Internationals feel exploited
Rooms that are poorly cleaned, or not cleaned at all, broken furniture or, even worse, a spider infestation: international students are angry about their housing and fear that they are paying unfair amounts of rent. “Surely they must be making a profit?”
Susan Wichgers
Thursday 13 June 2019

A spider infestation, dust everywhere and a bad smell – that’s what awaited Arief Rahadian (25, Cultural Anthropology) when he arrived at his flat which he rents from the university’s Housing Office. He’s not the only one; international students pay high rents but get little for their money.

Rahadian arrived in The Hague from Indonesia last August. “Compared to where I come from, it’s much better here”, he stresses with a smile. “But I’m still traumatised by what I found.”

He pays 575 Euros a month for a converted shipping container on Stamkartstraat; it was far from clean on his arrival. It smelt bad and then he discovered a spider’s nest. “I was cleaning the room and I saw one spider drop first, and then I noticed more and more”, he recalls. “I noticed some white stuff on my curtains and poked it with a broom. It fell on the ground and exploded into tiny spiders that crawled everywhere. I’d only seen things like that in YouTube videos.”

Back in December, Sven Günther (26, Psychology) complained in Mare about the Housing Office and DUWO, the rent, communication and repairs that took a long time to fix. He and 23 other international students live on Oranjelaan in Oegstgeest. “After the article, they promised communications would improve but when I asked for a breakdown of the rent, DUWO told me to ask Housing and Housing said ask DUWO”, Günther explains. He wanted a breakdown because he had already discovered that DUWO had miscalculated the square metres on which they based the basic rent. Although DUWO adjusted the rent, Günther wanted to know exactly what happened to the money for service charges (about half the rent).

Dutch students who rent directly from DUWO can check the breakdowns online but at the Housing Office, international students sign for an overall price, so they don’t know exactly what they are paying for.
It’s not easy to find out who decides the rents. “Suitably complicated”, says Hans Pluim, DUWO’s branch director. “The university rents a number of flats from us which they then let to international students.”

The Housing Office may raise the rent they pay to DUWO. For instance, Housing may demand a few Euros extra per month for administrative costs, so students are not sure who to ask about the rent.

DUWO recently sent Günther the file he wanted: each student pays between twenty and fifty Euros a month for furniture and about ten Euros a month for a final clean. “Much of the furniture is old and worn; I bought a new mattress because a spring jutted out of mine. In January, new tenants arrived but the rooms had not been cleaned”, Günther says.

His house mate, Mhairi Mackenzie Everitt (20, Law) and one of the new occupants, shows Mare photographs of what she found. There are huge damp patches and dirt marks under the sink, the pipes are flaking and the walls are cracked or yellow.

“The room was really filthy”, Mackenzie Everitt adds. She pays 395 Euros for a nine-square-metre room – in Oegstgeest. “I complained about the filth and after some time the cleaners came and made a half-hearted attempt to clean it. In the end, I cleaned it myself.”

According to Pluim, the rooms are cleaned before new tenants move in. “But I can’t promise that nothing ever goes wrong. If it does, the tenants can file a complaint.”

A tour of other international-student accommodation reveals that cleaning – not just the final cleaning – seems to be a structural problem, as the rent paid by many international students includes regular cleaning too.

Students in the Kaarsenmakersstraat complex are extremely annoyed about it and have been complaining about the poor cleaning since the beginning of this academic year, says Onur Tayranoğlu (20, Arts, Media and Society). Finally, after the first term, DUWO switched cleaning companies, but there are still problems.

"Surely they must be making a profit?"

“The rooms let by Housing are not cheap”, Tayranoğlu adds. He rents a shared, twenty-square-metre room and shares a kitchen with nine others; there are two showers between thirteen people. Tayranoğlu pays 320 Euros. “We signed a contract that said the rooms would be cleaned, but they’re badly cleaned – in January, no one came for weeks and I still have to pay the full rent.”

