures refer to as, “junk." You may have to put up with items if they are already there when you agree to rent the space (and you are aware of the items’ presence), but it is not legal for a landlord to simply store their items inside your apartment without your consent. If your landlord shows up with a bunch of boxes and furniture which they say they want to store inside the apartment that you are currently paying for, close the door as politely as possible and call the Huurcommissie. When you push back against an unreasonable request in a professional but direct manner, many people will back down. It is best to stand your ground from the beginning so that a person doesn’t get used to taking advantage of you.
Know your scams
As with any country, beware of scams, and look out for red flags. Never sign a contract or send in your documents without viewing a place at least once; if you are extremely busy, send a friend to take some videos or pictures. Many housing websites will have properties listed, but force you to pay in order to contact the landlord. These websites should be considered a last resort, because they will often post properties that are not even available but won't tell you this until you pay for membership. Be sure to Google the rental agency or landlord to make sure they are legitimate and have a good track record with tenants. Agencies and landlords are not allowed to discriminate based on place of origin. It is normal for people to ask you where you are from in a conversation, but they should not be asking you to list your nationality on any documents. So-called “Dutch only” advertisements demanding those who apply for a rental be of Dutch descent or a citizen of the Netherlands are strictly illegal. If you suspect housing discrimination, you can contact the Housing Hotline, which was made by the Dutch Student Union for international students.
Additionally, if you rent from the private sector, your rent will increase each year; however, this increase cannot exceed 3.3% until 2024. Contest any exorbitant rent increase first with your landlord, and then with the Huurcommissie. If a landlord or agency tells you that you can't register your address with the municipality – run, don't walk away. It is legally mandated that you register your address with the municipality, or else you and your landlord both risk a fine. If someone tells you that you can't register at a location, the housing they have to offer may not be legal. They may be sub-letting illegally, they may be housing more people than legally allowed for the building or in some cases their family may be registered at the address for fraudulent purposes leaving no room for new registrations. If you find housing via an agency and they demand extra fees from you in addition to the deposit, be sure to contact one of the aforementioned agencies for advice, as these fees may not be legal. As a general rule, a housing agency's fee is one month's rent at most, but usually just a few hundred euros. Additionally, never pay in cash, as it leaves no paper trail and therefore no proof that you have paid your dues.
Tips for successful rental applications
Apply to a listing as you would to a job. List your education, personal qualities, ask for a letter of recommendation from a former landlord or from student housing (if you lived there) and mention that you have financing or a job, along with your salary. It also helps to dress nicely when you come to see the property in order to make a positive impression. You can look through free websites such as Pararius, to begin your search. If you are looking to pay less than 800 euro per month, you will have to be rigorous and proactive in your housing applications; there is no such thing as sending too many emails in this regard (unless you are bombarding the same person). You can create a template "motivation letter" with relevant information, and just copy-paste it into as many contact forms or emails as you can find for decent rentals. This may seem like a lot of fuss just to secure a place, but it can pay off in the long run.
Once you successfully initiate the rental process for a place, please note that rental agents will ask you financial questions that many cultures find invasive, and they won't shy away from asking for documents to prove your income or employment. This is standard practice, so make sure you keep track of your pay stubs and bank statements. If you do not make at least four times the stated rent, you may need someone to co-sign your rental agreement as a guarantor. This means that they will be liable to pay your rent if you cannot do so yourself. Your parent can always be your guarantor, while other family members are also acceptable. An ex-partner can be a guarantor in select cases, but this is often not accepted due to the potential problems that can arise between you and them. The rental agency or landlord may ask for your guarantor's bank statements or pay slips, so make sure those are available if necessary.
The rental contract
Depending on the contract, the utilities will be included in the rent, or you may have to create a contract with a utilities company yourself. If utilities are included in your rent, you should be able to request a review from your landlord at the end of the year to determine the actual cost of utilities. Beware: while this could mean your landlord has to pay you back, it also means, depending on the outcome of the assessment, you may be compelled to pay your landlord even more money back during a time of high utility costs.
Traditionally, rental contracts should contain the following information:
- The address and description of the place (e.g. apartment, house).
- You, your landlord's and your guarantor's (if applicable) name and signature.
- The agreed monthly rent, method of payment and relevant bank account numbers.
- Extra costs or utilities information (water, gas, electricity, internet etc.).
- Rental security deposit information, if applicable.
- Starting and ending dates (most contracts are 12 months minimum).
- Landlord's duties (maintenance, repairs, etc.).
- A notice period for contract termination.
- An inventory list (for furnished apartments)
- The date on which the rent will be increased each year.
- Any specific rental rules (e.g. no pets, no smoking, no subletting)
Make sure all your agreements and stipulations are in writing, ideally via email. If you have a physical written contract, make sure to scan it into your computer as soon as possible, perhaps sending a scan to your landlord as well. While an oral agreement is legally valid in the Netherlands, the terms of such an agreement are nearly impossible to prove. As the saying goes in the world of business: if it isn't in writing, then it never happened, it doesn't matter or it doesn't exist.