Each year thousands of students are looking for a room in Groningen. Some find it at the first try, but most students have to make a big effort. Just like Maria, Pedro and Laura, who are fed up with the housing misery.
‘A day after I was accepted by the University of Groningen, I signed in at Kamernet’, Maria (25) says. ‘I started to look for any kind of housing, on Facebook, or anywhere else on the internet.’ Maria, a future master student from Greece, is looking for a room in Groningen for some months now.
‘Today it’s 4 August, and I still don’t have a roof over my head. I have sent over 180 messages through Kamernet. I have lost count of all the automated answers and rejection messages. Up until now I have already paid two monthly subscriptions, and on 6 August, I will have to pay again.’ So far, Maria has managed to do two online viewings.
‘There were a few more landlords that showed interest, but once I asked them for an online viewing, they backed down. They didn’t tell why. Meanwhile I have been monitoring all new announcements on Facebook groups for over a month, sending tons of mails. I have been re-reserving a room on At Home in Groningen, which looks like a ghost page, since nobody has answered me even once.’
Maria doesn’t put all eggs in one basket. She visits pages like Funda, Pararius, SSH, Room, Roomwise, moymoy, and other private real estate agent sites.
‘Everything ran into a dead end. No, I’m not picky at all, I just have a budget limit. Like everyone else has, I guess. Looking for a room is depressing. I will not tire you with encounters with the endless series of scammers that linger on Facebook.’
No, I’m not picky at all, I just have a budget limit
‘Searching for a place this year has been absolute hell’, says Pedro from Portugal, who is about to start his studies in Economics and Business Economics.
‘First I had to wait until the end of June for my first year’s grades, these showed that I indeed passed. Therefore I only had two months to find housing. The university’s website states that you should start searching five months before you start your studies. So, those who aren’t certain about their stay in Groningen already are at a disadvantage. But, let’s say you actually do begin five months before the first semester begins. Then you will find little to no advertisements at all, since it will still take three to four months before most rooms will be vacant. Students will not pack their bags before they are certain of leaving Groningen.’
Laura from Lisbon has similar experiences as Maria and Pedro.
‘In May 2021, as soon as I found out I got accepted for my master’s degree in marketing management at the University of Groningen, I started to look for accommodation’, the 23 year old says.
‘I did some online research and tried to get into the SSH residences, but all rooms were rented. I also came across a few Facebook groups, but I soon realized how inefficient and dangerous they are. There are next to 30 thousand people in those groups, a number which makes it almost impossible to find a place. These groups are targeted by lots of scammers that try to persuade desperate students with fake rooms. A few of them are very easy to spot, but some of them are really cunning. Their goal is to make you pay the rent in advance. To accomplish this they even use videos and contracts, they are scarily good at it.’
After these unpleasant experiences Laura signed up to Kamernet. She paid the subscription fee, but the offer was very little compared to the amount of people looking for a place to stay.
‘I replied to over 200 ads’, Laura says, ‘in the very little responses I got, landlords told me they did not accept me because I was not Dutch or did not speak the language.’
Whether you manage to find a place or not: you already have to pay a fixed amount
If it is that difficult, what do you do to not lose hope?
‘Online sites are effectively the best way to find a place’, Pedro thinks. ‘The ones gathered from searching rooms for rent in Groningen on your browser certainly are.’ Nevertheless, there’s a catch, he warns. ‘One that explains why you can go insane. If you find an advertisement you like and you want to send the landlord a direct message, you have to pay a fee. Really, you pay let’s say 30 Euros for the service to write to the owners. That’s right, whether you manage to find a place or not: you already have to pay a fixed amount. If you don’t receive a reply, that money is gone.’
Pedro’s favourite part is the moment ‘where capitalism settles in nice and good’, as he puts it with undisguised sarcasm.
‘These sites compete with each other. So you may have to find yourself paying multiple sites just to be able to introduce yourself to potential landlords. Well, spending double the money does not mean you will double your chances. You wish, some advertisements are just for Dutch or just for girls. Other ones send you to real estate companies, defeating the entire point of paying the site in the first place. Delicious, isn’t it?’, he chuckles.
‘And do not worry, there is also that occasional scammer. And this goes on and on, until you give up, and go to Facebook to find friendlier free room advertisements groups where you can get lucky for free, or just complain with others in the same situation. But remember, you might also end up in a tent.’
It is easier to be admitted to the university than to find accommodation
‘Has anyone thought of how time consuming this is?’, Maria wonders. ‘Are we obligated to spend 24 hours a day in front of the laptop, to send messages before anyone else does? Really? Until the end of July I was still working, so what should I have done? Leave my job to send messages all day? Looking for a room in Groningen is more than frustrating or disappointing. What sort of welcoming experience for internationals is this? I honestly understand that landlords and roommates have a certain amount of messages to take into consideration. I also grasp they have a specific kind of person in their minds to rent their place to. But it feels like standards for a roommate have gotten so high, that it is easier to be admitted to the university than to find accommodation. All that experience of having to prove yourself as the perfectly balanced person, who is extrovert but not clingy, young enough but not too old, easy going but neat, interesting but not weirdo, with pockets full of money to rent the room months in advance…’
‘To be honest, I cannot really be mad at simple private owners. They can do whatever they want with their property. I think it’s the university’s obligation to have enough rooms to fit all these international students who are looking for a room in Groningen. I have already heard of people who consider dropping out. Others plan to change Noorderplantsoen into a camping site for homeless students.’