Before putting pen to paper, make sure you know what you’re getting. You should always request a(n online) viewing of the property. There is no reason the landlord / agency should say no. Don’t be shy and ask them all your questions. If you can attend the viewing in person, thoroughly check the accommodation – open cupboard doors and windows, take your time to make sure everything is up to your standards – while of course taking into account the rental price. Also, ask about safety: the ideal standard here is the Keurmerk Prettig Wonen, but having this is not a must. The accommodation should at least have adequate fire safety (extinguishers, smoke detectors, clearly marked fire exits) – if you don’t see any, this may be a red flag.
Negotiating the contract
Once you’ve found the place you’d like to live in, you’ll have to sign a contract. While there is less to worry about with rental contracts with social corporations, as they are more regulated and fair to tenants, concluding a contract with a private landlord or agency might require an extra contract check to be on the safe side. This is especially the case if you’re not in Maastricht to see the property, meet the landlord or physically sign the contract. We spoke to Huurteam Zuid-Limburg (HTZL) to get all their tips on the approach you should take when it comes to this step of the house-search process, as well as some red flags and sketchy behaviour you should watch out for.
First, we recommend that you take a more sceptical stance when it comes to dealing with an agency or landlord – err on the side of caution and don’t go in thinking that they’re ‘on your side’. While we don’t want to scare you, we think you’re more likely to avoid dodgy situations if you’re more cautious than not. Follow your instinct: if a property or rental agreement seems too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that, while your landlord / agency are not necessarily bad or ill-intentioned, their main objective is to make money.
If you receive a contract and find certain clauses unsatisfactory, ask if there is a possibility to make adjustments to the contract – enter into dialogue with the agency or landlord, as it may be possible to change (non-essential) things in the contract.
Before signing, do your due diligence. Ideally, you should send your contract to the HTZL, who will check to make sure everything is reasonable and legal. If you opt for this option (which we definitely recommend), you might have to wait up to a working week to hear back from them. However, we understand that the whole rental process is fast-paced and that there may not be enough time for contract checks, so if this is not possible, then you should definitely read through your contract yourself. The document will likely be in Dutch, so non-Dutch speakers will want to get it translated: you can either go to a professional translator, but DeepL will also get the job done pretty well. When checking your contract, you should pay attention to:
Whether it’s a fixed-period or indefinite tenancy agreement.
What’s the difference? An agreement for a fixed period includes a final date. This means that the contract ends automatically after the agreed period, provided that the landlord informs the tenant in writing about the end of the lease in good time (between one and three months before the agreed end-date). Conversely, indefinite tenancy agreements continue so long as the tenant keeps paying rent (as long as the landlord has no legitimate cause to evict them). These contracts usually come with a minimum term, before which the tenant may not terminate the lease.
What the basic rent and service charges are.
The basic rent is supposed to reflect the quality and surface area of the property. This rental price only includes the actual rent. Additional costs such as gas, water, electricity, or administrative costs are classed as service charges. When it comes to rent, it is important to distinguish between basic rent and service charges. Each year, the landlord must give the tenant a statement of the service charges and deduct these from the advance, so that the tenant knows what the actual costs were.
Whether and when the rent will be increased each year.
Rent increases are controlled by law, and depend on whether your accommodation is classified as regulated or unregulated. For regulated accommodation, rent increases may be described in your rental contract, or can even be proposed by your landlord a minimum of two months before the rent increase would take effect. Under the latter option, you as a tenant can reject the proposal, and your case may end up before the Huurcommissie (Rent Tribunal). As a general rule, rent increases can happen once every 12 months, and usually take place on July 1st.
In the social sector, the maximum yearly rent increase percentage is determined by the government. However, there will be no rent increase in the social sector this year, due to the pandemic.
There are less rules applying to unregulated accommodation, which means that as a tenant you have less protection. While, as with regulated dwellings, rent can be increased once every twelve months, rent increases in between these 12 months are also possible if improvements have been made to the accommodation. Furthermore, the landlord is not obliged to notify you of any rent increases within a set period of time. If the tenant does not want to pay the higher rent, the landlord may terminate the contract. You should also note that the government has imposed a maximum rent increase for the coming three years (as of July 2021). Lastly, watch out for clauses in your contract indicating a set annual rent increase (so-called indexation clauses). If no indexation clause is included in the contract, the landlord can only increase the rent by offering the tenant a new contract stipulating the higher rent (among other things). If the tenant does not agree to the new contract for the same property, the landlord may then terminate the contract.
Some things should never appear in a rental contract – if you see these, you shouldn’t sign (or you should at least tread very carefully). Here are a few:
- The contract only contains the landlord’s first and last names, and there is no address or contact details. This is especially iffy if there is no agency to mediate the rental agreement.