There is only one washing machine and dryer for the entire complex, which is occupied by seventy people. His house mate Adelė Kaltenytė (23, Molecular Genetics) describes the situation as ridiculous: “It costs 2.50 to do a wash. Surely they must be making a profit?”

Quite a few international students fear that they are being exploited; besides, they don’t believe their complaints are being taken seriously. “People don’t often make a fuss, because they’ll be leaving within a year anyway”, Günther explains. “I think Housing and DUWO are very much aware of that.” Tayranoğlu has his suspicions: “They don’t help us because they know we’ll be leaving soon.”

Aneeka (23, Middle Eastern Studies, doesn’t want her surname in the paper) rents a shared studio flat from the Housing Office. “They pretend it’s a service, but it looks like a company to me.” She pays 495 Euros for her basement flat: a single, open-plan space including the kitchen, and a separate bathroom. “There’s practically no privacy”, Aneeka says. “But you need somewhere to live so you take it.”

It wasn’t clean when she moved in and there are still six boxes of stuff left by former occupants. The shower curtain is black with mould, the heating was turned on full blast until last week and couldn’t be switched off. “And there are only two windows that open a tiny bit. Last week, the radiators were finally fixed, after we had complained for two months.”

Caroline van Overbeeke, the university spokesperson, claims it’s “nonsense” that the Housing Office is a revenue model. “We are not allowed to spend the university funds for teaching and research on student accommodation and we have to break even somehow.”

And that is why international students pay Housing 350 Euros to find them a room. If they are offered a place, Housing keeps the cash, even if the student rejects the room. If they accept the offer, they pay another 150 Euros for contract expenses. “The sums we ask are no higher than asked by other landlords, so we believe these costs are fair.”

The overheads are covered by the revenue from the “housing fees” and the 150 Euros covers the costs of drawing up a contract and inspecting the rooms”, Van Overbeeke explains. “The rooms are checked for faults and missing household items. If something’s wrong, the students can report it.”

Aneeka’s flatmate left recently, so she has the studio flat to herself for the remaining two months. It’s OK for one person, she says, and although she still believes she doesn’t really get what she pays for, she’s not intending to make a fuss.

“I’m probably one of those international students who won’t do anything because I’ll be leaving soon anyway.”

Too many complaints? The cleaners take revenge

“When we moved in, it was already very dirty, but it didn’t get any better”, Clarisa Jimenez (26, Air and Space Law) who lives on Kaarsenmakersstraat, tells Mare. The cleaners didn’t turn up, or did hardly any work when they did. “We sent loads of complaints to DUWO. They kept saying things would change, but nothing happened.”

After an entire term and a tenant petition, DUWO realised there was a problem and brought in a new cleaning company. Things improved for a week or two and then started to slide again. “We weren’t allowed to complain to DUWO, we had to go straight to the cleaning company. They didn’t turn to clean anymore but even went so far as to deliberately make things dirty or break them”, Jimenez says. “Once, there were three toilet rolls blocking the toilet. We’ve found eggs smeared on the wall, broken glasses and sweepings from the floor in the sink. Or they’d turn up at 7 in the morning and shout down the corridors.”

When the students complained, they were told they shouldn’t make unfounded accusations. “We wouldn’t block the toilets ourselves, would we? How can we prove that they did it?”

According to Gijsbert Mul from DUWO, there are no more complaints about the Kaarsenmakersstraat. “A few weeks ago we jointly spoke to the cleaning company and made the following arrangements: from now on, the cleaners will work around noon so that they can be seen and be held accountable, a new working foreman has been appointed and complaints are to be sent straight to DUWO and will be posted on Transpaclean’s website.”

The students are at their wits’ end. “Things have improved a bit, but the problems aren’t solved. The cleaning is still not done properly. I get the impression that they’re not helping us because we can’t do much about it. We don’t really know the rules here and everything’s in Dutch.”