A big housing shortage in Groningen has left many students in need of accommodation and some of them are falling prey to housing fraud.
This is what happens when you put together a small city, a big university attracting students from all over the world, few student accommodations, and a peculiar law limiting the number of allowed student houses in a street. Apparently, some estate agencies are taking advantage of such circumstances, making easy money out of downcast students.
According to Roderik de Haan, law consultant at Frently, an estate agency is only allowed to ask for fees when it is one of its agents that does the research, and solely after a deal is sealed. On the contrary, if the client finds the ad himself and then calls the agency to plan a visit, he is not supposed to be charged any money. As far as de Haan is concerned, students could eventually refuse to pay this fee. No legal action could be initiated by the agency as they would be in the wrong. Nevertheless, they are in such a strong position, considering the demand-offer state of imbalance that they can set the rules of the game. They are also well aware of the fact that international students are not familiar with the Dutch legislation, which does not seem perfectly clear on this matter.
Bo Schipper, from the legal consultancy firm Steunpunt Bemiddelingskosten, has a different opinion on the matter: “It is not illegal to ask for a fee before a place is found. This is called contractual freedom and leaves the parties free to ask for fees.” However, he does point out that, “The agency needs grounds on which to base this fee. This could, for example, be an assignment to search for a room, or security in case you find something yourself in the middle of their search.”
A popular way in which agencies ask for this fee is by registration. According to Schipper, registration is like an agreement. However, there does not seem to be any guarantee that accommodation will be found within a specific amount of time. The Spoke addressed such questions to several estate agencies, but they declined to comment.
According to de Haan, the uncertainty over the agency-client relation here in the Netherlands “is a huge problem. It should be a matter of the Government”