Are you still on a quest to find an affordable place to live in Groningen, Drenthe or Friesland? The Northern Times has distilled the absolute essentials for what incoming professionals and students have to know when looking to rent in the north.
Is there a housing shortage?
The number of increasingly desperate international students appealing on Facebook for a room certainly gives the impression that there are not many rooms to go around, yet Dutch tenants seem to struggle less. So is there actually a housing shortage out there, or are the options for internationals just more limited?
Well, yes and no. Dutch social housing is designed so that people could continue living there indefinitely as long as their income level remains stable, so fewer people leave social housing and enter the private market, thus freeing up fewer rooms. As of 2015, there were around 500,000 social housing units across the entire country occupied by people who were paying considerably less rent than they could reasonably afford.
There is a bit of a construction boom underway as the Dutch economy continues to strengthen, but a lack of new builds over the past decade seems to have created something of a bottleneck. The Dutch construction market has been dormant for years, with little change since the last housing crisis in 2008. Another housing bubble seems to be brewing now: homes typically selling within days of being placed on the market, and one-third are sold above the initial asking price.
How to find a place
At Home in Groningen launched a room finder data base earlier this summer – all 60 rooms posted were reserved within days – and most newcomers know about Kamernet and Funda. There are a number of agencies out there specialising in working with foreign tenants, though sometimes at a hefty cost. But if you come across a tempting listing online, be forewarned: apartment scams are a recurring issue, so learn how to recognise and avoid the most common frauds.
At least a couple of people moving into the region each year end up being scammed out of hundreds, if not thousands, of euros in their desperation to find a place to live. At home in Groningen has a number of resources about how to recognise the most common types of scams and avoid becoming a victim. Here are the basic rules to follow:
One hurdle that students in particular have to face when looking for a room is “hospiteren”, which is basically a job interview for a future housemate. Hundreds of houses are exclusively inhabited by members of student associations in the city, and if you are not a member, there is little point applying for one of those rooms. Many room vacancies also make demands about the housemates being Dutch or at least speaking it, as well as gender and age specifications. The legality of this practice is questionable at best, but it is extremely pervasive. If you do manage to get an invitation for a roommate interview, At Home in Groningen has a page of tips for how to improve your odds of getting the room.
No matter where you end up living, you have to go to your local municipality’s offices to register that you are residing at that address. If you think that you are paying too much rent for your accommodations, there is good news: subsidies are available to help lower your rent. But there are a lot of factors that go into determining whether or not you qualify for them, and for how much.
The amount of money you are eligible for is based on your age (you must be at least 18, and it is tiered for people over 23), how much your job pays (if you are employed), and whether or not the property is eligible for benefits. Whether or not you have a benefit partner also gets taken into consideration.
The most important qualification for benefits is whether or not a property is an “independent living space”: “private living/bedroom; private kitchen with counter top and water, sewer and stove connections; private toilet; and your own front door that locks from inside and outside.” Only one occupant from each unit can receive benefits at a time, and that unit is only eligible if it has a separate address (for example, 1B). That means that most student housing does not qualify.
Foreign tenants should know that you can only qualify for rent benefits if you are from an EU country or have a valid residence permit, which can be based either on your status as a student or an employee. For people living here with a Dutch partner, you will generally not be able to apply for benefits because your partner has to guarantee that he or she earns enough money to provide for you both.
The points system
One of the best kept secrets within the Dutch housing market is the points system. In Groningen, a person who signs up with a housing corporation through WoningNet accumulates one point each month. Properties are given a certain number of points based on how large they are and what amenities they have. According to At Home in Groningen, a room or studio apartment is likely to have 20 to 30 points, which would take two to three years to earn. The maximum point total is 142 before an apartment has to be listed on the private market.
|Average rent and utility prices
In order to know if your rent is too high, you first need to know what is average. Here are some guidelines:Rent:
In Groningen, the main housing corporations are Lefier, Nijestee, De Huismeester and Patrimonium. Lefier works primarily with students and is unavailable for those over 30. SSH is available for international students and university staff. In Leeuwarden, Emmen and Meppel, international student housing is mostly coordinated by StudentStay.
Housing corporations primarily offer social housing, which is rent controlled, and the rental price that can be charged for a property is determined by points for luxury, location and condition. Social housing accounts for 75 percent of all rental properties in the Netherlands. Since 2015, any rental property charging more than the legally capped 710.68 euros (excluding utilities) is considered part of the private sector.
Once you have found a place and signed your contract, Dutch law dictates that your landlord basically cannot legally kick you out before the terms of your rental contract are up. The renter can initiate the termination of their contract, but not the landlord (with some specific exceptions) and both parties have to agree to the termination.
In the Netherlands, landlords have to provide a bare minimum level of service to their tenants: they have to make sure that a property is actually available for the duration of the lease and repair major problems in a timely manner. Although it is enshrined in Dutch law that landlords cover the costs of major maintenance and repairs, what qualifies as “major” is left undefined. If a landlord refuses to do necessary maintenance, then a tenant can go to their municipal building control, who may fix it if it is deemed urgent and bill the landlord.
Dutch versus English
For foreign tenants in particular, having access to an English-language version of the contract is important, but the only legally binding contract that you sign is the Dutch-language one. Verbal agreements may also be considered legally enforceable under certain conditions, but it is obviously a good idea to get everything in writing. Make sure you get basic rent (“kale huur”), utility costs and service costs paid to the landlord for maintenance on paper. You can check out the At Home in Groningen page about what might be included in your contract.
Some agencies try to slip in costs that tenants are not legally obligated to pay – “contract costs” and “administration costs” or “administration fees” – for finding a room. Unless they personally found you a room that met all of your needs and that room was not already in their property portfolio, you do not have to pay, but if you did, you are entitled to getting that money back.
Short stay accommodations are a slightly different story from most of the information mentioned up until now: in Groningen, the Student Hotel, most of SSH’s properties for bachelor and master students and the soon-to-open containers at the Suikerunie are classified as short stay. That means they have basically the same rules as a hotel, and tenants can only live in them for up to a year at most. As a rule, these rooms are not eligible for rent subsidies.
Every tenant in the Dutch social housing market should know – and love – the Rent Commission (Huurcommissie). Since rent prices outside of the private market are legally required to be calculated through the points system, landlords can technically only charge the amount dictated by the formula. You can double check how many points an apartment you are looking to rent has – and therefore how high the rent should be – by filling in a calculator available (in Dutch) at the Rent Commission’s website.
If it turns out that you are being charged more than you should be, some agencies in the north that can help tenants with unfair rent in Groningen are Frently, Het Juridisch Loket and GSb. If you choose to fight your landlord, remember: they cannot kick you out without your consent. A rent price battle can get ugly if your landlord is recalcitrant, but you are within your rights to demand a fair price.