Volkskrant 30.09.2010 ABEL HEIJKAMP – RONALD PAPING – HUGO PRIEMUS
Tomorrow the Squatting and Vacancy Act will come into effect. In addition to criminalizing squatting, this law also aims to tackle vacancy. Unfortunately, the proposed set of instruments is too non-binding for this. Municipalities can decide for themselves whether a vacancy policy is pursued and whether a vacancy register is kept. The municipalities have too little capacity and too few financial resources for this. A further outsourcing of this task to anti-squat agencies is therefore to be expected.
Anti-squat agencies have been active in the Netherlands since about 1980. They operate in a legal vacuum. Residents do not sign a (temporary) rental contract, but a loan agreement, which means that they cannot claim rent protection. In order to exclude risks for property owners, these agreements contain many far-reaching restrictions, prohibitions and obligations with regard to the use of the property.
For example, anti-squatters are often not allowed to talk about the building in question with the press or the owner, anti-squatters are put on the street when they have children, and they are denied the right to object in proceedings that affect their living space. On the other hand, the owner or the anti-squat agency has no obligation to do anything about maintenance. The contract may be terminated without giving reasons.
The unspecified 'loan fees' amount to 200 euros per person per month, excluding costs for utility companies. According to tenancy law experts and according to case law, these payments – in addition to the mandatory chores – should be regarded as rent. Anti-squat agencies, with the loan agreement in hand, constantly emphasize to their residents that there can be no question of tenant rights. Moreover, given their precarious living situation, residents are often afraid to complain.
The vacancy management quality mark, developed by the sector itself, in no way guarantees an improvement of the existing situation, but above all normalizes current practice. According to an inventory study, the agreements used still contain more than 50 provisions that may not be included in regular and temporary leases.
The legislator has never wanted to create the current widespread anti-squat system with the private-law loan agreement. It is therefore not wise to tinker with anti-squat agreements, which exclude residents from essential rights.
In general, the normal lease for an indefinite period with good legal protection is preferable. However, where normal rental is not possible for good reasons, temporary rental can offer a solution in clearly defined situations. There are already legal options for this for municipal demolition homes and rental under the Vacancy Act (for owner-occupied homes that are difficult to sell and homes for which demolition plans exist). In this way fundamental rights can be guaranteed and the rights and obligations of both tenant and landlord are adequately regulated.
The authors are respectively spokesperson for the Bond Precaire Woonvorm, director of the Dutch Housing Association and emeritus professor of Housing at TU Delft. According to them, anti-squat agencies should not offer their clients user agreements but temporary leases. The circumvention of tenancy law leads to numerous abuses.