Students from Utrecht breathe new life into 'hospita': 'We match supply and demand'

Maurits Barendregt, Joost Bokkers en Daan Donkers van HospiHousing, foto HospiHousing

At the beginning of July, parties in the municipal council asked the Mayor and Executive Board to bring the phenomenon of the hospita to the attention of the inhabitants of Utrecht, following the example of other cities. By alerting residents that you can also rent an empty room in the house to, for example, a student, politicians hope to reduce the room shortage among students.

The local politicians appeared to have received this message in a whisper from HospiHousing, a new company that matches hospitas with students in Utrecht. This will breathe new life into the idea of the hospita, because in earlier times it was very common for a student to become a boarder. This means that you rent a room for a fee in a house where the homeowner (and sometimes also their family) lives. The landlord is called hospes, the landlady is called hospita. The term hospita has lingered especially because women in particular rented out rooms this way. Due to the rise of student houses, the popularity of becoming a boarder decreased.

I had a room with a hospita and I enjoyed that very much

HospiHousing is a startup of three former students from Utrecht that brings supply and demand together. By the end of July, fourteen people had reported to consider taking a student into their home. The number of students that is interested is many times greater, says one of the initiators Daan Donkers. “In recent weeks, we have received three or four applications per day. We now have around fifty registrations. Two of them are from the Netherlands, the rest from abroad. If we continue at this pace, we will reach one hundred applications by the end of August.”

Donkers graduated in 2017 with a master's degree in International Relations in Historical Perspective from UU after his bachelor's degree in Public Administration and Organization Science. Before his studies he lived in Colombia for a few months. “I had a room with a hospita there and I enjoyed that very much. She helped me with my Spanish and I helped her with computer things. There the idea arose to link international students to a hospita, because why wouldn't that work in the Netherlands?”

Only then did the gravity of the problem became clear

Donkers realized that international students found it very difficult to find a room in Utrecht after an e-mail from his teacher Peter Malcontent. “He asked if we knew of a room for the international students who had been living in a hotel for almost three months. He wrote that if they could not find accommodation, they could not stay. Only then did the gravity and scope of the housing problem for international students really dawn on me.”

Together with his friends Joost Bokkers (Marketing and Commercial Economics at the HU, Master's in Strategic Management in Tilburg) and Maurits Barendregt (Bachelor's in Neuropsychology, Master's in Applied Cognitive Psychology at UU), he thought that internationals would probably also like to stay with a hospita in the Netherlands who could possibly familiarize you with the language and the city.

In July, the HospiHousing website went online and "it started running smoothly right away". The initiative was quickly shared by Utrecht University, among other places on the intranet to convince employees who have a room in the house to rent it out to an international student. With this, UU heeded the wish of Utrecht politicians to make a call for ‘hospitas’.

It is important that there is a connection between the hospita and the student

HospiHousing is currently only active in Utrecht. If you are interested in renting out a room, you will be visited by one of the three young entrepreneurs. “We are going to meet you. It is important that there is a connection between the hospita and the student, and for that we need to know what type of tenant the hospita wants. After that, we look for a student."

Renting out a room is not complicated, says Donkers. The room may not be extremely small and there must be a smoke detector, for example. On the mediator's website you will find the exact conditions that a room and house must meet and how much rent you can charge. It is also explained that renting out a room is tax-free up to a certain amount. If there is no connection between tenant and landlord, the rent can be cancelled within nine months without too many problems. “In order to make it more attractive for individuals, it has been taken into account that the rental right does not fully apply for the first nine months. Because there can no longer be any question of a "missing connection" after that period, the rental right applies from then on. "From that moment on, a hospita can no longer ’just’ put the tenant out on the street."

For the first hospitas for whom HospiHousing mediates, no costs are charged yet. Donkers: “We really see the first mediations as a pilot and we want to learn from the experiences. We all have a job and do this on the side. If the pilot is successful, we will look further. Since the problem of housing shortage is not limited to Utrecht, expansion to other student cities is a very realistic option."

What does UU do for international students
Living with a hospita is one of the initiatives that Utrecht University supports. It is expected that 2500 students from abroad will start at UU this academic year. They will commit to a full bachelor's or master's degree or arrive through exchange programmes of at least three months. This year, the university has reserved 900 living spaces for internationals, which are fully furnished rooms or studios. For the first month, another 100 beds have been booked in various accommodations in Utrecht or the surrounding area. In March 2020, a new student flat will also be delivered in De Uithof, which also has to accommodate internationals.