18/02/2020 Communication Science news and articles

The Dutch Hunger Games: Room-seeking struggles in the Netherlands

One minute on Facebook and the fight is on: “Pick me”. “I’m clean and sociable”. “I can pay extra rent”. “PM sent”. “Check your PM”. “Love me”. “Save me from homelessness”. Welcome to a normal day in the life of a student searching for a room in Amsterdam.

It is no news that the housing market in the Netherlands has been saturated for a couple years and the crisis is particularly hard on students, especially when those are internationals. With the Netherlands being one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, it struggles to house all the expats looking for a taste of the Dutch life. As universities allow more and more international students to apply every year, the housing market fails to welcome them. Worse, internationals are often greeted with the phrases: “Dutch only” or “No Internationals” at the beginning of every advert. So what is the situation really like from an international-room-seeking student? Is the housing market really that bad in the Netherlands?

Groningen: between (inhuman) quick solutions and student solidarity
The problem has reached such levels that in Groningen, a popular student city in the North of the country, massive army-like tents have been erected to give a temporary solutions to some 100 students left without a room upon arrival. “Oh that’s nice” you may say, “at least they don’t have to sleep outside”. I agree, it’s nice. Until I heard that the fee to sleep on an army bed, in a tent with 30 other people, is more than 12 euros per night. Quick calculations…Yes, that’s right:400 euros a month per person… to sleep in a tent. Is this the Fyre Festival all over again?

some actually had to spend one or more nights in the hall of the railway station

On the bright side, this inhuman crisis has led some student groups to call for charitable hearts (who own a couch) to come to the rescue of these less fortunate students. This is how many established students offered a place (or couch) to sleep on as temporary solution to students who would otherwise be forced to sleep on the streets – literally, some actually had to spend one or more nights in the hall of the railway station before being hosted.

Hosting a random person in your house for multiple weeks is not something that everybody would be willing to do, but this solidarity really shows that students understand that the crisis is not answered by the government or the university. Students have come to the conclusion that they have to have each other’s back themselves. Alright then, faith in humanity restored!

The big scam
Never mind. My faith in humanity is not restored for long after hearing, and witnessing, the horrifying stories of some international students looking for a room in Amsterdam. The first plague as a room seeker: scamming. High-level scams that especially use international students as targets are so smartly put together that the scam is near perfect. While some scammers offer rooms that are “too good to be true”, such a 2 bedrooms apartment in the centre of Amsterdam for a price way under market-price, which of course, you cannot visit before renting because the landlord is allegedly on holiday (reminder: never send money to something you have not visited!), others have concocted intricate and elaborate plans to fool you into paying them big money.

How could you have known that this place was actually an Airbnb, rented out for the weekend?

Think about it: you visited a room, everything looked perfect. You even signed a “real” contract with “real” names on it. You thought you had found the perfect room, a little gem in the Big Apple of the Netherlands. How could you have known that this place was actually an Airbnb, rented out for the weekend? Just long enough for you to visit what seem to be a legitimate place? Sadly, this story has happened to more than it should. The problem with this type of scams is that it is very difficult to discern the true from the fake.

How to avoid scams (or at least try)?
The first thing to keep in mind is to use common sense. It is very difficult not to be tempted by a room offer when the struggle to find a place has been real, but taking a second to rethink an offer and ask for guarantee can only do good.

What else?

  • Copy/paste an advert into google. Scammers might have used the exact same text for multiple adverts.
  • Double check spelling in the text, email address, and closely look at the names of the renters: if the text sounds automatically translated, weirdly spelled and the contact names are just a little too weird, it may be a scam.
  • Be careful with sending copies of your passport/ID. Even if they have sent you “theirs” in return.

Looking for a new place to live in the Netherlands is not the easiest and most fun thing there is to do around here. However, the benefits from being an international student living in the Netherlands completely overcome the drawbacks of finding a room. The process of finding a nice place can be frustrating, long and tiring, but it is not impossible. Just make sure to have a few stress-relief mechanisms ready for moments of panic, and you will be just fine!

Cover: Jose Alonso/Unsplash / Final Editor: Ivo Martens



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