Conflicts between international students and their landlords have increased sharply since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Dutch national students’ union.
The Housing Hotline, an advisory service for international students, was contacted 480 times in the year to June 2020, compared to 180 times in the previous 12 months, its annual report found.
Some students were evicted for non-payment of rent, despite the government issuing a ‘moral appeal’ to landlords not to make people homeless during lockdown and allowing tenancies to be temporarily extended to July 31.
Others who had to leave the country or were unable to return to their studies were told to keep paying rent on their rooms in the Netherlands, or were unable to retrieve their possessions before they moved out.
One female student in Rotterdam was left without a place to live for two months after her landlord cancelled her contract and let the property to a new tenant. She was unable to find new accommodation before October 1.
The student union LSVb said the coronavirus lockdown had exacerbated the problems already faced by international students, who are vulnerable to exploitation by landlords because few of them know their rights as tenants.
International students currently make up 11.5% of the total university population, with nearly 90,000 people from 170 countries, but struggle to find affordable accommodation because they are unfamiliar with the system, have no social network or are unable to attend viewings. They also have to contend with an overall shortage of around 40,000 student accommodation units across the country.
Leiden tops list
Nearly three-quarters (72.5%) of the reports received by the Housing Hotline came from the four major cities and Leiden, with the prestigious university town topping the list with 143 complaints. Rotterdam was second with 93 reports, followed by The Hague with 76.
‘International students are at a disadvantage because of the pressure on the housing market and the fact they don’t speak Dutch,’ Lyle Muns, chair of the LSVb, told DutchNews.nl.
‘Landlords give them false information or put illegal clauses in their contracts, such as daily penalties if they’re late paying their rent. Some students have been unable to pay their rent because they’ve lost their jobs during the lockdown.’
LSVb has called for all local authorities to establish a specialist rental team to advise tenants and settle disputes between students and landlords. ‘We see that in cities where there is a rental team in place there are far fewer reports,’ said Muns.