!WOON: Free Advice For Tenants And Owner Occupants In Amsterdam

“If I could end the need for my own job… I’d actually be a happy bunny!” says Dafna Eccles, renting consultant at !WOON’s tenant advisory services in Amsterdam South. If tenants knew the rules, and property owners stuck to them, there would be no need for !WOON, she explains, and the world would be a better place.

However, the law is complicated, meaning tenants and owner occupants are in need of !WOON’s support and advice. For migrants who are unfamiliar with the rules and may be struggling to decipher documents in Dutch, the service is a godsend, and visitor numbers are rising in their seven Amsterdam branches.For Dafna, it’s simple: “There’s very little that’s more important than the roof over your head, in the physical sense – protecting you from the elements – but also, in the emotional sense. It should be your place of peace and recovery. Your home should be your castle.”

Unfortunately, she says, property is often seen purely as a money-spinner. This can cause a huge conflict of interest between owners and tenants, creating serious problems if renters are unclear about their rights. “There’s an awful lot of space for exploitation, and expat tenants are at the forefront of that,” she says.

Luckily, there’s !WOON, who can offer legal advice, check your contract, help you write letters and help you find legal representation if you need to go to court. In some cases, the Emil Blaauw legal fund can also help cover tribunal costs.

Who Can !Woon Help?

!WOON is an Amsterdam-based service for owner occupants, who perhaps have issues with their VVE (owners association), and renters who have questions about their tenancy.

Monday to Friday, there are walk-in services available all over in Amsterdam. Visitors may attend any branch they wish, regardless of the district they live in.

Although !WOON is currently unable to represent tenants and owner occupants outside Amsterdam, the website carries a wealth of resources to help with the most common issues, and they can sometimes advise over email or put you in touch with a support organisation in your area.

You can also contact:

The Huurcommissie
A government-funded national tenancy tribunal for landlords and tenants whose focus is on rent-controlled properties or those contesting their rent because they are eligible for a rent cap. This website is in Dutch.

The Huurteam
This organization offers support and legal advice for tenants only. It has offices all over the Netherlands, some specialising in student accommodation.

The Juridischloket
Rather than being specialised in housing, this organization offers free legal advice in all fields. They have branches across the Netherlands.

How Is !WOON Making A Difference?

Dafna knows that the work !WOON does is life-changing. The weekly walk-ins, which they have also recently been trialling at the expat centre IN Amsterdam, have been a big success. “People are so relieved. They come in and they’re all like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God’ and I explain the situation to them and offer them support and they are just like, ‘Phewwww’. And that difference between coming and going is one of the things that keeps me going.”

It can be difficult to know your rights as a tenant.

“The fact that you’re not alone is a big help,” she continues. “Customers come in with big concerns like ‘my landlord wants to sell the house and they’ve told me I have to move out’ – and then are told by me a) you don’t have to and b) if you want, I can be the buffer between you and your landlord.’

!WOON can also be instrumental in helping you recover money that is owed to you. They exposed the agency fees scandal in 2014, helping victims get justice and petitioning the government for change.

And, Dafna tells me, the word is getting out. “A year or two ago, I got this email from this woman in Utrecht saying, ‘Hi. I want to say thank you. You don’t know me, but my friend went to the Expatica convention in the Beurs van Berlage and attended your presentation and she grabbed a flier on how to reclaim your agency fees. I found the flyer at my friend’s house, went through the steps, and now I have €750.”

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Communicating via expat conferences, online resources and walk-in clinics is very important to !WOON. “To a large extent, I want this to be prevention,” says Dafna. “For example, the ‘deposit drama’ – if you do certain things at the beginning, it makes life a lot easier at the end.”

‘Come to us first’ is a key message. Get your contract checked before you sign it, and avoid any meetings or correspondence with the owner until you’ve received legal advice.

Dafna, who once worked in a cycle shop, compares the process to fixing a bike. If the bike owner does a bodge job first, there is more work to be done in making a decent repair. “If you start reasoning with your landlord first without knowing the rules and regulations and you give away things that you didn’t need to be given away, I can’t necessarily get them back,” she says.

You have the right to a private, secure family home.

“If your landlord says, ‘you have to move out because I’m selling the house’, and you come to me first, I can write a letter to your landlord saying ‘[it’s] not happening’. If you’ve already replied, ‘Well, I can’t do February 1st, would you be alright with March?’ then you’ve hung yourself; that’s a legally-binding agreement.”

Knowing Your Rights

Another point !WOON hammers home is to be aware that rules differ enormously between countries. “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dafna says bluntly. It is tempting to make assumptions about how the law works in the Netherlands, but this can also be dangerous.

!WOON is all about empowering expats and locals to protect the roof over their head and the money in their pockets. Knowing your rights and acting pre-emptively – by having your contract checked and getting a check-in report and inventory, for example – can make all the difference.

Could there be a day when !WOON’s services are no longer required and Dafna can take retirement? If so, it’s a long way off!

In the meantime, we must educate one another. ‘There’s no place like home,’ said Dorothy. And that home should be legal, fairly-priced and secure.

10 take-home tips about housing in the Netherlands:

1. Tenants are well protected under the law, and eviction is extremely difficult for owners. If an owner wants to sell the property, they must sell it with the tenants still installed.
2. All social housing is subject to a rent cap, exclusive of furniture and other costs. The rent is calculated based on a points system for individual housing and shared housing.
3. There are controls on how much an owner may increase the rent. Increases can be made no more than once a year.
4. Furniture charges must be reasonable and do not apply to built-in goods such as fitted appliances. The maximum annual charge for brand new goods is 10 percent of the item’s value for large appliances and 20 percent for non-durable goods. The items’ (second-hand) value should be reappraised after five or ten years.
5. It is normal to pay a refundable deposit equivalent to one to two months’ rent. At the end of the tenancy, the owner must return the deposit to the tenant in full unless they can prove that damage has occurred, in which case reasonable deductions may be made.
6. Key deposits are illegal. In most cases, agency fees are also not allowed.
7. For home owners, there are strict rules governing alterations to a property, particularly if it is a listed building (gemeentelijk monument).
8. Apartment owners are part of a residency organisation (vereniging van eigenaren). All owners must contribute to the communal maintenance of the building, or they may be due funds to help them maintain their part of the property.
9. The right to privacy is an important tenet of European law. Your landlord is not permitted entry to the property without your consent, and you are free to change the locks if you reinsert the old barrel when you leave or provide keys to the new lock.
10. The right to family allows you to bring your own children into the property with you or move in your partner.

For more tips on finding accommodation, avoiding scams, reclaiming unjust agency fees, and other topics visit the !WOON website.