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“I’m fucking done with you”

“I’m fucking done with you”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Stock Exchange

Foreign UM students complain about abusive landlords

A landlord who throws you to the ground, turns your visitor out onto the street, or leaves you in the cold for four weeks in the middle of winter when the heating goes off. All these are examples of inappropriate behaviour. Dutch UM students have just as many issues with badly behaved landlords, but international students are the most vulnerable, according to their own account.

Monday, 23 April. Late in the afternoon, the German law student Shaiyan Omamo (23) is studying when he hears someone enter his room without knocking. It’s the landlord. “I’m fucking done with you”, he yells. “In five days you’re out of here!” He threatens to push Omamo out of the second-floor window, and shoves the student to the floor. “I was in shock”, says Omamo. “My housemate heard me stumbling and thought it was a burglar. He was about to call the police.”

Omamo admits that he had caused some noise by organising two parties in the building on the Hondstraat. Not huge gatherings, he says, but around fifteen people. “And after complaints, the music went down and stayed there. But this is no reason to attack someone. Later I went to the police, who encouraged me to report the assault, but first I had to check on some of the landlord’s details. Then he apologised and I didn’t go through with the statement.”

Nevertheless, Omamo wants to tell his story to Observant. “My case is maybe an extreme example of abuse, but I’ve heard lots of stories of foreign UM students being intimidated by housing agencies or landlords. It’s time to raise awareness and to hold the landlords responsible for their behaviour. Undoubtedly, Dutch students will face these problems as well, but foreigners are more vulnerable. Most of them don’t speak Dutch too well and don’t know how to seek legal help.”

Blacklist

True, says Katha Koller (22). “It’s really a problem in Maastricht. Foreigners are ill-informed about their rights.” The German third-year student at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is still owed, together with her three former housemates, 650 euros from their landlord. “He never returned the full deposit. If we took legal measures, he would sue us for an extra 1000 euros for the broken dishwasher.”

Koller and her housemates – in the Orleansstraat – met the stereotype of German girls, she says. “We cleaned the house every week and never caused any trouble. But in his view, everything that broke was our fault. He never sent a handyman or expert. Our heater stopped in the beginning of December 2010. We had to wait four weeks, without heating and hot water. It was ten degrees inside! At the same time the dishwasher broke and pumped water into the house for about four hours. All our fault, he said. We had to buy a new one ourselves. We didn’t, so the landlord put a cupboard in the space where the dishwasher was before. After some time we didn’t dare to contact him. But we didn’t know who to call either. ”

All examples of misconduct, that much is clear. Many students who have problems with their landlords approach the Legal Helpdesk (Juridisch Loket), an agency in Céramique that provides free legal help. But according to staff member Miriam Nowak, a former Faculty of Law student, “it surprises me that so few foreign students come to see us; they’re often totally unaware of their rights. Dutch people usually have at least a vague idea, but this is not the case for foreigners.”

The archetype of the bad landlord is less common in Maastricht nowadays. At least, this is the impression of Marion Hendrikx, who has worked at Maastricht Housing since 1987: her blacklist contains no more than a handful of names. “If landlords do a bad job, it gets around on Facebook and Twitter and many students are warned in that way. Another reason is that renting a room privately is not as common as it used to be. These days, people really value their privacy, whereas landladies were well known for meddling in their lives of their tenants.”

No sex

But some are still around, including in Maastricht. Eighteen months ago, Maastricht Housing terminated the contract of a landlady after years of complaints from students. “This woman was just not open to reason and imposed her standards as a sort of ‘stepmother’ on students, many of whom had left home for the first time.”

Her latest victim was the Polish student Marta Tomczyk (20). She moved in with the woman at the Mergelweg in 2010 as a first-year Economics student, but given the ensuing problems she wasn’t able to study. Now she is a first-year student of Arts and Culture.

So what happened?  The landlady – a lonely woman from Hungary, aged about sixty – was the controlling type, says Tomczyk. “It was horrible. She constantly asked me where I was going, especially in the weekend. Didn’t I have to study? Your degree is the most important thing, she would say. That’s why my ex-boyfriend wasn’t allowed to stay for a couple of days. Also, she didn’t want the tenants to have sex in the apartment. Once I was watching a movie at night with a friend. She came in and yelled: ‘What are you doing?’ My friend had to leave at once.”

It was impossible for her to study. “I had a hard time; I felt terrible. In November, when it snowed, she turned off the heater. It was super cold. After I complained to Maastricht Housing, she avoided me for a few weeks. In December, I left. After a year in another apartment, I live at the Vrijthof now. It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve felt at home in Maastricht and enjoy being in my house.” 

 

Maurice Timmermans

For free legal help, contact the Legal Helpdesk (Juridisch Loket), Avenue Céramique 2–6, Maastricht

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