Denises fight against overcharging landlords
‘If there is a law for everything, I am sure there is a law for this as well.’
For law student Denise Zonnebeld (25), fighting for fair rents turned from a hobby into a job and then her future career. Demand for her services is high in a student city like Groningen, and the owner of the legal advice service Bekijk het! loves her job. ‘It is my baby.’
It all started in her small 8m2 student room and all the problems that came with it, like mould. Zonnebeld had just started to study law and when she couldn’t settle a matter with her landlord, she started to do her own research. ‘I thought if there is a law for everything, I am sure there is a law for this as well.’
Soon she stumbled across the huurcommissie, a Dutch governmental institute that deals with cases of rent reduction, accommodation faults and sky-high service costs. She lodged a complaint with them and won her case, with her rent being reduced from €300 to just €35 per month.
Encouraged by her success, Zonnebeld soon started to advise friends on rental matters. ‘I thought if I have these problems, I am sure others have the same problems or even worse.’
In 2010 she decided to turn her hobby into a job and launched Bekijk het!
80 to 100 hours
Since opening her office in June 2013, Zonnebeld has completed about 200 cases. About 250 are still pending. She works between 80 and 100 hours a week, but that doesn’t bother her. ‘I just love the work. It is good work and everybody is so grateful. That makes me so happy.’
One of her clients is Patryk Biernath (25), a Change Management Master’s student. He stumbled across a Bekijk het! sticker in the library. Together with his two roommates, he checked the rental fees calculator. ‘It turned out that we were all paying twice as much as we were supposed to.’
‘He tried to kick me out of the house four times I think.’
Biernath started a case against his landlord. At that point he didn’t know that his case would be an exception to the rule. Zonnebeld explained that once the huurcommissie delivers a verdict, landlords normally go along with it – but not in Biernath’s case. The landlord refused to pay, arguing that the verdict was based on incorrect measurements, and so the case ended up in court.
In the meantime, the landlord tried to remove Biernath from his house. ‘He tried to kick me out of the house four times I think.’
He was even visited by a bailiff, who also told him to move out. ‘The first time was strange, but when you receive more than one visit, you just become emotionally indifferent.’
In September the court ruled that the landlord had to pay Biernath back. However, now it seems that the long court procedure is going to be repeated. ‘I just received a letter today saying that the landlord is going to court again because of a court error.’
It is not yet clear what will happen next, but Biernath is worried. ‘I don’t think the saga will be over until I leave.’ That is not until July 2014.
For Zonnebeld, her job can sometimes be frustrating. She finds it annoying to see people paying too much rent and knowing about it – as in the case where she did an initial free rental check. It turned out that the basic rent was too high, but the student didn’t want to begin a case because ‘the landlord is so nice’.
That infuriates Zonnebeld: ‘It is like you put your wallet on the table and I take €50 out of it every month, but you like me so much that you won’t do anything about it. It’s insane.’
Fear is also something that she often comes across. Landlords like to threaten students with rent terminations once a case has started. ‘Often tenants are so scared that they just decide to leave.’ Peter Ullrich (22), a German psychology student, can understand that.
‘Often tenants are so scared that they just decide to leave’
Last year he began a case with Zonnebeld because there was mould in his house. ‘It is a good thing Bekijk het! was there because I wasn’t really aware of the law situation in the Netherlands. In Germany it’s different of course.’
For him, the procedure was easy. ‘I didn’t have to do anything. It was so convenient.’ He won and would advise all students to check their rent. ‘It is fair and gives students a voice.’
Want to know more about what you can do to lower your rent? Check the website of Bekijk het!