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The dark side of student hotels

In many cities in the Netherlands student hotels offer rooms, without taking the tenancy laws into account. These hotels take advantage of the shortage of student rooms, students’ rights advocates claim. The Dutch housing minister, however, refuses to intervene.

‘Students living in this kind of hotels pay enormous sums of rent, without any form of rent protection’, says Jarmo Berkhout, chair of the LSVb, a country-wide student lobby group that demands action against student hotels, a relatively new phenomenon in the Netherlands. These hotels offer rooms for a maximum of one year in Groningen (and other Dutch student cities as well). The type of contracts these hotels use do not take tenancy laws into account. The so called hotel permits they work with allow the landlord to enter rooms without permission and, even more serious, kick renters out in situations where this is forbidden under ordinary rent regulations.

Twice the reasonable rent
Houses with normal rent contracts usually have a price which is based on a point system that is set by the municipality. This is not the case with hotel permits. Several students who hold such a permit informed us that they pay a bigger sum for their room than Dutch students with a normal rent contract would do. It goes as far as twice or triple the amount which would be reasonable according to the point system. ‘Students are forced to pay these large sums of money, primarily because there are not enough rooms available’, says Martijn van Dalen, a law student who helps students in conflict with their landlord. ‘There is a shortage of student rooms in the Groningen city center and student hotels abuse this situation.’

The government of The Netherlands is not responsible to take this course of action and to enforce it

A couple of Dutch members of Parliament asked Stef Blok, the Dutch Minister of Housing, questions about this practice. In his response Blok declared last November that he will not intervene in contracts and prices of the student hotels. He wrote: ‘It is up to the renting committee and eventually to a judge to decide whether there is a normal renting situation – with a normal renting contract – and whether tenancy laws are infringed upon. The people who rent the room are responsible to go to the renting committee if they have a conflict with their landlord. If necessary they can take it up to the judge. However, the government of The Netherlands is not responsible to take this course of action and to enforce it.’ On the difference in the renting price, Minister Blok wrote: ‘It is up to the parties involved to make agreements on renting prices.’

Ignorance is the biggest problem
Christiaan Brinkhuis, chairman of the Groningen Students’ Union is not amused. ‘Minister Blok encourages a division on the housing market for students. Students have to be accommodated in decent housing with affordable prices but, above all, they should have the full rights. As there is a tremendous shortage of student housing, it is even more important that tenants are protected by law. The student hotels, however, introduce a state of lawlessness on the housing market. And our government thinks it’s fine. That’s a bloody shame.’

It would be useful to demand an English version of the contract and let somebody who is living in The Netherlands read it

According to Martijn van Dalen the biggest problem is ignorance. ‘Many international students know nothing about Dutch law. It is difficult because they do not know what the correct price–quality ratio is and what rights they have. It is important to make sure you understand the contract before you sign it. It would therefore be useful to demand an English version of the contract. It would also be useful to let somebody who is living in The Netherlands read it. There are a couple of bureaus in Groningen who can help out in case of conflicts with landlords. It can really save you an enormous amount of money and it may be an important financial decision. Some students are critical when they go out to eat and have to pay fifty euros. The same students, however, pay 4,000 for a room on a year’s basis. It is a pity that not many international students know about this.’

Useful websites (only in Dutch)