On the 12th of July, the municipality of Groningen announced emergency housing or peak overflow (piekopvang) to aid international students who are yet to find a room.
The temporary allocation at Plutolaan 329 will offer approximately 120 beds from the 11th of August to the 16th of October, and will cost 400 euros a month.
Although the government has taken a step to ensure international students are not left on the streets, the problem of house scammers continues to be a big thorn for those looking to make the North their home.
From fake advertisements to blatant lies, scammers have more than one way to prey on vulnerable students who are desperate to find a place.
International students are the perfect targets
Scammers have long been an issue in the North of the Netherlands. With the University of Groningen alone hosting around 10 thousand international students, it is no surprise that they are often the targets of scams.
Without any prior knowledge of the Dutch housing market, and seeing how dire the situation becomes, students fall for the promises made by their potential ‘landlords’ in hopes of securing a place before the academic year.
Such was the case for Sidney (a pseudonym). As a prospective Ph.D. student at the University of Groningen, Sidney was hoping to move from her shared accommodation into a more personal space.
After months of looking on Rentola.com*, she eventually found a place. Although not totally convinced by it, time was running out.
“In February, I found the advertisement. The landlord replied to my mail but I didn’t reply back. It was quite far from my university. I tried to find other options until April or May. I couldn’t find anything, it’s difficult,” she said.
Potential red flag
All contact was between Sidney and Sandrine Boucquey, a Belgian ‘pharmaceutical scientist’ who was most likely using false identity according to Sidney. She told Sidney the place was still available when she re-inquired about it. This could have been a red flag given that housing tends to go off the market quickly, however, she was desperate to move and unbeknownst to a potential scam.
A house viewing was to be arranged through TripAdvisor since Boucquey was in Germany and could not accompany her. Sidney would have to pay two months of rent plus another month of deposit to secure her potential new home.
Despite not having a key to see the place nor having any contact with an agent from TripAdvisor, she thought she should get a feel of her new neighborhood by paying a visit. Along with a friend, her suspicions began to rise the second she arrived.
“The landlord told me I could move whenever I wanted because the house was empty. I was quite suspicious because I saw a person inside the house.”
Unfortunately for Sidney, her suspicions came much too late. She had already transferred a total of €2250 to a bank account in Spain.
“She stopped responding once the payment was made”
She came into contact with Boucquey once again, asking her if the place was capable of receiving housing benefits (huurtoeslag). Boucquey told her it was indeed possible. That was the last time Sidney ever heard from her again.
“She stopped responding once the payment was made,” she said. “Three days later, I found an article from a website about a pharmaceutical company. The article had her name but it was about scammers.”
Sidney immediately reached out to the police. Although they were open to helping her, there was very little the police could do.
“They told me it was quite impossible to get my money back,” she said.
To this day, Sidney is yet to receive any of the money she paid back.
Learning the hard way
Unfortunately for Sidney and many other international students, scamming is a recurring issue every year. While there seems to be very little that can be done about it, Sidney hopes her story can make others aware of the dangers that come with the housing market.
“Don’t pay or get a contract settled before viewing the place. If the place is too good to be true, then it’s also something to look out for,” Sidney said.
“If you have friends who already live there, then let them go see the house for you, to check the conditions of the house. Don’t get a virtual viewing, let some people look around for you.”
Scams come in all shapes and sizes
Although Sidney’s story is the most common when it comes to housing scams, there are many different types of ways students are being taken advantage of in the volatile housing market.
One source, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of future employment opportunities, stated that they are a construction worker who helps to fix homes. He recalls a time when he was asked to fix a new kitchen for a place by the Hoornsemeer, and then found an ad for the same address a week later on Kamernet.
“I clicked on the ad and viewed some of the pictures, they were way off. Trees in front of the window that weren’t there in real life. I removed the kitchen myself and it didn’t look anything like the old or new one.”
Tanisia Flores van Onglands, a recently graduated student who lives in Leeuwarden, said she’s twice had to tell potential students that her place was not for sale after they showed her pictures of her home being up for rent.
“It was kind of scary, I’m not gonna lie,” she said.
She’s unaware of how her place is still online although she did state that the pictures used in the advertisement are old, from before she moved in.
She does not intend to contact the police but does fear what this potential scam can lead to.
“For now, it has been nice people, but what if people come along that aren’t as thoughtful or kind? Yeah, that crosses my mind sometimes.”
It appears that students are not even safe from legitimate housing agencies. As reported by Sikkom, Maxx Aanhuurmakelaars Groningen received an official warning for charging dubious amounts for house viewings, activities, and even a 20 euro per email fee.
Being prepared and staying vigilant
With many new international students flocking to Leeuwarden and Groningen, it is important that they are all aware of all the potential issues one can encounter when looking for housing.
The most common type of scam is the one that Sidney suffered from. Email scammers, claiming to be landlords in Groningen who are out of the country. They tend to ask for a deposit without viewing the property and it is usually transferred to a foreign account. After that, contact, and the money, is completely lost.
For the most part, the basic guidelines to follow are to never pay for anything in advance without seeing the property, don’t give away personal information such as copies of your passport, and beware of housing ads on social media.
At home in Groningen has a manual on how to keep an eye on potential scams, including tips, the types of scammers as well as who to reach out to if you are being scammed.
The Northern Times will have regular coverage of student housing stories in the north in the coming months.
*At the time of publication, Rentola is yet to respond to questions regarding background checks on landlords.