Bullied out of your home: urinating in the hallways and ex-convicts in empty rooms

Landlords can go very far when they want to get rid of their student tenants. This will get worse with new legislation on the way, fears the Dutch Union of Tenants.

BY LENNART WIERDA

UG student Maria was having a cozy Saturday night in. Perhaps she and her roommate had been making a little too much noise, but nothing that would exceed the volume at an average student house.

The next morning, the residents heard the front door open and footsteps moving aimlessly through the place. It was the landlord, and he was angry.

They spoke to him, but he ignored them and walked stoically towards the bathroom. There he stayed for a minute and then, without exchanging a word with anyone, walked out the front door again.

Wet stain

Maria came out of her room and discovered a strange, wet stain on the carpet on the landing that wasn’t there about five minutes ago. It smelled like urine. ‘Not only did that spot smell, but there were also four other spots.’

The students were left shocked. ‘After all, the landlord could walk into our rooms at any moment. I started sleeping with a knife at night. That way, when he came it, we’d have a weapon.’

Harassment

This incident is not an isolated one. Intimidating or ‘undesirable’ behaviour by landlords is increasingly common, according to Mathijs ten Broeke with the Union of Tenants, an organisation that champions the interests of tenants and house hunters. Although exact figures are not known, he has recently seen a sharp rise in the number of complaints from tenants about inappropriate behaviour by landlords.

‘We are currently receiving many complaints from students, also in Groningen, in which they describe being harassed and that the pressure to leave the house is constantly increasing,’ Ten Broeke notes.

Legislation

An increasing number of landlords want to get rid of student tenants, observes the Union of Tenants. The reason is recent legislation: the Good Landlordship Act (effective July 1 last year) and the Affordable Rent Act (effective July 1this year). Both laws aim to protect tenants by curbing rents and giving tenants extra rights.

Ten Broeke has seen landlords trying to put pressure on residents as a result. ‘By bullying current tenants away, international students, migrant workers and ex-convicts, among others, can be placed in the rooms. These are less familiar with the regulations, do not have much choice between rooms and will accept higher prices.’

Interviews

Maria and her three housemates are familiar with the practices. When two rooms became available in their girls’ house, they wanted to hold interviews to find new tenants. But the landlord refused.

Soon after, two middle-aged foreign men moved into the rooms, followed a few weeks later by two others. All of them were constantly smoking pot with the door open and drinking heavily.

Addressing the men was no use, says Maria, and complaining to the landlord didn’t help, either. ‘They all referred to the landlord every time. While the landlord actually said we should sort it out among ourselves.’

Tenancy agreement

The men claimed to have no rental contracts and later turned out to be ex-convicts. After a few weeks, they left the house and other men came over. ‘They usually stayed only a few weeks. All those men. The landlord really wanted us out of there.’

Daan Swets, with Groningen’s Student & City party, isn’t surprised by the story. He’s been coming across such issues more often lately. ‘The relationship between students and landlords is a disproportionate one. Especially with upcoming laws or regulations, landlords pull out all the stops. They are really ruthless sometimes.’

Unfamiliar

Swets therefore encourages students to complain to the Rent Tribunal or the hotline for Inappropriate Landlords. ‘It’s the municipality’s job to inform students about these options. International students suffer from the issue in particular, because they are unfamiliar with the rental rules.’

It’s too late for Maria. Reporting her landlord’s behaviour to the police did not help, nor did going to the Rent Tribunal. She chose to look for another room. After staying with friends for a fortnight, she will be moving to another house elsewhere in Groningen.

Dutch

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