Tougher rules for housing mediators
A shortage of properties in the student housing market is benefiting mediation agencies, giving them the chance to demand excessively high fees from young room-seekers. The Groningen municipal executive is planning to tackle this problem by setting a maximum fee that is no higher than half the monthly rent. If an agency regularly breaks this rule, its licence can be rescinded. In addition, new students will be better informed about such agencies.
After researching what other municipalities do, such as Amsterdam and Leiden, the Groningen municipal executive is considering two options: a regulation that licenses companies to mediate between students and landlords, and a general rule for housing mediation, which allows anyone to mediate. The municipal executive will present a detailed proposal to the municipal council in June.
A motion to tackle crooked housing mediation agencies was passed as long ago as 2009. However, its implementation was delayed in anticipation of a lawsuit between the Amsterdam municipality and a mediation agency, Direct Wonen. At that time Amsterdam was the only municipality with rules about mediation agencies and it rescinded Direct Wonen’s licence. The municipality won the case, but the Groningen municipal executive did not pass this news on to the municipal council. ‘There has been an apology for that’, says Eddy Beuker, spokesman for the municipal executive.
‘We had to shake the politicians awake’, says Mechteld van Duin, a municipal council candidate for the Dutch Socialist Party (SP). Their youth wing, ROOD, has been badgering housing offices for years, along with other organizations. One of their recent surveys revealed that students and young people often pay hundreds of euros to mediation agencies.
A deeper problem is the shortage of student and youth housing, according to Van Duin. ‘We must address this to reduce the power of housing mediation agencies.’
The municipality says that a ‘quality label’ is not one of their primary responsibilities, because ‘the market can regulate itself properly’, but any new initiatives will be supported – as is the case with the Host Me Right website, which alerts foreign students to housing availability in Groningen.
The municipal executive believes there are between ten and fifteen housing mediation offices currently active in Groningen.