A lot of expats living in Amsterdam have paid a fee to an agent. According to Dutch law, in most cases this is not permitted. If you have paid a fee, rental expert Dafna Eccles tells you what you can do about it.
If you rented an apartment in the past five years and you were charged agency fees, usually about a month's rent plus taxes, this might not have been legal. If so, you might be able to claim this money back.
Because there is a conflict of interest between the landlord and the tenant, letting agencies are not allowed to represent both parties at the same time. They can only represent either the landlord or the tenant. This has been determined by several judges, as well as by the Dutch consumer authority ACM (Autoriteit Consument en Markt). The agency is only allowed to charge the party they are allowed to represent. If that is the landlord, then the agency cannot charge the tenant, and the tenant does not have to pay the agency. If the tenant has already paid, she or he can claim a refund.
So legally, who does your agency represent: the landlord or the tenant? Usually the first one to contact the agency about the apartment is considered to be the client. If the agency advertised the apartment-to-rent on a website then the landlord was clearly the first to contact the agency (according to the ACM consumer authority as well as several court verdicts). This means the agency is representing the landlord and the tenant should not be charged an agency fee.
If you were charged an agency fee as a tenant, you might be able to claim a refund.
What to do if You Were Illegally Charged an Agency Fee
The maximum term for reclaiming unjust agency fees is five years. If you live in Amsterdam, please contact the !WOON tenant support agency or the Meldpunt to see if you are entitled to a refund, and if so, help you get it. Some cities have huurteams who might be able to assist. You can also contact the nearest Juridisch Loket legal support agency, or a lawyer (for example if you have legal insurance). You can search online for companies or lawyers specializing in reclaiming agency fees. They tend to work on a "no cure, no pay" basis. If you win, a pre-determined percentage is deducted from the refunded sum. Below is a list of some of these agencies.
You can also start by doing (some of) the work yourself. Here is an explanation of how you could claim a refund. The legal documents, like the sample letters and the sample summons, are in Dutch.
Write a Letter to the Agency
This letter needs to include the following information:
- That the agency was working for the landlord and therefore you were not obliged to pay an agency fee.
- You want a refund within two weeks of the date on your letter.
If the agency does not comply, you will start legal proceedings, taking the matter to court. There are sample letters on the following sites:
- The Dutch Realtors' Association (NVM), see their page on commissions.
- The Woonbond Tenant's Association, you can download their sample letter.
- The Juridisch Loket's sample letters.
Please send your letter by registered mail as well as by regular mail, and make sure you keep a copy.
Going to Court
If the agency does not refund your agency fee, you will need to go to court. If you wish, you can have someone represent you, such as a lawyer or another expert. But you are also allowed to represent yourself. If you want to pursue the case yourself you will need to write a summons.
The NVM (Dutch realtors' organization) provides a sample summons; please also see their page on commission.
More Background Information (in Dutch)
Below are some commercial agencies who offer to claim back agency fees. We only have experience working with Guido Zijlstra.
We wish you all the best and hope you will receive the refunds you are owed!
Editor's note: This article originally appeard on WijksteunpuntWonen, and has been republished with permission. Since this article was written, a number of agencies have declared bankruptcy (and perhaps continued working under another name). This means they will no longer pay their debts to their previous clients. Dafna's advice is if you have unjustly been charged an agency fee and want to claim a refund, the sooner you do it the bigger the chance of actually getting your money back. See here for more information.
About the author: Dafna Eccles works in Amsterdam for the Wijksteunpunt Wonen tenant support agency, an independent non-profit organization which provides free, independent, and confidential advice and support for tenants. For further information visit www.wswonen.nl and click on your area for contact details.