MAASTRICHT. Mediation fees should largely be a thing of the past, especially after the Dutch Supreme Court made its verdict concerning agency fees, four months ago. The judge ruled that housing agencies are not allowed to charge mediation fees to both the landlord and the tenant (the only exception is when a tenant asks the housing agency to find a house for him). The business model of many agencies is therefore illegal. They advertise housing on their sites, and potential tenants have no way of getting around them. Then, when they draw up a contract, they charge a fee that typically amounts to one month’s rent.
As a result of the verdict quite some students turn to the Maastricht University’s Housing Helpdesk, asking for help in claiming their money back.
Inquiries with three agencies in Maastricht reveal that Housing XL no longer charges mediation fees to tenants; instead the landlords pay the lion’s share. But they do charge tenants ‘contract and administration fees’ of €247.50. 123Wonen charges €125 for this, while Pro Housing makes clear both on its website and by phone that “at no stage” do they charge fees to the tenant.
Are these ‘contract and administration fees’ a substitute for mediation fees? Is it a new grey area? The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, an independent watchdog that protects consumer interests has focused on improper mediation fees since 2014. “For other charges, our position is that they have to be reasonable”, says Saskia Bierling, a spokesperson for ACM. “But the question is of course: what’s reasonable? Fortunately, a law will come into force prohibiting agencies from charging double mediation fees for shared residences like a room (for independent housing this ban was already in place). In the explanatory memo, you can see that the legislature bans fees – be it for contract, administration or marketing – from being charged to the tenant. Once the law comes into force, we’ll turn our attention to exorbitant administration fees.”