Priced out of the rental market, thousands of Dutch turn to anti-kraak, trading their tenant’s rights for lower rent.
By Emma Rapaport and Mikkel Leimand
When anti-kraak launched in the early 90s it was a blessing for the Dutch housing market.
Home to a booming squatting movement, and a chronic shortage of affordable housing, private landowners begun offering individuals the opportunity to live rent-free in vacant properties in exchange for their commitment to protect the building.
Abandoned school buildings, empty offices, leisure centres, and police stations – Dutch hopefuls leaped at the opportunity, putting their creative minds to the test to install makeshift bedrooms, showers, and kitchens.
However as profits were realised, cracks in the industry begun to show.
By the 00s, anti-kraak agencies began charging their users a fee for the privilege of using the property, blurring the line between renter and user.
Legally classified as ‘users’ rather than tenants, anti-kraak users are not covered by the same rights afforded to all Dutch renters. In exchange for their peculiar choice of home, users give up their rights to freedom from eviction, privacy, to guaranteed living conditions, and safety.
A law unto themselves, anti-kraak agencies impose strict rules on the users, including banning children, pets, parties, and speaking to the media.
Conservative estimates place the number of people living anti-kraak at 15,000, while others say that it could be as high at 50,000, but no one really knows.
As the issue is debated in parliament, we have asked four people about their experience living anti-kraak.
Thijs de Jong, Carpenter, Sint Montfort College, Rotterdam (Villex). Time living anti-kraak – 4 months.
Flicking ash from his lit cigarette out of the classroom window, Thijs is living the dream. In the midst of a nation-wide housing crisis, for 225€ a month he lives comfortably in a room of 60m2, a hundred person cafeteria, a theatre, and a pool downstairs. As he swings lazily on the climbing ropes in this gymnasium, Thijs can’t help but remark how lucky he is –
“Not everyone can say that they live in a school.”
For the last 4 months, Thijs and twenty other anti-squatters have come to call this former high school in southern Rotterdam home. Not a home and you or I would call it, but a 3-story mansion with over 30 rooms to fill.
Sint Montfort College was abandoned in 2015, and Villex, vacant property specialists, called in to manage the property and employ users as live in security guards.
Thijs first came to look for an anti-kraak property when his long-term relationship ended and he suddenly needed to find a place to live. Priced out of the commercial market and absent from the waiting list for social-housing, Thijs signed up to live anti-kraak, and within two weeks he was picking up the keys to his new home.
“When we broke up I needed to find something cheap and I needed to find it fast. Anti-kraak was really my only option. If you look at rental prices in Rotterdam the absolute minimum is 450 euros per month, and then you have only a tiny room of 9m2.”
Picking out a classroom on the top floor overlooking the playground, Thijs set about making a new home for himself – a double bed in the corner, a coffee table by the window, and a few basic cooking items.
Thijs says that while his friends and family were apprehensive at first, they’ve since come around to the idea.
“A lot of Dutch people don’t know exactly what it is, they think it’s still the same as squatting. But it’s totally different. I’m registered with the council, I have my mail delivered here. I live just like anyone else.”
Despite appearances Thijs is more than just a user of the space. While he doesn’t wear a uniform or carry a nightstick, he is legally classified as guardian of the property, and is responsible for its protection. While he hasn’t had many incidents with intruders, he describes one night when a group of young people broke in:
“Two weeks ago we woke to find some graffiti in the hallway. We got a very angry letter from Villex saying that we had to pay to clean the graffiti. It’s weird to know that people come around at night, maybe even a little bit scary.”
But none of this seems to faze Thijs. While he acknowledges that he’s been lucky, and that as a first-time anti-kraak user he hasn’t had to deal with many of the problems faced by longer-term users, he says that living this way is all about the mindset you bring in with you.
“You need to put your mind to it, that you’re going to share the shower and the bathrooms, that you need to find a way to get water and internet and all those other basic things for your home, but if you can do it then why not?”
