Student life

Students win their deposits back from rental agency: how did that work?

Two years after their deposits were initially withheld by rental agency 4-Freedom, 38 former residents of the Aan Het Verlaat student complex have received their money back.

“If 4-Freedom had just paid the deposit back, it may have been cheaper for them in the end.” (Photo: Thijs van Reeuwijk)

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The 38 students hired a lawyer, Lorenzo Pelswijk of Mr. Berendsen Advocaten, with whom they sent a summons to the rental agency 4-Freedom. After some negotiations, the latter agreed to pay the 38 students EUR 17,239.37. The students divided up the winnings according to what each person was owed. “I feel vindicated,” said Donald, one of the former residents involved in the case. “I am happy that illegal practices were punished.”

As Delta reported in March, a monthly deposit of EUR 25 was instated starting in August 2020 on top of a rent increase. Including the month of August, which only had partial rent, the total deposit for one room was EUR 293.55. This applied to residents in housing reserved for international students. The rental agency promised that the deposit would be returned depending on the state of the private rooms. However, when the students moved out, 4-Freedom claimed that extra cleaning was needed. At least 70 students had their deposits withheld for the cleaning, and some of them did not get any money back at all.

‘Landlords assume that most tenants do not know their rights’

“Unfortunately, this happens a lot in the Netherlands,” says lawyer Pelswijk. “Landlords assume that most tenants, especially foreign students or expats, do not know their rights or have already left the country. They assume that most tenants won’t create a fuss because of the time and money needed to get the deposit back. Landlords usually make up silly reasons for not returning the deposit or just don’t respond at all. Funnily, they often get away with it. Either the tenant just lets it be or the money it would take to retain the services of a lawyer would be higher than the deposit is worth.”

According to the housing contract, 4-Freedom may legally withhold the deposit if individual rooms are returned in a worse state than when the student moved in. Before withholding the money, they are supposed to give two written warnings regarding the state of the rooms. However, the students say that no such warnings were given before the deposit was withheld.

In addition to the deposit, the students were charged EUR 150 for signing the contract before moving in. In 2015, the Dutch supreme court ruled that agencies that charge property owners may not charge tenants for ‘administration costs’, ‘signing fees’, ‘key fees’ and so on for helping them find a home. The students also referred to this law in seeking their administration fees back.

“If 4-Freedom had just paid the deposit back, it may have been cheaper for them in the end,” explained Donald. “Even though fewer students got their deposit back compared to the total number affected, we also got back some administration costs that they had illegally charged and which we didn’t know we weren’t required to pay.”

4-Freedom was sent questions related to the case and shown the related article. They stated that due to privacy concerns they would decline to respond.

What to do if you are in a similar situation

Student complex Aan Het Verlaat. (Photo: Thijs van Reeuwijk)

If this story sounds familiar to you, or you know someone experiencing difficulties in their housing situation, there are systems in place to help you.

  • As a tenant

    The first thing you can do when you move in is double check your contract for anything that may violate your rights as a tenant, including additional administration costs. It is also important to document the state of your room before and after your tenancy, especially if your contract includes a deposit that will be returned subject to the state of your room upon leaving. Mr Pelswijk says “I advise taking pictures and videos at the start and end of the rental contract, only signing a check-in or check-out report if you have actually read the report and you agree with it, and arranging a pre-inspection two to four weeks before the end of the rental contract. Always communicate via e-mail or WhatsApp, [and] do not make important agreements verbally as you cannot prove this later in court.”
  • Huurcommissie

    The Huurcommissie (EN: The Rental Committee) is an impartial organisation that mediates in conflicts between tenants and landlords and issues a ruling on the matter. The Huurcommissie is much cheaper than a lawyer. Tenants wishing to start a case with the Huurcommissie pay EUR 25 in advance. After reviewing the facts, the Huurcommissie weighs in on the matter and takes a decision. If the Huurcommissie determines the tenant is in the right, the EUR 25 is refunded and the other party pays it to the Huurcommissie.

    The catch with the Huurcommissie is that its decision has no legal grounds, it is simply advice. It is up to the party at fault to decide whether or not they want to take further action. “We initially went to the Huurcommissie with a small representation for the students affected,” recalls Donald. “We got a positive assessment, but the victory was short lived as we discovered there is no legal way to enforce the Huurcommissie’s decision.” However, the decision of the Huurcommissie can act as valuable evidence and strengthen your case if the case ever proceeds to a formal lawsuit.
  • Juridisch Loket

    The Juridisch Loket (EN: the Legal Counter) gives free legal advice to those on low incomes, such as students. Their advice can help you know how best to communicate on your issues with the party with whom you have the dispute. If further help is needed, Het Juridisch Loket also helps with hiring a lawyer who can give more detailed advice, act as a mediator, or go to court if the complaint formally goes to court.
  • Lawyer

    Hiring lawyers in the Netherlands is expensive and often deters students from pursuing legal action. “If you paid a deposit of EUR 1,500 or less, the costs of a lawyer would be far higher than the deposit is worth,” says Mr Pelswijk. “So even if you have a strong case the investment may not be worth it. A lot of people think that if they win the case the losing party pays the legal fees, but that’s not how it works in the Netherlands.” However, there is a government subsidy for those on low incomes. The subsidy reduces the cost of a lawyer to up to EUR 149. If your dispute is over an amount less than or equal to EUR 250 then you pay up to EUR 158. 

    “If we had thought that we would have needed a lawyer, we would have done that much earlier and would have involved many more students in the claim,” explains Donald. “After 1.5 years, people just give up and would rather not be involved in a legal battle.”
  • Strength in Numbers

    Donald believes that communicating your problems to fellow tenants can help find others in similar situations. The residents of Aan Het Verlaat (AHV) did this and they believe that uniting strengthened their case. “We came together for cost reasons and for negotiation power,” explains Donald. “It’s one thing to have 38 individuals and another to have a group of 38 people. I doubt anybody would have pursued it individually.”

Also read our story Desperate students and PhD’s offer bribes in exchange for accommodationDo you have a crazy story of housing that Delta should know about? Write to us at

  • Donald is a former tenant at AHV and one of the participants in this case. His last name is known to the Delta editors.
  • Lorenzo Pelswijk represented not only the group of 38 students but also two previous cases where two individual tenants were owed much more. He will soon start his own firm where he will continue to pursue housing cases similar to this one.

Editor Redactie

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