You have found a room, congratulations! Perhaps it is a glorified cupboard, or a drafty attic full of mice. Or maybe you’ve found a nice room in a clean house with great roommates, or even some fancy place the size of a ballroom. But what exactly have you signed up for? What does the lease agreement actually say? If you’re not careful, you could end up paying a lot more than you should. Univers asked Jeroen Jaspers of the Rechtswinkel Tilburg for his best tips when renting a room.
1 Know what you are signing up for
Rooms come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s also true for landlords and the leases they use. You can be sure of one thing: if there is something wrong with the lease agreement (excessive rents, unreasonable fines or strange provisions), it will usually turn out negatively for you, the tenant. That’s why it can be worthwhile to have your lease agreement checked for free by the Rechtswinkel or Juridisch Loket.
Make sure you’re well-informed about the content of the lease. Landlords sometimes work with notice periods that are too long, or they say that you cannot cancel at all. That might not be in accordance with legal regulations, or perhaps other things in your rental agreement are not as they should be. Avoid problems and ambiguities and have your rental agreement checked in advance.
2 Beware of shady landlords and rooms with pre-existing issues
Make sure you are dealing with a reliable landlord. Be especially alert if you are dealing directly with a private landlord. View the room and chat with other residents if possible. Also, have the rental contract checked in advance. If the landlord makes it difficult for you to view the property or wants you to sign the lease on the spot, there could be something wrong. Don’t be too quick to accept thinking that you’ll at least have a place to stay. You can end up going from a bad situation to one that is worse. Searching for a little longer is always better than overpaying, living in a bug-infested house, or having a shady landlord constantly show up in your room uninvited.
A student wanted to rent a room with her boyfriend. When they viewed the room, it was being renovated and so the walls were covered with garbage bags to protect them from paint splatters. She paid the first month’s rent and the deposit. But when she and her boyfriend wanted to move in, the room turned out to have a number of pre-existing issues. There was a large hole in the ceiling, there were cracks in the walls, and it was infested with mice. They canceled their lease the same day. Fortunately, this landlord realized that the property could not be rented in such a condition. He refunded the payments the student and her boyfriend had previously made.
3 Go against all Instagram norms: photograph what is wrong
Once you’ve found a room, its cracks, dents, holes or other potential issues may not be the first thing you are thinking about. You’re probably already decorating the place in your mind. But keep in mind to always take photos of any damages or maintenance issues you find before you sign your rental agreement (and also when you end it). This way, you can prevent problems over getting back your deposit when you leave.
It is wise to inspect the property together with the landlord. When something is wrong, report it immediately. One student who found a crack in his sink could not prove that it was already there when he accepted his room. As a result, he lost part of his deposit money at the end of his lease.
4 What should I really be paying?
Do a rental price check. Room prices can be assessed according to an official points system. Based on size, facilities and other pluses and minuses, your room receives a score which determines the maximum rent. When the rent is too high for a room like yours, you can request a reduction from the Huurcommissie (Rent Committee). An assessment costs 25 euros.
A student paid a hefty rent for a small room. Through the rental price check, he found out that his rent should be much lower. However, the landlord did not agree to a rent reduction. The student consulted the Rent Committee and submitted a request to adjust the rent. The Rent Committee assessed the room and determined that the rent was indeed too high. The rent was lowered accordingly.
5 I'll see you in court
The Huurcommissie does not only assess the fairness rental prices, it can also give an opinion on other matters related to renting, such as service costs, utility costs and maintenance. Unfortunately, its rulings are not binding. So you are dependent on the decency of your landlord to follow the rulings by the Huurcommissie. If your landlord decides to ignore them, you can take it to court. For things like ‘aanhuurkosten’ (rental costs) and contract costs, or whatever the intermediary offices and landlords call such costs, you should go to court directly.
A student found a room through the internet. To qualify for this, he had to contact a brokerage firm. Before the student could sign a lease, he had to pay 500 euros in ‘rental costs’. The student really needed the room and paid for it. Later in proceedings the subdistrict court judge ruled in his favor, and he recovered the costs.
6 When sharing a flat or house
Sometimes, a property is rented out in its entirety to a group of residents, one of whom is the main tenant. In such a case, the other tenants may not enjoy rental protection. Moreover, it could be that if one of the tenants leaves, everyone must sign a new contract. Sometimes, landlords use a construction like this to implement rent increases. Even if you rent together with a close group of friends, separate contracts for each tenant are always better.
Five students who lived together in one student house shared their utility meter with a store next door. It was probable that the store used up much more electricity and gas than the residents of the student house. Nevertheless, the landlord charged the student house much more. When they complained about this, the landlord threatened to kick them out, even though a landlord must provide a transparant calculation of the utility costs.
Illustrations: Jeroen de Leijer
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