Renters in the Netherlands are some of the most protected tenants in the world: most rents are capped, revenge evictions are illegal, affordable housing quotas are enforced. While renters in the UK are filling holes in their ceilings with chewed-up paper, Dutch renters are settling down for a friendly chat with their government supplied housing lawyers. It’s a utopia.
But of course, it isn’t, really. And once I’ve finished spaffing on about all the Dutch laws the UK should adopt, I’ll explain the loophole that is making the whole thing fall apart.
The Netherlands is truly committed to affordable housing
Nearly 50 per cent of the housing in Amsterdam is social rented housing, managed by housing associations and the government. Nearly half.
And it gets better: by 2020, 30 per cent of new builds are going to be social housing. Low income families can live near to the city centre, neighbourhoods retain a diverse mix of people and they’ve neatly sidestepped the ghost towns currently populating France..
Rents are capped on a points system
The Dutch system assigns a certain number of points to each property in the social rented sector, which determines how much rent you have to pay. It’s based on things like number of windows, storage space, and how high up the apartment is.
What this means is that the property's owners can’t make surface changes to an apartment, and then use them to justify hiking the rent. If a tenant moves into an apartment and realises they are paying too much based on the point system, they can also claim the excess rent back.
(Editor's note: It's been brought to our attention that there are properties in the private rental sector which aren't subject to this cap. But a) this liberalisation only applies to the largest and most expensive properties, and b) the social rented sector makes up around three-quarters of all Dutch rental homes, anyway.)
There are no revenge evictions
The only ways a Dutch landlord can evict a tenant is if they have multiple, police registered, noise complaints from the neighbours, or if they are demonstrably damaging the apartment.
The only exceptions are if the landlord suddenly needs to move back into the property (that still needs to go through the courts, and they have to live there for one year after the tenants leave); or if the landlord registered the tenancy as a short term rental before the tenants moved in. A short term rental can only be registered if the landlord is actively trying to sell the property; the tenants must be informed of this before they move in.
There’s free legal support for tenants
Wijksteunpunt Wonen is a government funded organisation that provides free legal advice to tenants. That includes filing charges on their behalf, subsidising any legal fees and negotiating with the landlord.
When it comes to housing, the Dutch have a cheery little saying that
“Expats are the suckers of the world”, so WW is particularly good at helping non-Dutch speakers navigate the intricacy of Dutch law. The current housing slump has seen a lot of landlords attempting to squeeze ever more income out of the one bed apartments they bought in their 20s, only to be told by WW that they have to reimburse the tenants.
Now for the bad news.
Estate agents suck
Estate agents in The Netherlands occupy the same position that they do in the UK. They are the middle men, and landlords are increasingly relying on estate agents to rent their homes in an attempt to simplify the process.
What many landlords don’t realise is that, when they hand over their properties to estate agents, they are basically allowing them to hold tenants hostage. Estate agents will often not disclose to tenants that a property is a short-term let – because they still get their signing fee, even if the tenant ends up taking the landlord to court.
Speaking of signing fees, one of the great things about the Netherlands is that only one party has to pay an estate agents fee; most of the time that’s the landlord. If the tenant finds the property themselves (online, say), then they don’t have to pay as the estate agent hasn’t done anything for them, other than maybe turn up at a building and open a door.
But – there is no law in place to stop estate agents blocking communication between tenants and landlords. And some tell tenants that they have to pay fees that can run into the thousands of euros, if they want the landlords to know they’re interested in renting an apartment.
This effectively prices lower income tenants out of certain neighbourhoods as relatively few people can afford to be blackmailed at €1,000+ a pop.
There are many, many, many good things about Dutch housing law that the UK could learn from, starting with Wijksteunpunt Wonen. But until the Netherlands passes laws to keep estate agents in line, tenants will still be vulnerable to exploitation.
This article was amended on 13 March 2015 to clarify that some private properties are outside the rent capping system.