On December 12, a group of former residents of Sugar Homes gathered in front of Groningse Panden’s building in Groningen to demand the return of their €750 deposit from the property management company.
The group urged Groningse Panden’s managers to exit the building and listen to their requests, where they intended to hand the property management company a symbolic €187,500 bill – the total amount due for around 250 ex-residents, according to their estimations.
The demonstrators were supported in their action by Bond Precaire Woonvormen (BPW), a national union that advocates for the rights of tenants in precarious (temporary, insecure of overly expensive) living situations.
Behind a gate, Director of Property Management Marcel van der Lyke told protesters that Groningse Panden is not withholding their deposit, as the company only manages Sugar Homes on behalf of the housing units owner, StudentHousing (STHO).
Van Der Lyke invited one BPW member and one former tenant for a meeting in his office. The group refused, saying they were protesting for “everyone’s money” and “different people have different questions for Groningse Panden, so why divide us?”
“Outside, we are united”
Then, the group handed Van Der Lyke the symbolic bill and started asking him questions about the matter, which the manager declined to answer. Van Der Lyke also did not respond to questions asked by local journalists present at the protest. He eventually went back into the building and lowered the blinds.
The protesters kept stating their position through the megaphone, asking Groningse Panden to return the withheld deposit within a week.
Thiresia Antoniadou, a student from Greece, lived at Sugar Homes for a year. “I came here with my brother, also a student, and my family is still waiting to receive €1,500 back,” she said. “Outside, we are united; we have more power. If we enter the building, managers can decide to end the conversation and let us out whenever they want, which is unfair,” Antoniadou added.
According to their contracts, the outstanding amount should have been returned by September 25, 8 weeks after the rental contract ended. “We are ready to bring this case to the court if nothing happens within a week,” BPW member Robin van den Berg said.
It is unclear whether former tenants will get their deposit back or not. STHO is withholding the deposit to cover the sharply increased energy costs, with support from the municipality of Groningen in this decision.
Van der Lyke said that Groningse Panden is waiting for STHO to calculate the correct energy costs amount to deduct from former tenants’ deposits.
The company stated they are doing so because they may run a significant risk of non-paying people if they present separate bills to pay for energy, as many former tenants no longer live in The Netherlands.
BPW explained that withholding the deposit for uncovered energy costs is not legally allowed because that money can only cover unpaid arrears or damages to the housing units. STHO already attempted to triple energy costs earlier this year, but cancelled the plan following tenants’ opposition.
Not the first time
According to former tenants, it is not the first time Groningse Panden has withheld money expected to be returned. Representatives of BPW also pointed out during the demonstration that International students are often unaware of their rights, and it is harder for them to get their money back once they return home after the academic year ends.
Sugar Homes is a complex of 250 short-stay container houses. Many tenants and former residents described their units as “of substandard condition,” reporting dirtiness and the presence of mold and pests despite a €50 cleaning fee. In 2019, legionella bacteria was found in Sugar Homes water mains.