Student housing shortage makes landlords strange creatures sometimes

Utrecht has a student housing shortage. More than a thousand students who’d prefer to move to Utrecht before the start of the academic year are unable to find a room, according to student interest organisation Vidius. So those who’ve managed to snag a room, are eager to try to keep it. This can lead to strange, abnormal, or even illegal situations in student housing. “Our landlord is a nice man, but he’s a little weird. For one, he shows up unnanounced almost twice a week and then demands we have breakfast with him. If we don’t, he threatens to cut off our access to hot water,” says Anniek, who lives in a house with five other students.

New lease
Sam lived in a house with four students who all ended up on the streets within a short time frame. The landlord decided to change the rental contracts. “We had to sign a new lease, because the old one was time barred, she said. When we read through the new lease, we noticed she’d changed all sorts of things in the text. We were suddenly required to pay more rent, and she was given the right to instantly evict us.” Sam and his housemates weren’t happy about these changes, but ended up signing the lease anyway. “Eventually, as we’d expected, the time came when she kicked us out, because she was going to sell the house. We had to leave within the month.”

Landlady loves cash
Larissa and three other students lived with a landlady for years. “We shared the front door and the hallway. The living room was her space, and the second and third floors belonged to me and my three housemates. Mostly, it was just very small. There was a kitchenette on the second floor landing, and we had a shower cubicle instead of a bathroom.”

Students choose this type of living situation because the rents are generally cheaper when living with a landlord or landlady compared to other student housing, according to questionnaires done by housing website Kamernet. This wasn’t the case with Larissa’s room, she says. “We all paid 400 euros a month – far too much for such a small space.” Larissa thought it was peculiar that her landlady wanted to receive each month’s rent in cash. “Every first of the month, my housemates and I would walk home carrying 400 euros in cash.”

High rents and slumlords
The housing situation in Utrecht sometimes leads to extremes. A recent report published by the Dutch student union LSVb states that 82.35 percent of students in Utrecht pay too much rent. On average, the report says, student pay 117 euros a month too much for their rooms.

In the past few years, several slumlords in the city have been dealt with. The notorious slumlords are landlords who often set their rents too high, don’t do any maintenance on their properties which leads to dangerous situations, or even bully or intimidate their tenants. “My landlord is definitely one in the ‘slumlord’ category,” says Anniek. “Our house is completely impoverished. Doors won’t close properly, the wallpaper’s peeling off, the kitchen is missing a floor plank, the banisters are hanging loose, and no matter how often and how thoroughly we clean the shower, the mold keeps coming back. All this for 450 euros a month for bedrooms that are barely 10 square meters.” Anniek and her housemates are afraid to talk to the Rent Tribunal to complain about their landlord and the state their house is in. “He’s said on multiple occasions that if we do, he’ll refuse to renew our lease.”

The Dutch Student Union LSVb says slumlords are a big problem. “Many landlords ignore all the rules,” says Geertje Hulzebos, chairwoman of the LSVb. When students complain to the rent tribunal and the landlord loses the case, the landlord has to pay a fine, but the LSVb thinks the fines should be much higher. She’s submitting the request for higher fines to the government. “Right now, a landlord may have to pay a couple of hundred euros – a risk many slumlords are willing to take.”