During my first year in Groningen, I rented a 16m2 room in a student house for which I paid €315/month. Judging from what my friends and classmates paid, I thought this was a reasonable price. However, my international roommate studied law and realized that we (10 tenants) were all paying €30-€40 too much service costs and that our landlord was supposed to settle the actual gas, water, and electricity costs with us at the end of each year. Therefore, my roommate sought help from a legal organization, which got all of us the too much-paid service costs up to 3 years back at a rate of 33% commission. Now although this was a great experience (I got “free” money that I never expected to get), I didn’t organize or communicate with the legal organization or landlord myself, and hence I didn’t really learn much from it. That’s why for this blog I interviewed 2 friends of mine so we can all learn from their experience. My German friend dealt with harassment from his landlord and real estate agent, and my former roommate recently went through the entire legal process of getting too much-paid rent back.
- Where did you live, what type of accommodation was it, how big was it, and what did you pay for it?
In the inner city of Groningen, in a studio of 22m2 for which I paid €725 per month (all-in).
- What type of problems and/or harassment did you experience with your landlord and/or real estate agency?
Before I signed the contract, I asked for a technical installation as a prerequisite before I’d move in. They didn’t do this before I moved in, however, and in the end, it took months before I actually got it. Then, one time when my girlfriend was sleeping over, my real estate agent (Bakker) came by when I was in university, and he asked her to see me. Later, he randomly came by (he never announced himself) and cornered me by saying that I couldn’t have her living with me. I told him that she wasn’t living with me, however, because she had her own room in Groningen.
Later, I heard from friends that they had their rental price lowered. Since I always had the feeling that my studio was smaller than the 40m2 that it was advertised at, I contacted the Huurcommissie for a rental price check. What I didn’t know, however, is that the Huurcommissie would contact Bakker about the procedure that they were going to do. After that, based on the claim that I was doing illegal things with my girlfriend living with me, Bakker told me that I had to move out and that he’d change the locks or they would call the police on me. He repeated this multiple times to me, both in-person and on the phone, but I always said that I wouldn’t move out and that I signed a contract for a year.
Then, on the day that the Huurcommissie came by, Bakker and my landlord parked their car in front of my door and said they wouldn’t leave until I sent the Huurcommissie away. Then I started Googling Bakker, and I read reviews of other people that he would come into their house, even at night, and that he’d tell them they’d have to leave and that he even attacked some of these people. Luckily when the Huurcommissie agent came by, Bakker and my landlord had already left.
- How did you work through those problems?
I was scared to call the police because I was already threatened with them calling the police on me. So I always left my key in the door, and I put a live stream via Twitch with my webcam pointing at my door whenever I wasn’t home.
- Did you get any (legal) aid? If yes, who / what organization?
Yes, the Huurcommissie, and when they did the point check, they immediately told me that I was paying way too much. Later, when my contract almost ended, I got the official report which stated that my room was about 22m2 (not 40m2 as advertised) and that I had paid about €300 per month too much. Subsequently, I only paid the amount that the Huurcommissie decided I should pay for the last months. I also found out that the real estate agent’s fee of €725 that I paid upon signing my contract was illegal too because I found the studio myself via Facebook, not via me approaching Bakker with the request for finding me a studio.
If no, why did you choose not to?
The Huurcommissie only makes an official report, but you have to go to court to actually sue the landlord or real estate agency if they won’t just give you the money back. However, I didn’t want to go into a court case, because I was just about to leave for a semester to study abroad. Back then I thought to go to court when I got back, but I didn’t feel like going through the entire legal process and I didn’t know about organizations such as Frently back then. Consequently, I didn’t get any of my too much-paid rent back in the end.
- How was it when you moved out? Did everything work out or were there still problems?
Just when I moved all my stuff out, Bakker came by, and then later some guys came over and they threw everything that was left in the studio out on the street. Luckily there wasn’t any of my stuff left there, but I don’t think they knew that. Later, I asked for my €725 deposit back. However, Bakker had asked me if I wanted to move out 2 weeks early, which was okay with me because I wanted to get out anyways, but it turned out that he had a clause in the contract stating that I wouldn’t get my deposit back if I moved out earlier. Then, when I kept asking for it, Bakker kept claiming that the landlord has to pay it back, but he wouldn’t give me his contact details. I only got in touch with the landlord’s wife (I had her mobile phone number from the time I was moving into the studio), but I still didn’t get my deposit back.
Also, Bakker called me saying I left my studio in terrible conditions, and that I had to pay for repairs and a cleaning service because of that. I even got a letter from an Incassobureau, but it was probably fake because in the end they only harassed me but never came by to collect the money.
- Do you have recommendations for other (international) students who are experiencing harassment or other problems because of the accommodation that they’re renting?
I was really uninformed, I was just happy to get a studio in the inner city, but you should definitely Google every real estate agent and landlord, and check blacklists such as this one for Groningen before you sign a contract. If you’re charged a real estate agent’s fee, check if that’s actually legal. Make sure you act on the information you get from your research and trust your gut feeling, regardless of the shortage of student accommodations available.
If you’re already in a contract, don’t do it the way I did. Immediately call the police if you experience harassment. I was scared to do it because they had told me that they would call the police on me, and I wasn’t aware of my rights.
Finally, get a legal organization that maintains a no-cure-no-pay solution involved asap, because you’ll stand much stronger that way. If you want to go to court with your own lawyer, you’ll be spending a lot of money and energy without any guarantee of getting anything back. Also, if you have roommates, try to file your complaints together and try to be uniform in your demands, that way you can put much more pressure on the landlord or agency because they’ll risk missing out on a lot of rent if they’re not compliant.
- Where did you live, what type of accommodation was it, how big was it, and what did you pay for it?
