If you are looking to rent an apartment in the Netherlands, !Woon can help you avoid scams.
There are many legitimate letting agents around, but, unfortunately, there are also quite a few unpleasant characters who especially target expat tenants. In general, it is safer to rent through members of established realtors’ organisations like the MVA or the NVM than through unattached agencies. If you live in Amsterdam and have any other questions about housing rentals you can contact the !Woon agency in your area. Advice is confidential and free of charge.
Tips on Avoiding Scams in the Dutch Rental Market
- Don't do business with landlords who only offer an email address, a mobile phone number, and/or a Facebook page. Ask for more information to establish with whom you are dealing, such as an actual business address or residential address. Ask for a proof of ID, check it, do an internet search about this person or company. Be aware that ID copies sent via email can be fakes. This often occurs in combination with requests to transfer money via Western Union.
- Check who owns the apartment via the Kadaster property register. If you live in Amsterdam and need assistance with this, the Meldpunt can help. If the owner and the prospective landlord are not the same, ask for an explanation, and, if necessary, ask for a written authorisation confirming that the landlord and/or agency are acting on the owner's behalf.
- Apartment ads on websites like Facebook, marktplaats.nl, craigslist, or other advertising websites, aren’t always reliable. There are many illegal sublets on offer. You could end up paying lots of money but still being evicted or even fined.
- Ask if you can register with the council at the address (“inschrijven”). If the answer is no, that’s a red flag. It might be an illegal sublet, or a tax scam. It's anyone's guess what is going on.
- Does the offer sound too good to be true? Then it probably is. Cheap rental accommodation on a canal in the city centre is extremely rare. Be extra alert if you are being offered an apparently amazing deal. If you feel uncomfortable, if things don’t seem quite right, pay attention to that feeling and be extra cautious.
- Be extra careful about renting an apartment you haven't seen. If you're not in the country yet, can you ask someone (a colleague, friend, or classmate) to inspect the apartment for you? If possible, talk to the neighbours. Do they know the apartment? Do they know who lives there? Any extra information can help you assess whether the person offering the apartment can be trusted.
- Don't allow yourself to be pressured. Scammers are often in a hurry. They will push you to sign the lease quickly. Demand enough time to assess the situation, the apartment, and the contract properly.
- Before you hand over large sums of money, check the keys and make sure they work. If you can’t do this yourself, perhaps you can ask friends, colleagues, etc. to check the apartment. Be aware that even this is not a guarantee, but it definitely improves your chances.
- Scammers sometimes ask for various kinds of fees, as well as a deposit. Deposits are legal, but many other fees such as agency fees, disproportionately high administration fees, or contract fees, etc., often are not. Recently, many tenants have had success getting their agency fees refunded. If you live in Amsterdam the !Woon agency or the Meldpunt can help you reclaim such illegal fees.
- Preferably pay via bank transfer. Demands for other types of payment, such as transfers via companies like Western Union or cash payments (especially payments without receipts) are another red flag. If you have to pay cash, make sure you get a signed receipt. Have witnesses present when you make cash payments. Send confirmation emails to the landlord or the agency. Use your phone to record the conversation during your cash payment. In this conversation try to state the amount clearly, the reason you are paying (like “this is September’s rent”), name the apartment’s address, and the recipient. In general: build a file. Keep screen shots of the apartment’s advertisement, and keep all emails.
- If you still get scammed, contact the police immediately and press charges.
We hope you will find yourself a nice place to live. Good luck!
Adapted from an article previously published on WS Wonen. Full permission granted.
About the author: Dafna Eccles works in Amsterdam for the !Woon, a tenant support agency, an independent non-profit organisation which provides free, independent, and confidential advice and support for tenants. For further information visit the website and click on your area for contact details.