di PandDam e Mihaela Breabin
Numbers released by Statistics Netherlands revealed that, in 2018, the number of foreigners who registered at a Dutch municipality exceeded the number of people who left by 69.5 thousand. In 2018, between January and March, 186 thousand immigrants moved to the Netherlands; 4.5k more than during the same period in 2017. Amsterdam is known to be a truly liberal city, tolerant, welcoming and with a high quality of life that is why the number of foreigners settling here is not likely to decrease anytime soon. The result? A huge and unprecedented housing crisis, one which is forcing people to pay fortunes and live in unbearable conditions. Here are some of their stories.
A room in Amsterdam? Bye bye rights
Jerika is an American expat. She still vividly remembers the racist reaction of her landlady when she revealed her boyfriend was Romanian: “I’m telling you right now: his whole family and him can’t come to live here”, Jerika recalls haveing heard from the woman. Not willing to cope with such an attitude, the couple moved to a new accommodation: a jail cell in the former Bijmer prison that Jerike describes as “the size of a bathroom”. Yes, a cell. Bijmer prison was permanently closed in 2016 and turned into a temporary housing project. Not really the sweetest memory of her life: to protect their food from being stolen, her roommates and her appointed ‘a watchdog’ to stay up all night and patrol the common rooms. At least 3 to 4 times per week, the fire alarm would go off in the middle of the night because of people smoking weed. What’s the damage for it? Monthly rent, exclusive, was 420 euros per month. The situation became unbearable and the couple felt lost in despair: “We are both PhD students, none of us has criminal records; 90% of the places would just say ‘no internationals’ or ‘no students’”. What to do, now? They only people who replied to their posts, offering share a room with them was a woning group for nudists.
Jessi experience is pretty similar: her boyfriend and her live in an anti-kraak (anti-squat) accommodation: tenants pay a price to special real estates whose aim is to fill vacant building before squatters do. Rent is way cheaper compare to market price but it comes however at the expense of many of your rights: “we have no rights here, and we do not have heating or hot water, as it broke down and they are not obliged to fix it”. On a reverse charge dynamic, you end up working for the owner, as you replace the surveillance company but you don’t just work for free: you pay for it.
House hunters go through unmeasurable struggles looking on the internet for a roof to put on their head. Top issue is the sky high monthly rent, but also the unrealistic income requirements. Agencies ask for one month rent as a non-refundable service fee, which is illegal, and some landlords ask for 2 or even 3 months rent as deposit. A deposit to which they hold on savagely once the contract expires. There is a more disturbing trend: often internationals get discriminated on the housing market because of their nationalities. Some landlords, many room hunters say, tell Slovak, Greek and Romanian that they are “too poor to afford a room in Amsterdam”. Males admit that many landlords prefer females, and sometimes those who don’t smoke weed or drink alcohol are rejected from student flats because potential flatmates considered them antisocial.
Desperation, frustration and loss of hope are some of the most tangible feelings that room hunters are overwhelmed by. However, for some of them the psychological draining continues even after finding an accommodation. Alex remembers the night his landlord threatened to kick him out the very next morning for smoking a cigarette outside the window: “That night, sleeping alone on that bare mattress, was one of the longest of my life. Having absolutely no idea whether I would have a home in the morning. It was genuinely scares. I felt at his mercy and didn’t know what to do”. Despite multiple apologies, Alex ended up losing his accommodation.
In more extreme circumstances, emotional harassment is present in the daily life of the tenants. A current renter in Amsterdam, who asked not be named, copes with this abuse every second: “I am being paid to be a caretaker of the house and also a listener; this situation makes me waste a crazy amount of time (2/3h daily) and I do not feel that it is representing a good situation for my own mental health and career”.
Another current renter in Amsterdam, who also doesn’t want to be named, remembers sexual intimidation from her landlord, who was living in the apartment. He would make inappropriate comments about her body and soon she realised she and her flatmate had no lock on her door. “He entered our rooms without permission or sublet them without permission while we were gone for the weekend. “In return for a discount on the rent, I had to clean the whole house every day’”. This ‘discount’, she says, was because he was attracted by her.
Struggles with registration
One more common complaint from the flat hunters in Amsterdam is that landlords, often, do not give them the chance to register: according to the municipality rules, you have up to 4 months to register. Registration number is crucial if you want to work, have a Dutch health insurance or a Dutch bank account in the Netherlands. As grotesque as it might sound the tenants, those who wish to register, but can’t, are the ones who risk to be fine.
Jerika’s recalls having approached several times the gemeente asking for help but the results has been a fine of around 315 euros, actually the amount of money landlords ask to have an extra person registered on their address. The costs of not being registered are high, as in Jerika’s case: “I had to cancel a work contract because it required me be registered to a Dutch address, but there is nowhere to rent where you can register. It’s absolutely impossible”, she says.
In this jungle, budget tenants have no much choice but turning to the black market: many pay -illegally- extra fees to register to an address where they don’t live. To be in the place to be, Amsterdam, people is ready to adapt to anything to find a place to sleep: A renter whose anonymity will be kept remembers sleeping on the floor of her friend’s tiny attic during her first 6 months in Amsterdam. She eventually found a place with registration, but the situation these wasn’t much brighter: “my gay friend and I pretended to be a couple for a year to the landlord. We made a deal where I slept in the bedroom area with the en suite bathroom, he slept in the living room where the kitchen was, and we illegally sublet the small box room to a friend for 1 year”.
What do landlords think?
Amid frustration, most of the blame is put on the landlords. However, from a landlord’s perspective, they are not having it easy either. Marnix is a Dutch landlord. He speaks about the ‘verkamering’ rules: now, a landlord can only rent a place to two individual (non-related) tenants, regardless of the size of the house. Before the city enforced that rule, a 100 m2 place could be rented out up to 6 independent house-hunters. However, he adds, this policy has proven to be troublesome and authorities are working on a new one.
In terms of pricing, Marnix disagrees that rental prices are crazy. According to him, “I don’t mean it is not a lot of money, but in terms of percentages it is not such a great investment. For example, if a landlord owns a house that worths 500.000 euros and charges 800 euros per room (excluding electricity, internet, water and gas) then he earns 800*2*12= 19200 euros a year. Off taxes (VvE costs and the city taxes ) the income from a property is just about 15.000 euros. That’s roughly a 3% return. In the Netherlands, you have to pay around 1.5% wealth tax every year so that leaves a landlord with 1.5% ‘profit’. That’s not much for all the hassle and work”.
Magdalena, also a landlord in the Netherlands, agrees with Marnix: “Yes, we earn money by renting out our properties, but please keep in mind that it is a job like any other, in a heavily regulated environment, where tenants have strong rights, and profit share range between 0.5% to 2% for Buy to Rent investments”.