Dutch government fails to protect tenants in new law

In the Netherlands, a country going through a major housing crisis, the concept of ‘anti-kraak’ is a growing alternative to regular housing. It has left part of society in a vulnerable situation, where low rent comes at the cost of giving up fundamental rights. A new Housing Act did nothing to protect users of anti-kraak.

By Mikkel Leimand & Emma Rapaport

If you want to live in one of the bigger cities in Europe, getting a place to stay can be both difficult and expensive. In the Netherlands, the concept of ‘anti-kraak’, or anti-squatting, lets tenants live in empty apartment buildings or office spaces, usually meant for demolition, at a low rent. In exchange, tenants have to accept certain restrictions. The regular Dutch rental rights do not apply, as tenants are officially recognised as guardians hired to keep squatters out.

Nils Drenth lived anti-kraak for ten months in Amsterdam at only 150 € a month, a price quite unheard of in the Dutch metropolis. His contract stated he could be asked to leave with only two weeks’ notice. To him, the short notice created a lot of uncertainty.

“Even for the short period of time I was there, I hated it. Every day I had in my mind, when I opened the mailbox, that there could be a letter saying we’d have to move out within two weeks,” says Nils Drenth, who was eventually asked to pack his bags and leave. The company offered no replacement housing.

PORTRAITS: MEET THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE ANTI-KRAAK

Other examples of restrictions include accepting unannounced house checks, and not being allowed to throw parties, have animals or kids. In addition, some anti-kraak companies forbid users to speak to the media. Anti-kraak is not regulated by the government. With no official monitoring the amount of people living anti-kraak is estimated to be anywhere from 12.000-50.000, the government’s own estimate being 30.000-35.000.

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New housing act leaves out anti-kraak

In February this year, the new far-reaching Housing Act was passed in the Dutch Parliament. Anti-kraak was completely left out. Albert de Vries, MP of the Labour Party (PvdA) and spokesperson on housing, would have liked to include greater protection for anti-kraak users.

“In some cases, they are put on the street in under a week, and that’s not what we want. We want to protect those people,” says Albert de Vries.

His opinion was not shared by the rest of the parliament. While the Labour party is in a government coalition with the Liberal Party (VVD), their views on housing differ. In an official statement by Richard Gielen, Chief Secretary to Housing Minister Stef Blok (VVD), he says anti-kraak is a matter of housing of legislation and is considered a private agreement between company and tenant.

Jan-Hein Koetsier is one of the owners of anti-kraak company Alvast. He thinks that at times some anti-kraak companies can be too aggressive in the way they treat tenants, but that it’s also important to understand that anti-kraak comes with certain sacrifices.

“I wouldn’t mind having some regulation. But still, two weeks’ notice and the fact that sometimes the company will check the building. Well, that’s anti-kraak. That’s what you have to agree with, if you want to live like this,” says Jan-Hein Koetsier and mentions how the association of anti-kraak companies introduced a Code of Conduct themselves in 2010 to accommodate some of the criticism.

The lack of regulation also creates the question of responsibility, when something goes wrong. In 2013, a woman was electrocuted and killed in her shower. A council official later described the property as uninhabitable. Nor the owner or the anti-kraak company would take responsibility for the accident.

Anti-kraak should be a matter of choice

The Dutch housing market has been under pressure for many years. In the bigger cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, finding a place to live can be close to impossible. With rent rising and the price for a room easily passing 600 € a month, many are forced to look for alternative solutions.

This lack of options is the real issue according to Jannie Komduur. She is a policy officer for the Woonbond, a national tenants’ rights organization that represents 1,6 million Dutch households.

“I don’t think it should be abolished, but it should come with decent rules. For example we think there should be a notice of four weeks instead of two, and better protection of privacy so the companies can’t enter without warning,” says Jannie Komduur.

Former anti-kraak tenant Nils Drenth agrees that the system shouldn’t be banned completely, but that people should know what they’re signing up for.

“It’s a mindset – when you don’t care about moving out within two weeks, then it’s ok, but I’m not a person like it. I hated it. Now I understand the consequences,” he says. “It’s all about whether or not you’ve been given a choice. When moving to Amsterdam I had no choice.”

Going to court is the only option

According to Carla Huisman, an associate professor of sociology from the University of Groningen, anti-kraak should be treated like normal renters and have regular contracts.

“There is no legal reason to tolerate such contracts, and there’s no reason why the government cannot intervene without changing the law. The problem is the discourse that says it’s your own responsibility,” says Carla Huisman.

She says that the only option for tenants not happy with their situations is to go court. To former anti-kraak tenant Nils Drenth, going to court was never an option.

“If I did call a lawyer, I knew that they’d kick us out immediately and ban us for life. Really they can do whatever they like. There are so many people looking for a house, and if you complain they can just take the next person in,” says Nils Drenth.

Neither Jannie Komduur of the Woonbond or Albert de Vries of the Labour Party think there will be any legislation on anti-kraak in the near future. Instead they hope unhappy users will go to court, because if more lawsuits are won in could create a judicial precedent.

“I would like people to go to court. I think lawyers will say anti-kraak shouldn’t be allowed anymore without normal contracts.”

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PORTRAITS: MEET THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE ANTI-KRAAK