- The landlord’s bank details are missing, or are from a foreign (non-Dutch bank).
- The costs aren’t clearly specified. For example, the basic rent and service charges should be clearly distinguished.
- The contract doesn’t clearly specify when it starts or ends, or whether it’s a fixed-period or indefinite tenancy agreement.
- There is no provision detailing how your deposit will be transferred back to you, and under what terms. If the contract states that it will take anything over three months to return your deposit, beware! This is quite sketchy. Overall, you should make sure that you can clearly see what will happen to your deposit.
- Lastly, if the contract requires you to transfer any (large) amounts of money on grounds that seem suspicious to you, be very careful. It’s possible that this may be totally fine, but be wary and make sure you know where your money is going.
- Be reasonable about rental prices. If you can, familiarise yourself with the housing market a little bit, before settling on an accommodation. This will help you identify if you are overpaying for your accommodation.
Are agency fees a reason not to sign?
Your rental agency may charge you a fee, either for mediating / creating a contract, or for whatever other reason. Agency fees are illegal in the Netherlands, no matter their size. However, the unfortunate truth is that most agencies still charge them and, if you really want to get a place, you will have to pay them. However, this is not necessarily considered a clear red flag that should prevent you from signing a contract. The (extremely unfair) reality is that even if you give up a room because you don’t want to pay an agency fee, you will probably end up having to pay it somewhere else. Nevertheless, it is possible to reclaim this money after the fact – this can be quite difficult, but the possibility is there.
Should you sign even if the contract is not ideal?
Some people might feel pressured to enter into rental agreements without being fully convinced about them. There can be many factors exerting this pressure, from fear of not finding anything else, to the belief that you can rely on the Huurteam Zuid-Limburg to get some of your money back. What do you do in such situations?
If a contract seems overly burdensome on you as a tenant, or looks sketchy, it might be a good idea to let it go. Even if you’re running out of time to find a place, it may cause you more trouble in the long-term to sign a bad contract than to look for temporary accommodation while you take the time to find something that’s truly worth it.
If you find a place that you truly love, the contract is satisfactory, and the only issue is that the rent is a little steep (€750+), it can sometimes be a good idea to sign, as there is a chance you could get some money back by applying to the Huurteam Zuid-Limburg. You should tread very carefully here, as there is a caveat: in situations like this, you always need to assume the worst and be prepared to pay this steep rent in full, in the event that the Huurteam Zuid-Limburg cannot help you claim any excess rent back. If you do sign a contract you find expensive, contact HTZL within six months to start a procedure claiming back any excess rent.
You can read more about procedures to claim back excess rent and agency fees here.
Terminating / extending your contract
Whether and how you can terminate a rental contract depends on the type of contract you have. You should also be aware that as a tenant, you have rent protection, which means that your landlord cannot simply end your contract whenever they wish (except in a few situations).
The default rule is that tenancy contracts have to be terminated by giving notice – this means that you as a tenant send your landlord a formal letter informing them that you wish to terminate the rental agreement. You don’t have to provide a reason for termination, and termination is in principle unilateral, which means that you don’t need the landlord to consent to it. You can download a sample of a formal letter giving notice here.
The Huurteam recommends that you send your termination through the formal registered letter (in Dutch: aangetekende brief), as well as by email. The former because it allows you to confirm that the landlord has received your termination on time. The latter because it usually reaches the landlord quicker, and is generally easier.
Rental contracts can usually only be terminated before the start of a new payment term. For example, if the rent is paid monthly, the contract can be terminated as from the first of the month. If the rent is paid once every three months, the tenancy contract can be terminated as from the end of this three-month period, or if you wish your contract to end on June 30th, your termination should have reached the landlord before May 31st. This rule applies even if your contract says otherwise.
As a tenant, you can terminate the agreement subject to a notice period that is equal to the payment term of the rent (a minimum of one month, a maximum of three months) – i.e. you have to let your landlord know of the termination in advance. On the other hand, the notice period for a landlord is three months (i.e. they must let you know at least three months in advance); this notice period is to be increased by one month for each year that a tenant rents the property, but only up to a maximum of six months.
If you are renting under an indefinite tenancy agreement (see above), chances are, your contract stipulates a minimum length of stay – usually a year. This means that you cannot cancel your tenancy agreement before this minimum length of stay is over, however long this may be. Once the period is over, the rules and requirements described above apply.
Fixed-period tenancy agreements (in Dutch: contract voor bepaalde tijd) can be terminated by the tenant at all times, so long as they take into account the applicable notice period.