I lived in the inner city of Groningen, in a renovated apartment classified as protected cityscape (beschermd stadsgezicht). It was 50m2 with 2 bedrooms and I paid €900 including service costs but excluding municipality taxes, which added roughly another €500 per year.
- What made you start a legal process, and why did you decide on seeking the help of legal professionals to help you out?
In the beginning, I always accepted the price even though it was expensive. My friends and co-students around me paid similar amounts, so my benchmark was off, to begin with. Although a 4% rent increase per year is allowed, my landlord never did this. However, after 2 years they sent me an e-mail saying that my rent was increased without updating me about it beforehand. That was it for me, I knew I already paid too much, but I accepted it because I was happy with the apartment and the location that I lived.
My first action was to Google a bit, and that’s how I found Frently. I explained my situation to them on the phone, during which they responded with free basic legal advice and offered to come by for a free rental price check of my apartment. Their check included things like the space, number of rooms, type of windows, and the amount and type of appliances and facilities that my apartment provided. Frently’s check calculated a number far below what I was paying, meaning that I could legally pay up to €200 less. After this, they offered me 2 options:
- Use everything I learned so far, and start my own legal process
- Frently legally representing me at a 40% (incl. taxes) no-cure-no-pay rate
I discussed my options with some friends, and we all felt that 40% was a lot. So, I chose option 1 and started to do research into the legal process. Next, I researched the laws around renting and read into the legal process of adjudicating too much-paid service costs.
However, after 15 hours of researching, I realized that the heavily jargoned language and my lack of experience were going to put me at 200-300 hours of work to go through the entire legal process, without any guarantee that I would actually get any money back. In this, I’d have to get my own lawyer or go to court myself, and if they would appeal to a higher court (which they did), it would become even more complicated.
That’s when I realized that Frently’s no-cure-no-pay solution was actually a pretty good offer, for it guaranteed that the legal firm would put in their best efforts to win the case. Moreover, since a professional firm has experience and credentials, I felt that having them taking on the case would be more effective than me as an individual, even if I’d ask one of my law studying friends to join me.
- Why did you choose for Frently specifically to help you out?
I had heard about Frently before, so it already felt a bit familiar. I did check one alternative, but they requested payment upfront and when I explained to them my situation (which involved a “beschermd stadsgezicht” accommodation) they declined because they didn’t feel I would be a viable case for them.
- How did you experience the process with Frently, and what input did they ask from you in order to go through all the necessary steps?
During the Huurcheck, Frently interviewed me about my rental situation for almost 2 hours. Then, I had to provide my rental contract and some personal documents such as a passport copy. After this, I went by to sign the contract, but you can do this online too.
Subsequently, you can see a status bar of the process online, and I had a call more or less every month in which I got updates. Moreover, during these calls, they took the time to answer all my questions, even if they weren’t directly related to the case. For example, I wanted to know how I had to organize things when I moved out while my legal case was still going on, for I wanted to make sure that my roommate wouldn’t take over the legal case to which the rental contract was bound to.
Also, Frently explained that if the court ruling lowered the rental price, I had to make sure to pay the amount determined by the ruling. If I (accidentally) paid the amount specified on the contract, it would make me legally compliant with that amount because in the Netherlands a payment is an official legal agreement in itself.
- How much time did you have to put in on a weekly basis, and what was the overall duration of the legal process?
The entire legal process ran for 3 years and cost me about 2-3 hours per week on average. During the first weeks, I spent a lot of time (15-20 hours) to research my options and to get all the paperwork in order when I chose option 1. Then the real estate agency had 3 months to reply, which meant radio silence. Usually, the defendants will always take the max amount of time for their decisions, because then they can keep incurring the full rent amount over this time since any too much-paid rent won’t have to be paid back in most cases; in my case, the rent would only be lowered for the rental period after the court ruling.
Keep in mind that you’ll probably be doing extra research for yourself to get a better understanding of the process. Also, since you’ll never know exactly what will happen or when exactly you can expect something to be processed, the case can take up a lot of mind space without you being conscious of it.
- What costs did you get paid back and over how many years was this?
Too many paid service costs over 3 years (the maximum amount of time possible). The case concerning the rent that I paid isn’t adjudicated yet.
- Was it worth it for you to go through this entire process?
Yes. I knew I was paying too much, but at that time I was working enough and I could afford it. However, then I realized what exactly I could get back, and I’m happy that I went for it. It was money that I felt I had lost, and now I got some of it back.
Also, I learned a lot about rental law and adjudication, and I got a lot of experience by going through this case. I am now more aware of how the Dutch rental market works, and how I can negotiate fair rents for my future accommodations. Finally, I can share my experience with friends, and (international) students in an interview like this.
Had I been a law student, then I’d probably have enjoyed the challenge of doing the legal case myself. However, I’m an engineer and business student, and I quickly learned that if something’s not part of your core operation, you should outsource it whenever possible (and financially viable, of course), because you’ll always be spending more energy than necessary on it.
- Do you have recommendations for other (international) students that feel that they are paying too much rent for their accommodation?
Yes! Talk with your friends and co-students, acquaint yourself with the basics of the Dutch rental market, and request a rental price check. Especially if you’re an international student, ask for professional help, because many landlords and real estate agents will feel that they can rip off “foreigners” because they are often unaware of their legal rights. Finally, start your process as soon as possible, because you can also get too much-paid rent back if you do this within 6 months of your contract, or within 6 months after a short-term contract of maximum 2 years end.
Then, share your experience with friends and co-students, because that gives all of us a more reliable benchmark to assess how much we should be paying for our accommodations. This way, we can put pressure on the rental market together and prevent more tenants from paying too much, for as I learned throughout this process, most students are paying between €30 and €250 too much on their total monthly rental costs!