Amsterdam city council has pledged to review huge fines handed out to citizens for making innocent mistakes in holiday rentals.
At a council meeting attended by two dozen members of the public who run holiday rentals, the new head of housing Zita Pels said that the city would re-think its policy on punitive fines for first-time offenders.
In the meantime, she said, contested fines will be frozen while she investigates the legal position around reversing penalties deemed unfair. Around 30 Amsterdammers have contacted the Amsterdam ombudsman, reporting huge fines for what they say are small administrative errors that did not gain them any advantage – for example, making a mistake with their registration number or forgetting to report one stay.
Father-of-two Johan Biesjot, who is contesting an €11,600 fine for failing to report a single week of holiday rental which netted him €550 in 2020, told the city council that this was not just about sleepless nights for individuals. ‘Unsuspecting citizens who have to pay huge amounts that completely break them because of small errors,’ he said. ‘What does this remind you of? Today, the victims of Amsterdam’s own childcare benefits affair have a face.
‘I am one of the victims of an excessive policy against housing fraud that about five years ago was meant to combat illegal hotels and permanent rental. But instead, which has only plunged normal, well-meaning Amsterdammers into the abyss and caused them sleepless nights.’
Fan Verhallen, artistic head of an organisation that makes theatre with children and young people from less privileged backgrounds, said that she was not a shark-like ‘house milker’, but a foster mother facing an €11,600 fine she could not pay for renting out her house while she was away. ‘€11,600 is five months of my salary, almost half a year in working down the drain because I made two administrative errors. I can’t pay it, not even in 12 monthly installments.’
She said that the city’s policy was too rigid and lacked humanity. ‘You are just a case, and not a person, who has made a human mistake,’ she said. ‘If a fisherman catches dolfins in the net, we call that bycatch. We are the bycatch of this policy…So do not say that this policy is a success while alarm bells are going off all around.’
Rogier Havelaar, council representative for the CDA, said that his party last year proposed following a system in Utrecht where first-time mistakes received a fine of several hundred euros, before larger fines were handed out. He told the council: ‘The way the council deals with Amsterdammers is simply scandalous…and as many people know, the CDA warned about precisely this situation six months ago. But after harsh policy from the previous coalition, it seems as though empathy has returned to the Stopera [city hall].’
Representatives from D66, the VVD, DENK, and Bij1 parties also expressed their concern about the apparent lack of ‘humanity’. Maarten Bruinsma, chairman of a group representing bed and breakfast owners, Amsterdam Gastvrij, said that a new council was a chance to ‘correct faults and get runaway policy back on the rails’.
He told the council that in the joint effort to control rampant tourism and nuisance ‘the human dimension has been completely forgotten.’
Pels, who was last week named as the new head of housing, pledged to rethink the policy, freeze fines – without interest – while further investigation is done, and take a new approach. ‘Your stories have really touched me,’ she said. ‘You have seen very little empathy from the municipality, but you will see some from me.’
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