There are nearly 7100 international students studying at the University of Groningen this year.1 This doesn’t seem that much. However, when you compare it to the students from the Netherlands, their share is more than a fifth. The university has indicated that it will stimulate the growth of the amount of international students. The reason for the university to strive for this growth is that they want to intensify the international character of the university. It also creates opportunities for students to work together and learn from their different cultural backgrounds and look at things with a more mondial perspective.2 It is very good to stimulate the knowledge of the students and the university itself, but there is a problem. When you attract so many students, there is a need for living spaces. This is where the problems occur in two different ways. Primarily, the increasing demand for student living places has a real chance of being too hard to fulfill. Secondly there is a problem with some of the landlords in Groningen. When landlords get so many requests, they will have an incentive to kick you out more easily when you criticize them for either not doing their job well (think about maintenance) or, for example, for asking too much rent. If you don’t know your rights, you have nothing to defend yourself with.
We all know how it started… leaving your parental home to live at your own place. Exciting, but also difficult. A lot of student houses in Groningen have the policy that they want to meet you before you can live in their houses. The reason for this is that they want to see if you match the other residents. It can give you a lot of stress and you can get rejected a lot. While some of us Dutch students need to drive throughout the whole country to meet new roommates, the internationals are even more in a pickle. They don’t have the privilege to meet future roommates or even worse: their future landlords. This creates a whole new abuse of internationals: people pretending to be landlords that are asking for an amount of money before you move in, most of the time in rooms that don’t even exist. But that’s not the only problem. Landlords are also aware of the moderate knowledge internationals have when it comes to room rental. This is the main reason why it is necessary that everybody is aware of the basic principles of rental for students.
When you rent a room, there are a lot of rules involved. These rules are covered by the legal regulations about housing rental. There is a distinction between independent and non-independent living spaces3 Simply said: when you have a front door you will have an independent living space. Also there is a distinction between a lease agreement with a definite duration and an indefinite duration. Generally, the non-independent living spaces and the indefinite lease agreement are used more, so we will assume this when we look at rental protection. There are rental protection rules to protect tenants. There is no problem with the rules themselves, but there is a problem with a lack of knowledge of these rules among most Dutch and international students. Almost every country has its own laws regarding the rental of living spaces, which makes it even harder for internationals to understand.
You can imagine that if even Dutch students are having trouble with it, internationals are struggling with this even more. It also shows on the internet: when you search for your rights as a tenant you will get dozens of sites that will give you rental advice. This little knowledge of the law makes it much easier for landlords to stop following the rules and to start make their own. Fortunately, there is some positive news. From February 2019 Groningen will have a new authorisation4 regime.5 We will be the first city in the Netherlands. With this regime, everybody that wants to lease student rooms, needs to have a lease agreement. In this way, there is a more effective control over the houses that become student houses. It is only a beginning, but it could end up as a very effective way to make a change in this particular problem of leasing student houses.
“There is no problem with the rules themselves, but there is a problem with a lack of knowledge of these rules among most Dutch and international students.”
Nevertheless, this is just one side of the problem. The biggest problem might be the lack of houses itself. Because of the number of international students that the university wants to attract, there are not enough houses for everyone to live in. This year, there were a lot of international students that had to sleep at the Zernike Campus. They had to sleep with 30 people in one tent, sometimes even in mixed tents of men and woman. The University of Groningen expects that next year there will be an additional 2000 students attending college. 6 They indicated that this was more than expected, but they still think it is possible to provide a place to sleep for everyone… even when this includes to ask their own staff to help the internationals out.7 If the university is serious about this, it shows that there is a lot of despair in trying to keep up with the grow. There are serious plans of building more student houses throughout Groningen,8 but the question will remain if it is going to be enough. Altogether we can see that the university and the municipality are doing their best to bridle the problems. The time will learn if the plans are enough to support the growth in the next years.