Student hotel wants to come to Utrecht again; student representatives unhappy

The Student Hotel in Amsterdam, foto The Student Hotel

“We want to come to Utrecht as soon as possible, and are aiming for an opening in 2023,” says co-founder Frank Uffen of The Student Hotel. The hotel wants to settle itself in a to-be-constructed location in the central station area. Uffen says the Jaarbeursplein is the ideal location for The Student Hotel. “The location is perfect for our Hybrid Hospitality Concept, in which we provide a mix of functions such as hotel accommodation, bar, restaurant, conference rooms, work places, fitness centre, and so forth, in a dynamic environment which will draw a multitude of various users and guests.” The fact that several educational institutions are easily reachable from this location also plays a role in this decision.

On May 8th, a delegation from the municipality of Utrecht and members of student organisation Vidius visited the Student Hotel’s Amsterdam location. To online newspaper DUIC, the councilman responsible for (among other thing) the station area says he thinks the company will bring more liveliness to the Jaarbeursplein area.

Not without controversy
It’s not the first time the Utrecht city council is discussing the possible establishment of The Student Hotel. In 2016, the company had its eye on office space in Hoog Catharijne, above the Mediamarkt, but this fell through because the location wasn’t available after all. In June 2018, the municipality accepted a motion from, among others, Student & Starter, ensuring any future student hotel would have to meet a set of requirements for renting out (student) rooms.

“By renting out student rooms and calling it hotel rooms, you can get around the rental laws,” says Student & Starter chairman Tim Homan, who was the initiator of the motion. “We take this very seriously, because this way students suddenly miss out on basic rental rights. Think of things like the right to a normal rent, and protection against breaking and entering.” That means the landlord is allowed to enter the room without having received permission to do so from the renter. “Students have a right to their rights, it’s as simple as that.”

A hotel room is not a student room
The criticism of the organisation stems from the confusion about whether The Student Hotel is a hotel or a student housing complex, says The Student Hotel’s Frank Uffen. For that reason, he feels the criticism is misguided. “Before The Student Hotel, there was no party at all that offered both housing and this many services, facilities, and short-term stays for internationals in the Netherlands. That means TSH is both complementary to, and a relief of the burden for, the currently operating housing organisations.” The hotel also ensures the housing market becomes less crowded because international students don’t have to search among the ‘regular’ rooms on offer, Uffen says.

The Student Hotel already has locations in several other student cities, such as Amsterdam, Eindhoven, and Delft. The hotel mostly rents to international students, often short-stay guests who stay for only a few weeks, or rent a room with The Student Hotel for a semester. These so-called ‘student guests’ can use the hotel as their living address, and register in their university city that way. The rent also includes the option of working out in a gym and using bikes to explore the city or go to class. For an all-in room in Amsterdam (with use of all kinds of facilities), tenants pay between 700 and 1,200 euros a month.

Different concepts
The Student Hotel isn’t the only party that offers rooms in this way. Homan, from Student & Starter, says: “In Amsterdam, several student hotel concepts are active at the moment, some of which adhere to the rental laws and some don’t. Student & Starter wants to be consistent in Utrecht, making sure student hotels will always follow the same rental regulations.”

The National Student Union (LSVb) is happy with the Student & Starter proposal. “We think The Student Hotel’s system is a crooked system,” says chairwoman Carline van Breugel. “They ask a lot of money for a room, without offering any rental rights. The rooms are rented on the basis of a hotel agreement. They work entirely with the law’s loopholes.” By working with this type of contract, there’s no need for a maximum room price, and the point system for renting out rooms doesn’t apply. Student organisation Vidius also voices its dislike of the high rents.

“It all sounds very sympathetic, offering furnished rooms, and cities often think it’s a good way to solve the housing problem,” Van Breugel of the National Student Union continues. “But tenants can’t, for instance, cancel their rent any time they like. They’ll have to pay a fine.” DUB, for example, published the story of foreign student Chris (in Dutch, ed.), who wished to cancel his contract, but found he couldn’t. If he wanted to leave, he’d have to pay 350 euros in administrative fees, and 70 percent of the rent of his remaining months.

Vulnerable position
Vidius and the student union feel that The Student Hotel is abusing the vulnerable position international students are in. Vidius chairman Tijn Tas says the group of international students can be divided in two. “There are students who come here for a semester, and degree students who do the entire programme here,” he says. “All those students can rent rooms with student housing organisation SSH for a maximum of one year, as reserved by the university. But there aren’t enough of those to offer rooms to everyone either.”

Students coming to the Netherlands to pursue a degree will have to find a new place to live after that one year. “After a year, they have to find a room in the ‘classic’ way, and they have nothing to fall back on. And when a student house is looking for a new housemate, all too often the advertisement they post says ‘no internationals’,” Tas says. “Among international students, so many are looking for student rooms, and there’s no alternative for many. So they almost don’t have a choice but to go to The Student Hotel, with its high rent and no tenant protection.”

Despite the criticism from several directions, The Student Hotel won’t have to make adjustments to their contract, Uffen says. “For TSH, the regulations for hotels apply. This was recently confirmed by the Rental Committee, in a case started by a guest who was represented by the National Student Union, about the question of whether TSH falls under the regular rental regulations or not. The Rental Committee says we don’t, because we’re dealing with hotel agreements.” They’ll happily invite everyone for an open conversation. “At the opening of our first hotel in Rotterdam, we met with people from the National Student Union, and explained our model. And local student organisations are always welcome as well.”

The hotel also feels it caters to the needs of modern students. “These days, it’s quite normal to go to a university for a short period of time. A joint degree in Berlin and Toulouse, a summer school in Utrecht, and a Master’s in Barcelona. This is one of the reason the number of international students in the Netherlands has grown by thousands a year in the past few years. The regular social housing and student room market isn’t suited for this dynamic market. These students prefer to spend a little more on services and a carefre