Groningen wants to crack down on bad landlords: high fines and digital pillory

The Groningen municipality wants to crack down on rogue landlords with high fines and a digital pillory. It is the only way to combat malpractice in the rental sector, argues alderman Rik Niejenhuis (PvdA).

Housing alderman Niejenhuis knows the stories about landlords who’ll do anything to make as much money as possible. Yet he is shocked every time, he says. He was appalled at the article published in UKrant a fortnight ago, in which students talk about how their landlords bully them out of their homes.

Alderman Rik van Niejenhuis.

Landlords would bring homeless people and unsavoury types into a student house to deliberately cause a nuisance. One landlord urinated in several places in the house. Another smashed students’ furniture while they were on holiday. He later said he had assumed they were no longer living there, when they had not even given notice to terminate the rent.

Lucrative apartment buildings

The landlords’ aim is to get the student to leave the house as soon as possible so they can convert the student rooms into more lucrative apartment buildings. ‘It is outrageous, and we need to crack down on this practice,’ Niejenhuis said. ‘These people need to understand that this isn’t okay. And if there are no consequences, they’ll just keep doing it.’

The new Good Landlordship Act gives the municipality many tools to act, says the alderman. ‘If a landlord does not abide by the rules and for example intimidates, discriminates, or charges too much in rent or service charges, we can now very quickly impose an administrative fine.’ If the landlord repeatedly breaks the rules, the fine gets higher.

Repetition

But as the Woonbond argued earlier in UKrant, these rules don’t affect the landlord personally, only the situation in a specific property. So how does the municipality ensure that these landlords don’t repeat the same situation in ten of their other properties?

‘If someone is not a private landlord, but rather a corporate landlord with many properties, then we can issue other fines,’ says Niejenhuis.

For instance, according to the alderman, a corporate landlord could be fined 20,000 euros for a first mistake, with the next fine rising to 40,000 euros. ‘These are the kinds of amounts even landlords don’t like.’

Reports are vital

The municipality will publish the details of any landlord who is fined or subject to any other sanction, starting in July: like a ‘digital pillory’ where everyone can see which landlords have already made these mistakes.

Reports from tenants are vital to making this policy work, Niejenhuis argues.

‘Students can go to the Rent Support Centre or contact them by phone or digitally. Reports can also be made anonymously. The more reports we have, the more we can do. We need to be able to make a case that there’s a pattern with these landlords. The thicker the file, the easier we can impose fines or take other steps.’

Photos

The alderman understands that it’s difficult for students to file these reports. Nevertheless, he hopes they do, even if it is after the fact. ‘And that they have photos of poor maintenance or excessive rents, for example. These may be just the supporting evidence needed to tackle someone.’

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