In a city with thousands of students and not enough rooms, you are bound to run into problems. UKrant addresses the most common housing troubles and tries to offer some solutions. This week: the housemate who’s also your landlord.
When you move out of your parents’ house as a student, you expect to live with other people – but not necessarily with your landlord and his girlfriend, a man with his two children, and a man long past his student days. That’s been Melanie Schukart’s living situation since September, though.
‘I really needed a room and he was basically the only one who replied to me’, says the 21-year-old psychology student.
English language and culture student Jade (not her real name) didn’t have many options either. She had replied to about a hundred housing ads before being offered a room in her current landlord’s house. ‘I felt a bit unsure about it; he’s in his thirties and a man. But he seemed nice over the phone, so I just went with it.’
With the Groningen housing market being as it is, students often have to take what they can get, even if it means their housemate is also the person they’re renting from. And that can be awkward.
‘It’s not like living with a parent, but he does have more authority’, says Jade, who’s been living with her landlord for a year and a half now. ‘When he says something, you know that it’s coming from the person who owns the house, so you need to listen.’
‘It feels like you are under surveillance’, says Melanie. She’s always afraid to upset the landlord. ‘I don’t know which things in the shared kitchen I can use or if I can take up space in the fridge, since it is always filled to the brim with beer.’
She prefers to stay in her room when her landlord is home, and when she does encounter him, they only exchange pleasantries. ‘We say hi and ask how the other person is doing, but that’s it.’
The language barrier might also play a role in that: ‘I never really feel comfortable in the house, because he speaks Dutch, but no English at all and only a little German, my mother tongue.’
Jade, too, avoided her landlord for the first couple of weeks. ‘I wasn’t sure how to socialise with him. To be honest, he is also not a person I like to hang out with.’
Now, from time to time, Jade does make some small talk with her landlord, but she tries to avoid having discussions with him. ‘He sometimes says things that I don’t agree with, but I live in his house, so it is hard to oppose him. I just awkwardly laugh or become quiet – not always the most comfortable moments.’
It’s not that she’s afraid of being kicked out if she disagrees with him. ‘According to the rental contract, he can only do so when there is no way to continue living with me. And I get six months’ notice, so I’m safe.’
But when you live with your landlord, ‘you have to accept that you have less freedom’, says Jade. ‘I can have friends over and they can stay the night, but the landlord made clear from the beginning that he would not be happy about parties. So it’s not going to be a party house, but if you accept that, it’s fine.’
Melanie’s landlord has two additional rules: she’s not allowed to use too much hot water or to park her bike in the back storage area in winter. While she can live with that, she worries about his unwritten expectations. ‘I don’t feel at home or free, I guess. In fact, I am always afraid of making mistakes.’
Jade is more positive about her experience. She even points to an advantage to her situation: ‘When something is broken, it’s fixed very quickly. Since he also uses the things in the house, he takes care of it.’
The key to successfully living with your landlord, she says, is to not avoid confrontation. ‘Don’t be intimidated because he owns the place. You should feel comfortable in your own house.’
Once, her landlord complained in the group chat about her and her roommate not cleaning the pans and pots immediately after using them. ‘And then he would cook and leave his pot for several days. That was obviously a bit annoying.’
Fortunately, her roommate wasn’t afraid to address the issue and now the landlord sticks to his own rules.
Jade admits that she is still learning how to stand up for herself. But she can’t complain, she says: ‘It’s a really nice house and I feel at home. It depends on the landlord whether it’s workable, but I got lucky.’
Melanie recommends establishing what you can and what you can’t do. ‘With clear rules, you don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes, because you know what the landlord accepts.’ She isn’t sure whether she’d endorse living with a landlord, though: ‘The situation feels a bit unequal, but it’s better than having no place at all.’