by Lina Pfeifer
Go to Maastricht, they said. It’s affordable, they said.
One year and one thousand two hundred twenty-seven euro spent on agency fees and an unrestored deposit later, I sigh with resignation. I lost money, nerves and time. And whose fault was that? I could start pointing fingers at the charming, nice agent that assured me (among other things) I would not suffer from any noise disturbance while living above a café (yeah, right). The next hint would be my landlord, who wasn’t too familiar with the definition of a properly working heating system. Thinking back however, I always come to the same conclusion: I simply was not well informed about my rights and duties as a tenant concerning my rental contract. And this is why, my dear fellow tenant, I would like to inform you today.
While looking for a place to stay you might have come across several housing agencies. This business seems quite convenient in a city where accommodation scarcity is a natural phenomenon: the company provides the customer with a service and is asking money in return. So where’s the problem?
To begin with, the profession of agents in the Netherlands is poorly regulated in comparison with other professions. Looking at the law, Article 425 of Book 7 of the Dutch Civil code describes the legal status of a housing agency very precisely: their only task is to bring the two parties of tenant and landlord together – which implies that if you found your accommodation yourself or over a website, the agency must not be involved at all and is hence not entitled to ask for “bemiddelingskosten” (agency fees) which are usually around one month rent plus 21% taxes.
Let me clarify: Obviously those companies are providing you with a certain “follow up service” (answering questions you might have concerning your contract) which they deserve to be paid for. However, it is questionable whether this amount is proportional. Case law in Maastricht from 2008 confirmed the role of the agent as someone that needs to be directly involved in the transaction of bringing tenant and landlord together. However it remains questionable whether agencies can charge this unproportional amount which, quite often, would lead to the payment of a higher salary than the one of regulated professions. With other words: The legality of an agency fee is extremely vague – but it can be challenged.
The good news for those who paid “bemiddelingskosten” in the past 5 years (!) but found their rooms/apartments without the active help of the company itself: you can claim the amount you paid excluding the follow up service fee back. Jules&You client and FASoS student Anna-Louisa and several other students at least were refunded with parts of the agency fee they had to pay based on wrong grounds – thus, there is hope!
Furthermore and maybe even more revealing to some of you, in case your apartment can be considered as independent (see below for the conditions) Article 417 (4) of book 7 of the Dutch civil code specifies that no fees (including “bemiddelingskosten”) can be charged to the tenant. In this case the landlord has to pay the agency, not you.
Unfortunately not all companies will be cooperative. To put into the words of Amoury Groenen, staff member of Maastricht University Law Faculty: “Agencies will tell you a lot of bullsh*t” – that is, to justify their actions. And sadly, this is what you have to be aware of given that the legal status of the agency fees in its entire proportional existence seems to be vague.
This year Maastricht University has finally decided to at least investigate on several complaints – in a few weeks they will send out an enquête to all students by mail – and only if there are enough students describing their problems, they can decide to take actions.
So, to all of you ill-housed people fighting with your landlord, the agency, or both and to every tenant in Maastricht: I am asking you to join the housing revolution (not with dung forks but with words – at least for now). Raise awareness to the wrongdoings towards tenants – and make them right.
What to consider:
Never forget that your legal situation is upon your own responsibility.
Where can you seek help?
Check out the platform Housing Helpdesk Maastricht, a list of liable landlords and agencies is included and people are sharing their experiences.
In doubt consult “Studenten Rechts Bureau” SRB for legal advice the Students Service Center. Those Law students are offering their help for free (!).
Before signing a contract
Read it carefully. Your duties have to be fulfilled by you; otherwise you will have a hard time to claim your rights.
Make sure to specify on what grounds your (one year) contract can be annulled.
Check if the contract is bound to the housing agency – if not, the agency is not entitled to charge you the usual costs. For clarification consult legal advice.
Make sure to report everything related to your deposit and what the landlord’s conditions are to give it back to you (if possible, let them include it in the contract).
How to claim money back in an appropriate way:
Watch your tone and language, even if problems with your rental situation are bound to certain emotions.
If you already talked to the agency and they are still refusing to refund you, send them a registered letter mentioning correct case law and threaten them to go to court if they do not refund the money.
Independent flat/apartment conditions:
An apartment qualifies as independent if it has:
1) its own bed/ living room;
2) own kitchen with plumbing and connexion for a cooking machinery/plate; and
3) its own toilet with a water flushing system (even if you have to share the entrance with other tenants in the building)
Problems you are entitled to complain about:
If things that are specifically mentioned in your contract are not working (and you can’t repair them yourself) for example heating or electricity, you can complain about it.
However, in case your landlord/agency enters your premises while you are gone, you need to go the police. Only one complain will not take them to court, but it is bad for their reputation and can be used against them in front of a court in regard to future legal actions against them.