Internationals & SSH

Rough living at the Kornoeljestraat

Break-ins, trashed possessions, leaks, a crappy elevator: residents at the international student building at the Kornoeljestraat are suffering. And how does their landlord, SSH, respond? ‘I haven’t received a maintenance report on that.’
By Koen Marée / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen / Photos by Reyer Boxem

On Friday morning, 2 February, a twenty-year-old resident at the international student building at the Kornoelsestraat does laundry on the ground floor. Suddenly, an unknown man approaches from behind and tries to grope her. The girl escapes; shocked residents call the police. The police hang a notice – in Dutch – asking residents for more information.

Ten days later, Ester Sainz is talking to a friend on the building’s seventh floor when she notices a man messing with the lock of the next hallway, where the victim lives. ‘We immediately ran to our rooms’, says Sainz. ‘We just knew it had to be the same guy.’

Homeless people, children playing, street vendors. They all seem to have a key to our building.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened here, says Spanish student Jorge Fuentas Gessa. ‘Homeless people, children playing, street vendors. It’s almost as though other people have a key to our building. And there are no security cameras.’


SSH, the organisation responsible for housing internationals in Groningen, sympathises with the girl. ‘It’s terrible that this happened to her’, says manager Jolien Stokroos. ‘We had the locks on her floor changed the next day.’

But the victim doubts this will actually deter intruders. ‘I don’t think it’s true that people are coming in using keys’, she says. ‘People often don’t close doors all the way, which allows intruders to follow students inside. Besides, we can’t replace the locks every time someone loses a key.’

But security cameras wouldn’t be such a bad idea, she says. Unfortunately, SSH isn’t authorised to hang them because they rent the building from Lefier, a building corporation that used to manage the location. There are still three residents in the building who rent directly from Lefier; without their permission, SSH can’t do anything. One of them refused to cooperate for privacy reasons.

We felt we had to stand up for our residents

‘It was a very unfortunate situation’, says Stokroos. ‘We are very unhappy that these three people are still living there. Lefier has tried everything to get them to move, but the rent protection laws are ironclad. If they don’t want to move, we can’t make them.’


After the events of 2 February, SSH had had enough. They arranged for a night guard and decided to hang cameras in all the public spaces anyway, except the bicycle shed. Miriam Neeleman is housing officer for SSH and responsible for the building: ‘We felt we had to stand up for our residents.’ The images recorded by the cameras can’t be accessed without a police order.


In addition to intruders, the building corporation also causes problems for residents at the Kornoeljestraat. Not long ago, they threatened students after receiving noise complaints, saying they would take steps to ‘end their studies’.

That’s not all. Jorge Gessa pays 389 euros in rent – a lot for one room. He never expected that Liefer’s maintenance company would overload the building’s electricity grid. A lot of electronic equipment was destroyed, and he has not been compensated for the damages. ‘My internet router and speakers have stopped working. I make a lot of music as an extracurricular activity; I need them to record. Some of my friends were hit even worse: their laptops or chargers are fried.’

Coffee grinders

He also didn’t expect to lose so many of his things when SSH announced they had hired a cleaning company to take care of the kitchen on his floor. ‘One Monday morning I saw the cleaning crew come in’, Gessa says. ‘They threw out all our coffee grinders.’

We’re the ones who have to live here, not SSH

Among the trashed kitchen items was a special grinder that a resident inherited from his grandmother. ‘My own cabinets were full, so I had put one of my pots, a new one, on top of the cabinets. They just threw it out. They even got rid of our own cleaning supplies.’

His roommate, Sainz, adds: ‘Two plates, a special Spanish pot, several full bottles of olive oil, spices. But I was particularly sorry for Gonzalo and his coffee grinder.’

SSH had put up warnings, but the pair still thinks the actions went too far. ‘Monday morning is a bad time to inspect the kitchens. Some of us have been away during the weekend, or gone out partying.’

The kitchen is normally quite tidy, Gessa says. ‘And in the end, we’re the ones who have to live here, not SSH.’

Bed bugs

On top of everything else, the building is in much worse condition than Gessa had expected. ‘In Spain, residences like these are much cheaper and in better condition, and they often come with a cafeteria. Here we have bed bugs, the seventh floor always has a puddle of water in the bathroom, and the place is drafty. The lift has no safety door.’

He walks to the lift to show how it stops moving when you lean against the outer doors. ‘Once we had to free a girl, because her scarf got caught in the lift shaft and she was almost hanged.’

Unfortunately, SSH can’t resolve every complaint. The power failure, for example, is Lefier’s responsibility. The housing organisation could only mediate between Lefier and the residents.

Neeleman: ‘I contacted the students who had come forward but who hadn’t yet received any remuneration in December. I once again asked them for receipts and proof of purchase. At a certain point the responsibility to provide the material lies with them. We need them to process the claims and pay them.’

We simply can’t do everything at once

The SSH has warned the residents about the state of the kitchen several times; bringing in professional cleaners was a necessary step. ‘The kitchen was a mess. Our house rules state that people can’t leave their personal items lying around and that they have to stick to the cleaning schedule. We’ve been more than accommodating, but they just weren’t listening’, says Neeleman.

House rules

Stokroos is not impressed by the residents’ criticism, either. ‘Our house rules leave no room for interpretation. If you truly valued your grandma’s coffee grinder, you would have put it away. And when it comes to the lack of room in the cabinets, there were plenty of opportunities to inform us of that.’

As for building maintenance, tenants should simply be patient. According to Stokroos, there is a multi-year plan in place for the upkeep of student flats. ‘Next year we’re planning on majorly renovating the building at the Winschoterdiep, and we simply can’t do everything at once. We’ll be spending a million euros on a building that we don’t even own. Hopefully we’ll be able to get to the Kornoeljestraat soon.’

And the lift? Stokroos is surprised that the residents haven’t come forward about this problem. ‘We’ll obviously be following up on it.’ Neeleman adds: ‘We’ll also follow up about the puddle of water in the bathroom: I haven’t received a maintenance report on that. It’s possible that it was brought up before and that it was fixed but the leak started again. We’ll take it under advisement.’

Foto Koen Marée



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