Students who rent a room often have a contract for one year or another set period of time. This way, the landlord secures rental incomes without being bound by a long-term agreement. But what if the student wants to leave early?
Dutch landlords who sublet student rooms are burdening students with unlawful tenancy agreements, tenants association Woonbond told newspaper Trouw. Since 1 July 2016, it is possible to set up a contract for a maximum period of two years (in case of an independent home) or five years (in case of a student room). The tenancy agreements offered to foreign students often state that they cannot terminate the contract early, but, according to the Woonbond, such agreements are against the law.
International students who decide to return to Germany or Brazil after two or three months understandably want to terminate their rental agreement at immediate notice. But if they do, landlords are stuck with empty rooms which they can’t find a new tenant for. These rooms are often specifically furnished and reserved for foreign students.
So what exactly are the rules? In order to find out, we take a look at what the law says, we consult the Dutch government’s website Rijksoverheid.nl, and we speak to local legal aid center Rechtswinkel Tilburg. As it turns out, temporary housing contracts are particularly convenient for landlords. “In the past, the landlord couldn’t force you to leave”, says Jos van Roestel, a former civil law teacher at Tilburg University and currently employed by Rechtswinkel Tilburg as a team leader. “Now, they’re not stuck with the tenant after the term of the contract has ended.”
When a new law is implemented, it is often not immediately clear what the new law means in practice. According to Van Roestel, Rechtswinkel Tilburg hasn’t been contacted by students who have had problems regarding the new law, but it was brought into force less than a year ago. “The first cases could be expected to emerge around this time, because rental agreements often have a one-year term.”
“You want your tenant to stay as long as possible, so that you have certainty”
As coincidence would have it, there was a discussion about it at Rechtswinkel Tilburg just this morning. Can you terminate a temporary housing contract early? That doesn’t seem instantaneously logical. Van Roestel: “The landlord invests in finding a tenant, in order to generate a certain profit.” If a tenant leaves early, it quickly becomes an unprofitable undertaking.”
Nevertheless, the website of the government is very clear about it: the landlord cannot terminate the agreement early. The tenant can, taking into account the notice period. The notice period generally equals the payment period, which is usually one month. There are other rules for homes specifically intended for a certain tenant group, such as students. But even then, the law says that terminating the contract early is possible within the notice period. In addition, article 7:271 section 7 BW of the law states that you cannot forbid tenants to terminate the contract. If such an agreement is taken up in the contract, it is simply not valid.
A judge is still to rule on the conflict between the tenant association and the landlords, but it seems safe to conclude that the ruling may be unfavorable for the landlords. Unless the court’s decision strongly deviates from the law, which is highly unlikely, students are allowed to terminate their housing contract early – even if they have a temporary agreement. Although the new housing law seemed to benefit landlords, their advantage doesn’t seem to hold up after all. Ardin Mourik, the director of the organization for student housing providers, is preparing for the worst, Trouw reports: “Housing corporations won’t be able to guarantee rooms, and it will be uncertain where foreign students will be able to live.”
Why the landlords don’t just admit their wrong? Rechtswinkel team leader Jeroen Jaspers of the department Consumer and Housing smiles: “I wouldn’t either, if I were them. You want your tenant to stay as long as possible, so that you have certainty. And I can imagine that there is some unclarity. I have read the explanatory memorandum to this law, and, at the time, you weren’t supposed to terminate a temporary housing contract. But when I read the law now, that does seem to be possible.”
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