Dirty dishes in a student house in Utrecht. Photo: DUB

Utrecht tenants often victim of intimidation and threats

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Private renters in Utrecht, among whom are many students, have had to deal with more intimidation and threats from their landlords this year. In the past half year, advocacy organisation Huurteam Utrecht has received more reports than in the entire year of 2019.

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In the first half of 2020, the Huurteam received 27 reports of intimidation and threats by landlords, five more than in the entire year of 2019. "It’s hard to explain the increase," says Fleur van Leeuwen from the Huurteam. “It’s possible tensions are running high because of the coronavirus, for instance because people have lost their jobs. That may lead to delayed payments, which in turn can cause problems for the landlords. But it’s also possible that tenants are more aware of our existence now.”

The majority of the complaints comes, by far, from students. The organisation works for tenants of private-market landlords, where the rent must be below 737.14 euros by law. The amount of rent due is determined by a point system. Unfortunately, many landlords do not comply with the rules. That’s when the Huurteam and/or the Huurcommissie (Rental committee) come in. Tentants can check whether they’re paying too much rent online.

In the case of intimidation and threats, the Huurteam offers support by helping tenants to build a case and by providing advice. You can also contact them for other issues: for instance, in case of overdue maintenance, unjustly charged service fees, and when your rent is too high.

900 euros too much
One of the most remarkable cases from the past half year refers to a landlord who sent numerous threatening e-mails and WhatsApp messages to his tenants, after being told that he had to honour his commitments as landlord. The landlord then threatened to evict his tenants and charge them with unwarranted costs. At one point, he even decided to sabotage the washing machine and cut the Internet cable.

There was also a case where the monthly rent that was being charged was nearly 900 euros above what it should be. “The rent that was charged in that situation was almost 1,400 euros a month, while our calculations put it at a maximum rent of 500 euros a month,” says Van Leeuwen.

Landlords often fail to take care of the maintenance of their buildings. Van Leeuwen: “We’ve seen the worst situations, for instance when there’s severe mould in a house, leakages, and gas heaters that don’t work.”

Legal proceedings
When shortcomings like these are found, the Huurteam gives advice to the tenant, who can then choose to authorise the Huurteam to start legal proceedings against the landlord with the Huurcommissie. Van Leeuwen: “We can enforce a rent reduction through the Huurcommissie. That’s not done in court, but it’s still legally binding.” In almost all cases, the proceedings end with a positive result. In some cases, however, the result can be negative or the proceedings can be dropped, such as when the tenant moves abroad or has already reached a deal with the landlord.

Out of the 409 procedures that have been advised, the Huurteam has started a total of 242 procedures on behalf of tenants. Of those, 79 percent led the rent to be reviewed. In Utrecht, tenants don’t have to pay to start legal proceedings. “We work on instructions from the municipality, so everything is completely free for the tenants,” Van Leeuwen says.

Tenancy law
Most students in Utrecht pay far too much rent, Van Leeuwen says. “They’ve often just left home, and don’t know anything about the rights they have as tenants.” Because the housing shortage in Utrecht is massive, tenants often fall victim to all sorts of fraudulent practices. “We’re happy that students are able to find us and that we’re starting so many procedures, but each procedure needed to fix malpractices is one too many, of course.”

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