Groningen housing troubles #5: Getting your deposit back

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. In the last instalment of the series: what to do if your landlord refuses to return your deposit? 

Anger and disbelief. That’s what Anna (a pseudonym) felt when she realised she could kiss her 650 euros goodbye. She had just moved into her new room at Martini House, an international student accommodation near the Stadspark, when the owner, DJB Vastgoed, went bankrupt.  

Anna and the other tenants were informed by the new owner that they had to sign the new contract within twenty-four hours. Failure to sign would result in eviction. The contract had one specific condition, though: the tenants didn’t have to pay a deposit to the new landlord, but they had to reclaim the 650 euro deposit they had paid with DJB.

‘I was afraid of becoming homeless, and I was unfamiliar with Dutch law’, Anna explains, and so she signed the contract. 

After moving out, she contacted DJB to request her deposit back. ‘But they told me that because they had gone bankrupt, they didn’t have the funds to return the money. I really regret now that I agreed with the new owner’s condition.’ 

Waived rights

When a landlord goes bankrupt, the new property owner typically assumes all assets and debts, says Denise Zonnebeld, founder of rental advice agency Frently. That means they are responsible for returning the deposit if tenants move out. Yet the students living in Martini House waived their right to reclaim their deposit from the new owner when they signed that contract.  

‘It’s difficult to determine if this is legal or illegal at this point’, Zonnebeld says. ‘The best course of action for the tenants is to go to court and let the judge decide.’

Before signing a contract or agreement, make sure you understand the consequences, and be aware of your rights, Zonnebeld stresses. Particularly for international students, it is recommended they seek expert advice to explain the contract before making any decisions.

Sugar Homes

Robin van den Berg-Markus of tenants’ rights association Bond Precaire Woonvormen also urges students who are having trouble getting their deposit back to turn to an expert familiar with the Dutch rental situation.

Bond Precaire Woonvormen is working with former tenants of the Sugar Homes student housing complex who didn’t get their 750 euro deposit back. Owner STHO says it is using the money to cover the energy bill, but the tenants want STHO to return their money and to send them a separate bill for the energy costs.

Language barriers and unfamiliarity with Dutch law pose significant challenges for international students who want to fight their landlord, says Van den Berg-Markus. ‘We have explained things and made them easier to understand; otherwise, the tenants might be overwhelmed by all the information.’

Next steps

Once tenants understand their rights, they should request their landlord to return the deposit in a polite, but direct manner, advises Van den Berg-Markus. Also indicate the potential next steps: ‘Mention the possibility of involving the union if the landlord ignores you or refuses to honour your rights.’

If that doesn’t work, ‘make it public’, Van den Berg-Markus says. Generally, landlords or property managers prefer to resolve the situation discreetly, as it may not be entirely legal. That’s why, in December, the Sugar Homes tenants staged a protest in front of the office of the building manager. Ninety tenants also sent collection letters threatening legal action.

Unfortunately, none of their actions have had the desired effect so far. They have now moved on to the final step: a lawsuit. 

Free tenant’s assistance

Need help? Several organisations in Groningen provide free advice and assistance when you’re facing a housing problem: 

  • Frently focuses on helping students who think they’re paying too much rent or service costs. 
  • Bond Precaire Woonvormen provides legal tips and practical assistance to tenants with a temporary contract or precarious living situation.
  • Steunpunt Huren Groningen provides legal advice and mediates between tenants and landlords.
  • Het Juridisch Loket answers legal questions about a range of topics, including tenant’s rights.
  • Robin Hood helps you when you’re paying too much rent or service costs or if your landlord neglects to make necessary repairs. 

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