Dutch housing: Some basic pointers

So, you are thinking of moving to the Netherlands and you need an apartment. In the past, you may have used websites like Craigslist or classified ads to track down a place. After poking around online, you realise that things work differently here. There is a good chance you are going to need to contact a rental housing agency.

Rental options can be limited in the Netherlands and, depending on the city, they can be hard to come by. Making things more complicated, direct landlord / tenant agreements, commonplace in the United States, are a rarity. Most seek the aid of agencies to help them track down an apartment and to put them in contact with a landlord. Naturally, there are advantages and disadvantages to this system.

The first step is to sign up with an agency and provide them with copies of your job contract or a bank statement. Sometimes they will require a small fee up front. Afterwards, they do most of the legwork for apartment hunters. They root through listings, do their best to match tenants with appropriate housing and assist with leases. They will make appointments with landlords and, in some cases, may even spend an afternoon driving their clients from location to location as they consider which option is the best fit.

This system makes finding housing easier for tenants but it does not come cheap. If you are coming from the US or elsewhere in Europe, the fees they charge can come as a shock, especially for those living on a budget. It is not uncommon for agencies to charge a full month’s rent for their services and upfront registration fees can run upwards of 40 euros. Once you add in the VAT, the country’s sales tax, the cost of finding an apartment alone can get spendy, real quick. Once that’s out of the way, many Dutch landlords typically require a refundable deposit that can cost as much as two months rent, in addition to the first month’s rent itself.

It should go without saying that, above all else, it is important to allow yourself enough time to research agencies. If you are operating on a tight deadline, tracking down an apartment can be a nightmare, as recent expat "Isabella" discovered earlier this year. Originally from Italy, she had spent the past few years living in Dublin. After accepting a job in Sloterdijk, she only had a few weeks to find housing in the Netherlands.

Isabella first consulted a variety of websites for advice. The agency she wound up with charged her a standard one month fee for their services that cost her 899 euros. On top of that, they required a 200 euro "stop fee" to prevent the small Pijp district apartment she was interested in from being rented to another client. The up-front costs came as a surprise. "I never paid agency fees in Ireland or Italy," she said in a recent interview, asking that her real name not be used in this article.

The agent promised her that the apartment would be cleaned, that it would be furnished and that it would also contain a television and a microwave. "It was in very poor condition," Isabella said. "There’s no sink in the bathroom and no pipes for a washing machine." It also reeked of cigarette smoke and the furniture was covered in cat scratches.

With time running short, she reluctantly signed a six month contract. After Isabella moved in, it took several days for her landlord to send someone over to give the place a scrubbing. She has been living there for months now and the TV has yet to arrive.

Worse yet, Isabella’s paying an additional 200 Euro "rental fee" every month for the apartment’s worn furniture and limited appliances. By the time her contract is up, she will have paid 1.200 euros for things that she could have purchased from a secondhand shop for a fraction of the price.

On top of all of this, she is required to pay another monthly fee that allegedly goes to a company that is supposed to keep the hallways and stairwells in the building clean. To her knowledge, they have never shown up. Instead, the halls remain dirty and are stuffed with her neighbours’ bikes and rubbish. Needless to say, she will not be renewing her lease.

"I am not sure the services I received were worth the agent fee," Isabella said. "Hopefully, the two months deposit will be returned at the end of the contract." Under better circumstances, Isabella would have had more time to find a better agency and an apartment.

As with any industry, there are definitely some bad apples out there. What have your own encounters with Dutch housing agencies been like? Have you had positive experiences or negative ones? Feel free to share your memories and thoughts in the comments area below.

Brandon H.


Brandon H.

I'm a freelance journalist currently residing in the Netherlands.

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