He continues: “I think for someone like me who likes to travel, is flexible, and is handy with making stuff, living this way is easy.”
Nils Drenth, Student, Rodenrijsstrat Apartments, Slotervaart (greater Amsterdam) (AntiKraak.nl). Time living anti-kraak – 10 months.
(profile excluded for marking purposes)
Klaas Nicolay (34), freelance marketer, Hubertus Vocational School, Amsterdam (Zwerfkei). Time living anti-kraak – 2 years.
(profile excluded for marking purposes)
Jilles van Kleef, Musician/Videographer, Joke Smit College, Amsterdam (Zwerfkei). Time living anti-kraak – 1 year, 4 months
Strolling through the large empty corridors, once filled with hundreds of children jostling to get to class, Jilles appears to be the poster boy for the anti-kraak industry. Living in the centre of Amsterdam with a view overlooking the park, with more space then he knows what to do with. But as Jilles points to the hundred year old staircase and the state-of-the-art cinema, it’s clear that he does so with a heavy heart. While he has the keys to the castle, they come at a heavy price.
”At first it’s kind of interesting to live like this, but in end you start to miss having a home that feels like yours, that you can feel real ownership over.”
Jilles and his girlfriend moved into Joke Smit College, an almost century old school building with a rich history, in January. While approval from council was sought to build a new apartment block, Zwerfkei took over management the building, and employed a number of anti-kraak ‘guards’ to secure the building.
Jilles first heard about anti-kraak through a friend and was instantly intrigued by the concept.
“I wanted to know what it would be like to have a lot of room and I guess I was interested by the kind of adventurous style of living.”
After a year of living anti-kraak in Leidedorp, a village in South Holland, he decided to move to Amsterdam to be closer to his work. While he looked in earnest for housing, he found the prospect of finding a permanent contract in Amsterdam too daunting.
“You can’t enter and live in Amsterdam straight away. Everyone wants to live in Amsterdam. The only people who find a house for reasonable price find it through friends or family.”
While at first Jilles enjoyed the freedom that living anti-kraak gave him, the additional space to store his instruments and hold band practice sessions, he has since tired of the unconventional lifestyle and longs for a permanent home.
“Most people who come here are just jealous. They just see the building, the big spaces, and the cinema. But they have no understanding of what it’s really like. Having to walk to the other side of the building just to use the toilet, or showing like you’re on a camping trip with no hot water. When you know you’re only going to stay somewhere temporarily you don’t put any effort into making the space feel like your own. It makes me feel somewhat nomadic.”
In particular Jilles has tired of the constant and unannounced inspections by Zwerfkei, checking to see if he’s keeping the space clean and tidy.
“In my old place they’d come all the time into my room without telling me, especially when they were showing potential buyers around. It’s a real down side of living like this; you don’t have the same rights as you would if you were renting a place. That kind of stuff makes you feel less at home.”
In their previous anti-kraak home, Jilles’ girlfriend had been threatened with eviction for leaving clothes on the floor.
Alongside the loss of privacy, Jilles objects to the uncertainty that comes with living anti-kraak. With a notice period of one month attached to his contract, he fears that if they’re evicted Zwerfkei won’t find him a new place, and he’ll have to move back in with friends or family.
“If you’re lucky you can be given a space for a long time, but we haven’t got that here. They keep postponing rent days so each month we think ‘do we have to move this month?’ ‘Where will we go next?’ One time we packed all our stuff up and then they postponed the moving date again. And then you don’t know if they’re going to find you a new place. It gets really stressful.”
As Jilles faces the prospect of having to move again, he tries to keep his mind off his anxieties and focused on his work. For now he has no other choice.
“It’s a choice to live like this yes, but really it’s the only choice I have. If I could I would move to the commercial market but for now that’s impossible. Sometimes I long for a more traditional lifestyle, to live somewhere that’s more like home.”
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