Antikraak: Cheap rent in exchange for being a live-in guardian
Renting a property in the Netherlands does not come without its challenges. There are many people on the waiting list for affordable housing, which in popular cities like Amsterdam, can take as long as 15 years to come by. On the other hand, rental agencies in the free sector often charge too much.
As a proposed solution that began as early as the 90s in the Netherlands, agencies that specifically deal with managing vacant properties began to surface.
With the rise of the current housing crisis, these agencies are growing in popularity across Europe. Countries like the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Belgium, France and Germany have already seen a sharp rise in the number of agencies collaborating with governments and housing associations.
What is Antikraak?
Antikraak (anti-squatting) known more commonly in the UK as live-in guardians, is an initiative to protect vacant and idle properties until the future of the property has been decided.
The initiative is set up to be mutually beneficial. People who are unable to find a house or a workspace in today’s competitive market are given the opportunity to move into vacant spaces temporarily for a fraction of the price, and by doing so, prevent those spaces from being squatted, broken into, vandalised or even from deteriorating due to neglect.
How did Antikraak start?
It is believed that if you abandon or box up a property, then the livability and safety of the property and its neighbourhood will deteriorate due to an increase in street gangs and crimes, drug dealing and prostitution, not to mention the risk of squatters moving in.
That is why in 2008, three political parties called the CDA, ChristenUnie and the VVD began working on a new bill to criminalise squatting and in turn deal with the issue of vacant properties called the Kraken en Leegstand Wet (Squatting and Vacant Law).
The bill stated that if a property had been idle for more than six months, the landlord and the government needed to discuss the situation in collaboration with anti-squatting agencies to find a tenant for the property.
In October 2009, the Dutch parliament (Tweede Kamer) voted in favour of the law, and in 2010, the Kraakverbod (Squatting Ban) came into effect.
How Antikraak works?
The way Antikraak works is that a property owner hires an anti-squatting agency, which then seeks residents willing to occupy the property temporarily and "guard" or look after it until the owner decides what he or she wants to do with it.
Properties can include anything from a proper house to an office block, a farm or even an old school building. It is possible to have a place to yourself or to share a larger premises with a group of people.
The cost of such properties is generally low; between approximately 80 - 350 euros per month depending on whether it is for living or working, the size, area and so on, and thus is an attractive proposition for students, artists, young professionals, or entrepreneurs that have just launched their start-up.
The terms and conditions
The temporary residency does not come without strict rules, however. The occupants who take on an Antikraak have far fewer rights than those who sign a rental agreement with strict protection laws (Huurbescherming). This is because they sign a Bruikleencontract (Use/Loan Agreement), which allows them to "use" the space for a limited time period of up to five years maximum.
Each person considering Antikraak must attend an interview so that the agency can determine whether they feel you are a responsible and honest individual. Once you are successful there are several other points to take into consideration.
› Notice period
The anti-squatting agency can terminate the agreement at any time without a valid reason, provided they give 14 to 28 days notice, depending on the agency.
Similarly, if the live-in guardian decides the space is not what they expected and they decide they want to leave early, they are also entitled to giving a short notice of the same period.
Once entering an agreement with an anti-squatting agency, it is common not to be given an exact move out date. This could be, for example, because they are waiting for planning permission to renovate the property.
Anti-squatting agencies do, however, claim that they will do whatever they can to assist in rehousing those who have been given notice to leave. This, of course, will depend on how well you looked after the property, whether you were on time with payments and whether there were any complaints from neighbours.
› Looking after the space
The Bruikleencontract will often state that those occupying the property are subject to various strict rules and procedures, which they are, contractually, not allowed to protest against.
These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Occupants are not allowed to have parties or BBQs
- Occupants are not allowed to take class B or C drugs when on the premises
- Occupants cannot make any structural changes to the property
- Occupants may not take up contact with the landlord that owns the property
- Occupants may not contact the press without permission from the agency
- Occupants cannot leave the property for more than three nights at a time
- Occupants are also not allowed to have overnight guests
- Occupants must notify the anti-squatting agency if they go on holiday so they can find another occupant for the time you will be away
› No child policy
Due to the nature of some of the properties, children are not allowed on the premises. This means that if a woman occupying a property gets pregnant, her agreement can be terminated.
› Unannounced inspections
Another clause of the contract is that occupants must consent to unannounced inspections. This means that the anti-squatting agency reserves the right to have a key to the property and may drop by to inspect the space at any time, though they do not often visit more than once or twice a month, and in some cases, not at all.
This can cause concern for a lack of privacy though, particularly as agencies may leave notes behind if they feel the property is not being looked after well enough. Usually, the agency will give you three warnings, after which they reserve the right to end the contract.
The ambiguity of what you are paying for
The reason Antikraak is much cheaper than renting is because legally speaking, those residing in the vacant buildings should only have to pay a fee to cover the cost of living there, for example, paying the utility bills, and renting the furnishings, if there are any.
Depending on the type of property, occupants may have to put up with a lack of facilities, for example, the office blocks may not have a proper bathroom with a shower, or there may not be any central heating.
One occupant in Amsterdam West describes it as follows, "When doing Antikraak, you might have to deal with some level of discomfort. It feels like we're living in a modern castle; our building is large, dark and cold. Though the rules seem extremely strict, in practice, it isn't all that bad. Nobody will complain if you let someone stay overnight."
Still, the bone of contention lies in the fact that many occupants believe the fee they pay far exceeds the cost of their supposed bills. According to Abel Heijkamp, director of the documentary Leegstand zonder Zorgen (Carefree Vacant Property), the anti-squatting agencies avoid sending a breakdown of the costs, often preferring to keep the "rent" disguised under unspecified fees because otherwise, it becomes a controversial issue that may cross over into the realm of renting.
Additionally, because landlords may not evict tenants in the Netherlands, they often end up using anti-squatting agencies to move their tenants quickly and to shift the responsibility of housing their tenants long-term.
The future of tenant’s rights
Despite the drawbacks, many that opt for Antikraak find the set up quite useful, especially in terms of saving money or keeping the cost of living down.
There are some that are opposed to the idea because despite being a quick solution to affordable housing, they fear that the anti-squatting agencies will, over time, erode traditional renting agreements that currently include tenants rights, particularly because the Antikraak contract can be terminated at any time without the obligation of finding alternative housing.
To be able to live in an Antikraak property, you have to first sign up via the websites. Once you’ve found an interesting property listing, you can apply for it, or in some cases, you sign up and the anti-squatting agency will get in touch with you once they find a property that needs guardians.
You will also normally have to pay a membership fee, and it is quite common to pay a deposit and one month’s rent upfront as well. They will also require that you show proof of income, and you will have to complete a police check along with an interview with the agency.
Sometimes you will also be charged for a safety packet. The fee is usually around 50 euros and it normally includes a fire extinguisher, a smoke alarm and a spray, which will allow you to tag the burglars if need be. Incidents are very rare, though, so don’t be alarmed.