Renting a room that doesn’t exist

Once again, students are being conned into renting rooms that don’t exist. When they arrive and find the room occupied or non-existent, they’re out a considerable chunk of change and, much worse, they’re homeless.

Avoid being conned

The University relies on the Housing Office to provide safe housing for students: in the Getting Started’ guide, available as a pdf on the RUG site, there is a step-by-step explanation of how to find housing through the Housing Office. However, it offers no advice about what students should do if they can’t find a room through the HO and includes no warning about scams.

The Housing Office warns students on their Facebook page about past cases and international student organization ESN has a prominent warning on their Housing info page as well. Additionally, students should double check the Meldpunt Kamerverhuur website – in Dutch – which is a blacklist for rental scams that publishes email addresses and Facebook accounts associated with untrustworthy offers.

A young woman from Latin America approached the police at the information market for international students three weeks ago. ‘She was really distraught’, recalls student police agent Matthijs Beukema.

When she came to the address of what was supposed to be her student room, she discovered a family living there. It was a room she had paid 1,100 euros to a supposed renter online to secure, and she was left with nothing. When she realized what had happened, she was so upset that she just wanted to turn around and go home, according to Beukema.

One case is too many

So far, Beukema only knows of one other case this year, which was a Dutch girl who was moving to Amsterdam to start a master’s degree after finishing her bachelors in Groningen and became suspicious of the offer before any money was transferred.

Beukema thinks it’s possible that there could be more students who haven’t reported their problems with housing. ‘Even one case is still too many, though,’ Beukema says.

It happened before

It has happened before. Last year, a landlord scammed a Polish student out of 950 euros for a room on the Oosterstraat that didn’t exist. Beukema thinks it’s likely that both cases this year are related and could easily be a part of a network of fraudulent renters who target students online, particularly those coming from abroad.

Considering that hundreds of students still have to find a room on their own once the Housing Office runs out of places, the odds are good that more and more students will be preyed upon in this manner.

The foreign student’s case is being processed, but she has a lot of leads for the police to follow. ‘She had contact via email and she transferred the money, so there’s a bank account involved and those are connections that we can check that could lead to a suspect’, Beukema says.


But what does the university do to warn students about this? Before they arrive in Groningen, international students are sent a link to the ‘accommodation‘ section of the RUG website – which includes an entire section warning students about how to recognize suspicious housing listings.

According to Jan Wolthuis, a staff official for Education & Students, there isn’t much else the university can do. Wolthuis also points out that it is Dutch national policy that universities are not formally responsible for accommodating students. ‘We do regret that students are treated in such a way, but that’s a matter of the police’, he says.

Housing office

‘The general policy is that we refer students to the Housing Office. This is an organization that deals with accommodation for international students specifically’, Wolthuis says.

Student have to be vigilant. ‘In general, you should be very careful about who you do business with and you should never make a payment from abroad’, Beukema says.