Student digs used for false addresses

The illegal trade means finding strangers rummaging through your post

Bart Braun

Leiden’s student accommodation is increasingly popular among buyers of false addresses and fake leases. "Suddenly, I saw someone in the common room leafing through our letters."

"Evidently, there are people registered at our address who don’t live here", Chemistry student Jens Schot sums up the problem. "They buy addresses, through Marktplaats or other classified ad sites, so they can register with the municipal database."

A look at Marktplaats suggests a lively trade in addresses for homeless people and the like. Fake registrations are a nation-wide problem; the municipalities of Leiden, Amersfoort and Breda, among others, have gone to the police to prevent falsely registered people from illegally receiving allowances or benefits.

And the fake house-mates want their letters, of course.

Schot explains: "We’ve had two incidents of people collecting their post. One had somehow managed to get into the common room and was leafing through our letters. The other rang the doorbell but we sent him away without his post in the end. He said he’d paid six hundred Euros to use our house as a postal address."

DUWO, the landlord, has warned the occupants of the house on Middelstegracht about this problem: don’t open the door if it rings and you don’t know who’s there. But it’s not that simple to keep the door shut.

Schot continues: "It happens that someone walks in as you walk out. We could ask who he’s come to see, but more than sixty students live here and the rooms change hands all the time, or people sublet them."

Fake residents tried to enter a house on Kabeljauwsteeg too, as former house manager Robert Jabroer recalls: "About a year ago, we started receiving more and more letters addressed to unfamiliar people. We had letters for up to eight different non-housemates; we soon had quite a pile. When someone came to pick it up, I explained that we had kept all the post and they could collect from the station after we had reported to the police. I was threatened a couple of times back then, especially once they had found out my telephone number one way or another. We reported it to the police who said those people were usually the types who specifically want to avoid the police. We noticed the post included important letters, like demand letters and fines, but it wasn’t our problem. The occupants of the house regard it as a problem, but not a really frightening one. In this house, we do a lot together, so no one’s ever alone, and it’s easier not to worry." Once the house had reported it to the police, the number of incidents dropped.

Schot adds: "I’ve a meeting with DUWO soon, but I don’t have much hope of it being sorted. The police can’t help and the municipal authorities can’t do much either. Everyone keeps referring us to someone else and no one can do anything about it."

"We’re aware of the problem and we would really like to solve it", explains Marja Weverling, DUWO’s spokeswoman. "We can’t do anything. We can’t send a list of all the occupants to the Leiden authorities, so they can check for illegal registrations. The privacy laws won’t allow it."

Nonetheless, DUWO letterboxes are now so designed that post can’t be fished out of them, Weverling assures us. And the landlord has also reported it to the police.

Lonneke van den Arend, who works for Leiden Municipality, is familiar with the problem. "We’ve already gone to the police with the first false registrations. The Public Prosecution Service told us that proceedings against at least one vendor are pending."

Van den Arend: "If we suspect that an address is being used for fraud, we place a warning in the Persons Database to reject registration without lease from Stichting DUWO, so anyone reporting a change of address will need to show us a lease. In such cases, we always get in touch with DUWO to check that DUWO actually provided the lease, because there are forged leases in circulation."

Normally, you can register with the municipal database without submitting a lease or declaration of consent, the spokeswoman explains. "To make sure, after the registration, we send a letter to the main occupant to say that someone has registered at that address. We can also add a warning that permission for registration is required, at the request of the owner or main occupant."

If students report a fake housemate to the municipal authorities, Leiden launches an investigation. "In a large majority of the cases, the investigation leads to the de-registration of an unknown person", says Van den Arend.

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