Housing Guide for Students at Leiden University
In the summer of 2018, scammers, hucksters and bot spammers roamed Facebook housing groups. Many people expressed their desperation and even anger over housing matters. People's plans were getting squashed. And the situation has not gotten better. The housing situation in the Netherlands is tough, no doubt.
So you are here to find out how to get that room? Finding a room near Leiden University can be a pain in the a**. It requires great effort and time to find a room. (Or just a larger budget tbh lol.) During the first semester when I had settled in the Netherlands, it took me a month to find a suitable room.
While Leiden University provides their own advice here, I go deeper into each option giving my anecdotal perspective. First, I will list your options and lastly I will provide further notes on each option where necessary. Hopefully, by the end of the post, I have been some help to some of you.
Leiden University: If you haven't found a place to live before leaving home, we strongly advise you not to come to Leiden University. Consider deferring your studies to allow yourself more time to find a place to stay.
I have listed your options from better to worse:
- University's SEA Housing contract lasts for one year. You should apply there ASAP. This is your best bet. Why? Because it saves a lot of headache and gives you time to prepare your life in Holland.
- Pararius and Funda are websites where every rental agency posts their available rooms. This is your second best bet. Why exactly? Because it is your second easiest option to avoid frustration and peptic ulcers.
- Facebook groups like Leiden Housing and the Dutch version Zoekt Kamer offer great rooms. In my experience, however, the adverts are often biased toward applicants that speak Dutch, preferably girls, and those who intend to stay longer than one year. Of course, if the house is full of Dutch-speaking people, then they prefer another Dutch there too, so as to not leave out foreigners out of the group because of a language/cultural barrier.
- DUWO is a student housing corporation who may offer some rooms via Room. However, you better be registered there before you were born. Since rooms are given on the basis of those who have registered there the longest, be prepared to get stomped by people up in the line. I have registered there for 2 years now and I am still unable to get even past the 50th spot on the list. You pay 35€ for 8 year-subscription but the chances are you have already graduated by that time.
Then there is, of course, Kamernet. However, I don't recommend Kamernet, because there is a 90% overlap to Facebook adverts, and the subscription fee is quite high against the possible upside. Not worth it!
Adverts in Room and Facebook usually lead to a 'hospiteren' event. I think that most of the people who join the event come from nearby countries such as France, Belgium or Germany.
I joined one and they were amazed of hearing that a Finn came all the way to a hospiteren event. You should not fly over to the Netherlands because of a hospiteren event. Empathetic period.
Basically, hospiteren is a 'viewing event' where you meet the current tenants. You introduce yourself among other people, drink, eat and have fun. During the evening you will be given a tour of the apartment and play conversational games. In the end, if they like you, they will become your neighbor and your best friends. Usually they look for a person who will be there for longer time, so exchange students have a little disadvantage there. My advice is the old cliche 'be yourself'.
Here are other alternatives:
- Buy an RV or a custom stealth van
- Try anti-squatting
- Maybe try to find a family that could accommodate you temporarily? I have several friends who did it this way!
- Find people in Facebook housing groups who are also looking for a place to live and decide together to find the place once you are all in the Netherlands! You can also find people looking for a room during the orientation week before the start of the semester.
- Apply as soon as possible, and pay the fee to the university (total of 500€ for the housing fee and contract). Rooms are given to those who applied first.
- You should make a plan B, because there are only so many people the university can accommodate.
- The contract lasts a maximum of one year after which you are on your own. Use those last two months to find another room!
- If there are no more rooms left, call back later two weeks before the start of your studies to find out if they still have rooms left. I got my first room this way!
- Join the English and Dutch speaking housing groups around your area.
- The adverts may seem biased towards a particular ethnicity, gender or age, but it is ultimately the landlord's decision and not the tenants'. In general, it is nothing personal. While some landlords could actually be biased, you will never know.
- Invest in your Facebook profile or send a photo of yourself in the introduction message so they can link your introductory message to your face.
- Write a lively, personal and interesting message to grab their attention and spark their interest. Do not write “Hi, I am interested in this room. Regards, Mr. Smith” !
private rental agencies
- Most rental agencies have their available rental offers in Pararius or Funda, however, avoid using other third party platforms as they usually require a registration fee with no possible advantage compared to the two websites mentioned first.
