Over the course of two years, at least 70 current and former international students living in the Aan het Verlaat 33 complex were denied their deposits as the rental agency allegedly incurred extra costs for the deep cleaning of the communal areas after they moved out. Thirty-five of them continue to speak out to secure their money. They believe the rental agency is violating their contract by withholding their deposits for matters not included in the contract. They also accuse them of a lack of transparency. 4-Freedom did not respond substantively to questions of Delta.
“We have not taken this decision lightly,” explains Hanna*, one of the former tenants. In 2019, when she first moved in, the apartments and communal areas were in quite a poor state. “My house was okay, so we made sure the shared rooms were kept tidy and clean. Despite our efforts we’d still have the occasional mouse. 4-Freedom told us it was because ‘we lived in a nature area so of course there would be mice’, and brushed it off.
She was happy in Delft and when the opportunity arose to extend her rental contract by another year, she did so. “But that’s when it hit the fan,” she says. During the Covid pandemic the Dutch Government had capped the maximum rent increase at 2.4%. 4-Freedom increased the new contract by this amount. “However, they also added an extra EUR 25 per month stating that it was a deposit that we would get back if our rooms were clean upon moving out. This was necessary as negative situations in the past were forcing them to do so.”
An email to international students reveals that the rental agency believed that international students specifically couldn’t keep their surroundings clean, attracting vermin such as mice.
The Aan het Verlaat 33 complex.
Even though it didn’t sit well with Hanna, she decided to renew her contract. “I didn’t know any better and, at the time, was very intimidated by the idea of having to find somewhere else to live at short notice. In addition, we were all charged EUR 150 for ‘administration fees’, which is legally confirmed as illegal. This was also never refunded.”
After one year, when the lease was up, all tenants got ready to move out. Wanting their deposit ranging from 300 to 600 euros per person back they made sure their apartment was spotless. Wanting their deposit of up to EUR 300 per person back, they made sure their apartment was spotless. However, when 4-Freedom finalised the administration they were hit with a hefty cleaning bill. In an email that Delta also read, 4-Freedom stated that ‘much extra cleaning was necessary.’ This was done in the kitchens, bathrooms and toilets. The agency claimed that though the students should keep these areas clean, ‘this was not done adequately leading to a mouse infestation’. As Hanna points out, “The same mice they told us were unavoidable since we were living in a nature area.” Now, including administration fees, the rental agency allegedly owes some of these former tenants up to EUR 600.
Since not everyone moved out at that time, the affected students later received photos of the said ‘deep clean’. Hanna: “The cleaners made the house dirtier than we had left it. They unplugged the fridges despite them still containing the food of the tenants that still lived there, and tried to flush their dirty towels down the toilet. One photo that we were sent after the cleaning had a dead mouse in the corner.”
Upon receiving only a partial refund of their deposit, the students pointed out that none of them had received a prior warning that their houses needed extra cleaning. “According to the contract, if 4-Freedom had issued two warnings they would legally be allowed to deduct cleaning bills from our deposit, but we didn’t even get one warning.” Not knowing what the extra cleaning was for, they then asked for an itemised bill. “But we are still waiting for it – another violation of our contracts.”
The rental agency, however, did not budge and refused to pay back their full deposit. A group of 70 students then decided to contact the Juridisch Loket, the free Dutch legal help desk. “We presented them all the facts and they proved us right.” They then proceeded to the Rent Tribunal to plead their case. Documents viewed by Delta show that they also ruled in favour of the tenants.
4-Freedom said over and over that internationals in particular are dirtier
Acting as a spokesperson, one former tenant delivered the Rent Tribunal news to 4-Freedom. As the ruling of the Rent Tribunal was not a definitive verdict, but a strong recommendation to settle the matter, 4-Freedom told the student that they would only refund their deposit. If any of the other students wanted a refund, they would have to take them to court.
From the more than 100 duped tenants still waiting for a refund, 35 have therefore now joined up and are demanding their deposits back. If not for the money, then for justice as they feel 4-Freedom is not treating international students equally as Dutch students.
- As a student you often come into contact with rent and the rights and obligations that go with it, without you knowing what your rights are. The Dutch student union has therefore developed a tenants' rights manual for international students.
- For urgent questions or advice on housing matters you can also contact their Housing Hotline.
“4-Freedom manages properties 33 and 31. Both these complexes have Dutch houses as well as international houses. According to what 4-Freedom told us, the tenants in the Dutch student houses don’t have to pay administration fees and pay their deposits up front so they don’t have to pay a monthly fee. Regardless of the state of their houses, they all got their full deposit back upon moving out. Only houses with more international students (Dutch students living in international houses were treated the same as the rest of their roommates, Eds.) had the problem of losing their deposits. 4-Freedom said over and over that internationals in particular are dirtier, and that’s why they only charged our houses extra.”
33C, one of the apartments.
“We believe that this issue goes beyond just us. The Dutch housing market is impossible as it is, but it’s even crueller to international students who just want to study in the Netherlands with a fair housing deal and don’t know their rights in this country. That’s why we are looking for ways to continue this fight. We need to set an example, and all international students in the Netherlands need to be aware of their rights.”
- Delta sent 4-Freedom a list of 15 questions regarding this matter. They were also shown this article before publishing and given the opportunity to respond. They however did not answer the questions, but stated ‘This is a matter between landlord and tenants and we respond to each individual tenant's request’.
- Also read our research story International students are the scapegoat of a failing housing policy
*Hanna is acting as a spokesperson on behalf of all the tenants. She wants to remain anonymous for fear of not getting her money back. Her real name is known to the editorial team.