In Amsterdam, most rents are capped, revenge evictions illegal and affordable housing quotas are enforced

All this and you get a canal, too. Image: Patrick Clenet/Wikimedia Commons.

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.

 
 
 
 

Transport for London has banned short term letting ads

STILL no idea. Image: Generation Rent.

Back in June, Generation Rent won a moral victory. After 8,000 londoners signed an online petition, we were able to force short terms lets company Hostmaker to pull down their offensive adverts, which encouraged landlords to kick out their tenants.

But it wasn’t just Hostmaker that was at it. Rival firm Nestify launched a campaign of disgusting adverts, which used almost the exact same messaging and data analysis as Hostmaker to send the same message: landlords, ditch your tenants. It felt like where one dodgy ad was defeated, another popped its ugly head to replace it.

But this week we’ve got cause to celebrate again. Behind the scenes, we’ve been working on going one step further – and now Transport for London has announced brand new guidelines banning all short term let adverts. 

The new policy, which can be found here, states that any adverts seen to do the following would be banned from the network:

  • imply that removing properties from the private rental market for other rental purposes, such as short term lets to tourists, can be financially or materially advantageous to property owners;
  • promote companies or services which appear to rely on property owners removing their properties from the private rented sector; 
  • appear to conflate short term lets with lettings in the private rented sector – the type of lettings the advert is promoting should be unambiguous;
  • advertise services for both types of lettings;
  • Use phrases or terms associated with short term lets where they are ostensibly advertising services relating to lettings in the private rented sector, or vice versa.

So what’s the problem with short term let advertising? Well, besides the obvious incitement to evict your tenants to make more money, the short term let industry has been notoriously hard to regulate in large cities like London. Whilst the capital has a ban on renting out your home for holiday lets longer than 90 days, Hostmaker was caught out in February deliberately trying to break the 90 day limit on short term lets. And in a city like London with sky high rents and more people than ever living in cramped house shares, it’s crucial that long term homes are available for all.

It feels nice to be right…

Georgie Laming is a campaigner at Generation Rent, which represents 11 millions renters across the UK.