- The application is the most crucial aspect of getting a room via a rental agency. The agents work with the landlord and recommend suitable candidates based on how reliable you are. Thus, don't make the agent work for your application: provide all the essential information of yourself during in the first message.
- Remember that it is just business as usual; meaning that, it is all about the money. Therefore their question in their mind will always be: Can they trust you to pay your rent on time? You need to convince and guarantee that you are a responsible person.
Usually private rental agencies ask you to register to their own website. There are two types of registrations:
- Free registration that helps the rental agency assess your profile and help you accordingly.
- Paid registration that is the same as the free one, but does not actually bring any benefits. (Not in my experience at least!). Usually it is mandatory due to company rules. You must pay in order to attend a viewing and to receive email notifications of potential viewings and rooms. Screw that!
I advice against paying for a registration. Firstly, it will normalize this kind of behavior, and sooner or later all rental agencies require paid registration. Secondly, it is just a way for them to milk money out of you. There are a lot of rental agencies that provide adequate housing without a paid registration. The one that milks money out of you is probably not worth it. And lastly, a paid registration will psychologically push you toward choosing their room compared to an equally good or even better room by another rental agency when facing such a decision.
Here are some common documents that the rental agencies usually ask you to give after the viewing:
- Black out sensitive information! This includes social security number and citizen service number! Identity theft is a real thing and passports are gold in the black markets!
- Parental letter of guarantee
- Students are required to provide a letter of guarantee from parents. Check if the rental agency provides a template on their website, otherwise ask for one.
- Proof of student grants
- Does your government support your studies?
- Payslip if you work
Reviews are generally a good way to assess how reputable the private rental agency is. However, be critical. Things are not always how they seem. People with good experiences are less likely to give good reviews than those who have had bad experiences. Disappointed people will do everything in their power to diminish the agencies' reputation.
Therefore, know that there is always a bias toward negative reviews. Be sure to check what is written and not only check the star count. Be mindful of the amount of reviews. Ten reviews is not enough to conclude much. Fifty reviews is a lot better.
It is all about the 'law of large numbers'. Accordingly, the average score of the reviews from a large number of people should be close to the expected score and will tend to become closer to the expected score as more reviews are given.
hire an agent
Some rental agencies work on “no cure, no pay” basis, which means that when all parties sign the rent contract, you are obliged by law to pay a commission fee which is often the same amount as the rent itself. So if your room costs 750 euros per month, then you must pay the agent 750 euros for the commission. Yikes! (Though, let me mind you that a commission fee of 500€ should not hurt much since that is what you pay to the university anyway if they arrange housing for you!)
finding a house with friends
Many landlords are resistant to lease a place to a group of students. Go figure. Probably because most students are bunch of dirty baboons? I wouldn't know for certain, but I have seen a couple of student dormitories and they were as if a tornado had flown over. Filthy (hobbitses)!
I know many friends who have convinced the landlord to lease the apartment between him/her and his/her student friends. It is possible but tricky. However, make sure you can trust your friends, because the housing contract will be signed by only one person. If your friend can't pay the rent, you are going to be in deep mess.
In general, the cheapest 12 square-meter rooms start from around 400€ in cities and towns. It is expensive everywhere. Mind you that there are people taking advantage of the harsh housing situation. I know a man who tried to sell his 9 square-meter room for 550€ to me.
Rooms that cost 250€ per month are mostly student dorms which you can find through Facebook. You can find rooms between 300€ and 400€ through rental agencies, Room and Facebook. With luck that is!
I heard from a friend who lost around 1600 euros in an elaborate housing scam. It was really devastating for her. So beware! The scams are real even if you have not experienced one yet. Here are some useful links I found:
- Leiden University's advice on scammers is very comprehensive
- Infographics of Dutch rental law
- Dutch housing scammers exposed facebook group
Finding housing can be very hard. If you don't find a room, it is not the end of the world. I was very close to not find a room in the summer of 2018 myself. It was by a pure stroke of luck that I found a room with a single phone call. My final advice is to grow your probability of finding a room by going through all housing channels: try Facebook, university, rental agencies, and various temporary solutions. But avoid Room and Kamernet, and those pesky rental agencies with registration fees.
So, good luck and don't get bamboozled!
If you'd like to propose changes or add more information to this guide, feel free to contact here.