BPW The Hague member Trees Steeghs starts a crowdfunding for an investigation into personal injury after years of moisture and mold problems in her rental home. After solving some of the problems, the landlord Vestia let her live in a damp and moldy house for another fifteen years and failed to take adequate measures against this. Over the years, Trees' health problems continued to increase, she developed asthma and eczema and used large amounts of medication on a daily basis. In 2020, the situation worsened to such an extent that Trees was temporarily housed in a hotel by Vestia.
Preliminary investigation of personal injury
During the years of struggle, Trees called in several investigative bodies, for example, from the beginning of 2018 she was granted a 40% rent reduction from the Rental Committee, the District Court ruled in her favor in 2019 and the GGD established in 2020 that the moisture and mold problems were of a constructional nature, and almost certainly related to her health problems. However, the GGD was not allowed to make a definitive statement on this connection. In 2021, the municipal Pandbrigade forced Vestia to solve the moisture problems in Trees' house. Now, in 2022, she can almost move back to her home. In order to definitively prove the relationship between the structural condition of her home and her health problems, she is now raising money for a preliminary investigation. In that investigation, the architectural and medical files are compared. BPW The Hague supports her in her fight for justice and the right to good, healthy housing.
In The Hague, Trees is certainly not the only one who is struggling with serious moisture and mould. In a study into the quality of the housing stock in The Hague the municipality reported in March this year that 1 in 5 free sector tenants suffers from mold and damp, and even 1 in 3 (!) tenants in the social sector. In practice this means that more than 15% of the residents of The Hague live in damp rental housing – more than 86,000 people! This situation did not arise from powerlessness. Letting the social housing stock decline fits in with the prevailing view that a widely accessible social rental sector is 'out of date' and that it is only intended for the most vulnerable in our society. Allowing this sector to rot comes in handy within the aggressive gentrification policy that is being pursued in some neighborhoods in The Hague and turns out to be a useful excuse to raze everything to the ground and build more expensive homes in its place. At the national level, measures such as the landlord levy have ensured that housing associations have been able to excuse themselves for years from carrying out adequate maintenance to homes, because the money for this was funneled annually into the state treasury.
In the free sector, landlords have such a strong position of power over tenants, in which they make clever use of extreme scarcity, that they can get away with anything. For example, asking more than €800 for a house of 50m² with single glazing, rotten frames and the accompanying mold and moisture is now considered 'normal'. In addition, there is virtually no control over whether private tenants are asking a fair rent and tenants increasingly have temporary contracts, so that complaints about rent that are too high or poor maintenance almost always lead to contract termination and eviction. Since 2021, additional investments have been made in the pledge brigade and is there one Rental desk founded in the municipality of The Hague to help tenants with problems. A measure that was taken much too late and in contrast to the thousands of households in poor housing a drop in the ocean. We therefore encourage residents to organize themselves and take action against the poor state of the housing stock in The Hague in addition to engaging the Huurteam.
In April this year, there were 49 parliamentary questions asked by SP MP Beckerman to the Minister of Housing Hugo de Jonge, partly in response to an item about Trees' situation in Heart of the Netherlands† There is no trace of urgency in the answers to the questions. For example, the minister sees "at the moment no starting points for adjusting laws and regulations to force landlords to tackle problems with moisture and mold more quickly."
A final verdict in Trees's case could improve the situation of tens of thousands of other tenants, who may suffer from the same health problems. It is clear that too little is happening at local and national level and that tenants are mainly given the responsibility to do something about the poor maintenance of their home. We therefore hope for a good settlement of the case for Trees and ample compensation for the injury suffered.