Dutch landlords discriminating against foreign students in Covid crisis: Union

Student housing in Amersfoort, Utrecht
A student housing complex in Amersfoort. May 2016Photo: arnaudmartinez/DepositPhotos

International students were already having trouble with landlords taking advantage of them in the Netherlands, but this situation worsened significantly during the coronavirus crisis, student union LSVB reported based on information from its Housing Hotline. International students report that landlords are forcing them to pay full rent and utilities, even though they're not living in their accommodation at this time, refusing to let them cancel their contracts, or even threatening them, the union said on Friday. 

"Due to their limited knowledge of Dutch tenancy law, international students in the housing market are immediately 1-0 behind," LSVB chairman Lyle Muns said in a statement, before speaking at length on the issue with NL Times. "There are known cases in which a landlord imposed 50 euros per day in illegal fines if late payments were made or in which the student wanted to move but the landlord refused to terminate the rental contract when legally required to do so. This is just the tip of the iceberg." Muns also told NL Times of several cases where landlords were trying to evict international students, even though there is a ban against housing evictions due to the economic impact of the global health crisis.

These problems existed before the coronavirus crisis, but the pandemic exacerbated them. One student had to return to the United Kingdom because of Covid-19. "This means my property is empty and I will not be using gas, electricity, water or internet. The property manager still says I need to pay the rent in full, including all of these utilities," he reported. Another student's income from her home country was halved and eventually stopped because of the virus, but her landlord insisted that she pays a month's rent as notice before leaving for her home country.

Another young woman ended up living with two men after their other three housemates moved out due to the crisis and she lost her job. She requested that her lease be terminated for these reasons. "However, they will not allow for this and insist that the only way is for me to sublease my room. No one is trying to rent a room in this climate," she said. Another student returned to Spain in March due to the crisis, but left his possessions in his Rotterdam flat, then still thinking the crisis would be over soon. Now that the crisis has stretched months, and his family needs his rent money to buy food, he asked that his contract be terminated earlier. The landlord threatened him, told him to pay the whole rent, or she would remove his possessors from the apartment, deregister him, and keep his deposit. 

Discrimination against foreign students, Shocking service costs

Other general problems international students report include having to pay substantial amounts in extra fees on top of their rent, facing rental agreements that are in Dutch which they cannot understand, and advertisements that explicitly exclude them. "An issue constantly coming up is that of 'Dutch only' advertisements. Then where this is not said I have received replies denying international students simply for the fact that I am international," one student reported. 

"That is not acceptable," he said to NL Times. According to Muns, the 'Dutch only' ads are clearly discriminatory, and that is an extremely common problem in the Netherlands. "I'm afraid some students in the international community just get used to it." He continued to say that if the Netherlands continues its policy of inviting an ever-increasing number of foreign students, "we need to make sure they get housing and that they are not discriminated against." 

While in some cases the rental price may be regulated, in many cases international students have found themselves subjected to skyrocketing service costs which are unregulated, and can even double the total price a student has to pay monthly. Foreign students often snap up these apartments just to guarantee they have a place to live, even if they cannot afford these tacked-on services which many do not need, and do not want, like saunas and elaborate fitness centers, Muns said to NL Times.

“When it comes to these landlords asking for these service costs, they are also often investment groups or landlords with multiple accommodations. They build luxurious facilities that are not what the students need.” Occasionally, he said, these rental schemes are also presented by independent property owners.

Most complaints came from Leiden and Rotterdam 

The student union received a total of 480 reports, questions and complaints from international students on its Housing Hotline between January 2019 and June 2020. International students in Leiden have the most problems, with 143 reports coming from that city. Rotterdam also had many complaints at 93, followed by The Hague with 76, Utrecht with 22, Amsterdam with 14, and Delft with 12. All the other student cities had seven or fewer complaints. 

"What we see is that Leiden and Rotterdam are two cities that do not have renting teams set up locally with an objective to help out students facing issues with their landlords," Muns said to NL Times. Amsterdam, for example, has specialized teams which provide mediation and inform students of their rights, and complaints are far fewer there. "These students [in Rotterdam and Leiden] basically have no other place to go than to come to us."

LSVB calls for "renting teams" to be established in each student city. These teams should help students - both local and international - with their queries, complaints and problems regarding student housing. “When it comes to being able to protect your rights, we are telling all municipalities to have strong renting teams that provide information in English,” Muns said. This should not only focus on rental prices, but also as a guide for international students to avoid traps, and either bad or illegal contracts. He also said that education institutions, housing companies, municipalities and the national government all share the responsibility to protect these students. 

But he stressed that while these renting teams are an important step, they do not solve the root of the problem, which is a significant shortage of student housing. "The shortage causes desperation, and students are willing to go along with unaffordable contracts because they are afraid of being homeless when they arrive." According to Muns, there is a shortage of 40 thousand student homes in the Netherlands. Cutting this shortfall and making sure there are enough adequate, accessible homes for foreign students is as important as enforcing tenancy law.

For now, any student, international or otherwise, facing discrimination, unfair contracts, or questionable behavior from their landlord can file a report with the LSvB Housing Hotline. Muns said everyone who calls will be helped individually, informed of their rights, and connected to legal assistance if necessary.