Trying to decide where to live when you’re in the Netherlands or moving from house to house can be a nightmare. In fact, moving anywhere can be stressful. It doesn’t even matter what you are here for either, whether you’re a student or just moving here for work, it can be a struggle.

There are so many different things to consider, such as rental cost, type of property, the location of the property whether it’s private housing in the Netherlands or social housing in the Netherlands, etc, etc. If you’re an expat, this can be even more confusing. There is also a massive worry that you could fall for a scam.

The Netherlands has both social and private housing, like many other countries. However, of course, it varies from place to place. An option could be going for either social housing or private housing, it all depends on what would work best for you and whether you will manage to get what you want.

So, without further adieu, what is the difference between social and private housing (free-sector aka vrije sector) in the Netherlands and which one is perfect for me? Here is all you need to know – as the rules for both are different.

Shhh… calm now – no need to be stressed any longer! 

And before we get started, here you can read up on buying or renting a house in the Netherlands


Social housing in the Netherlands

What is social housing in the Netherlands?

Let’s get back to basics. The Housing Act (1902), recognises that affordable housing in the Netherlands is a shared national responsibility. For this reason, social housing is housing which is usually accessible to people who have a low income, therefore housing is affordable for them.

It is generally designed for people who have low pay, have a disability, are vulnerable in some way or are elderly. Social housing can even be provided for people who do not meet these criteria. In short: Social housing in the Netherlands is housing where the rent is subsidized to make it more affordable.

What is considered a subsidized home?

Most of the rented properties here are actually social housing in the Netherlands. These subsidized homes are homes where the rent is below the limit of €710.68. This means that people living in social housing will not pay more than €710.68 per month for their home, as the government subsidises it. The rent also must not go up by more than 4.3% annually for a self-contained house.

The maximum rent that people pay, falls upon a points-based system. Rooms (not-self contained) also can fall under social housing. 80% of these homes are rented out to people with incomes no higher than €36,165, with 10% of these homes for incomes between €36,165 and €40,349. The addition 10% are with people with higher incomes than this (all 2017). This is the percentage those housing associations must keep to.

What are the responsibilities of housing associations?

Housing associations are responsible for more than just social housing in the Netherlands – they are responsible for the whole neighbourhood. This means that they should clean up any graffiti and help prevent any anti-social behaviour or any other crime. They also help with maintaining children’s parks and any sports facilities, streets, parking, housing, everything. The house association also have to appoint caretakers for the area. They are basically responsible for making sure that the area is kept in top condition.

Social Housing in the Netherlands
Social Housing in the Netherlands: It’s the association’s responsibility to keep the area nice!

How do I apply for social housing in the Netherlands?

First, you must register with the housing association in your region and you should have a housing permit. If you want to live in another region, then you must provide reasons why you specifically want to live there (e.g. family live there). You also should do this even if you want to stay in the same region.

When you have applied, you will be part of a waiting list. The housing organization will have a website that you can visit which will have all of the available properties on it. You then need to apply for it. There are usually many people going for the same property, as waiting lists are long, so many things will be taken into consideration.

Of course, one of the requirements is that you do not earn above the yearly income that was mentioned earlier. Your family size will also be taken into account. Also, how long you have been on the waiting list for it considered. As a whole, every aspect is considered and the right house goes to that right person (for example if you’re highly vulnerable, you would be considered an urgent case).

What is the housing points system?

There is a points system in the Netherlands for social housing, which determines the value of the property in which you’ll be living in, this then determines how much the rent will be. So, how does it work? Well, points are awarded depending on whether it’s self-contained or not, what facilities the property has and what the size of the property is. The higher the points, the higher the rent. You can appeal this if you feel that the number of points is incorrect and if you ask the rent tribunal, you can have a rent re-assessment.

If the rent is too much and struggling to pay, you can apply for rent allowance in the Netherlands.

How do I make a complaint about my housing association?

If you want to complain about your property, you can go to the actual housing association complaints committee to submit your complaint. This should be your first course of action. If the dispute is not resolved, then you can also take it to a rent tribunal (huurcommissie).

If the landlord is the issue, then complain to the landlord first. Then, if it is not resolved then you can complain to the landlord’s complaints committee. If it still is not resolved, this dispute can go through a rent tribunal. You do this if your complaint has not been resolved and they should be able to assist you. Any sort of complaint can be forwarded on to them, as long as it’s to do with housing.

The Rent Tribunal is an agency that can help to solve disputes to do with housing. It has nothing to do with the court but aims to resolve the dispute. Normal cost: €450 for a company and only €25 for a regular person.

private housing in the Netherlands
Don’t put up with sh**ty landlords when dealing with private or social housing in the Netherlands

Private housing in the Netherlands (free-sector)

Private housing in the Netherlands has a lot more flexibility than social housing. For a start, contracts are liberalised, which means that there is more flexibility for the landlord and tenant when it comes to the rental price and what it includes. This means that there is no maximum rent, however with the rise of crazy rental prices, in some places they have started to cap this (not-liberalised). There is also no points system in place.

How do tenancy agreements work in the Netherlands?

Tenancy agreements in the private sector can be either written down in a contract, or it can even be an oral agreement. However, despite this, an oral agreement is never advised without some sort of evidence JUST in case something goes wrong (such as a witness). Your tenancy agreement in that property can either be fixed-period or indefinite. So what’s the difference?

Well, a fixed-period means that your tenancy agreement has an end date. If your tenancy was started after 1st July 2016 and is a fixed-period tenancy of 2 years (independent property) or 5 years (non-independent property), then your tenancy will officially end on the date listed in the contract, yet it can be cancelled before or become indefinite. This needs to be official at least 1 month in advance via your landlord before the contract ends.

If you’re a tenant, you can terminate it before then, with at least 1 month of notice. If you entered it before this date, then it is not a temporary agreement and both you and the landlord must agree to cancel it before the time has elapsed.

So, what can you expect to find in your tenancy agreement?

You should usually find the rental price (sometimes when it may rise will be present), both your landlord and your personal information, the address of the property, any rules of living in that property and both of your signatures. Any additional charges should also be present on the tenancy – such as utility charges (if applicable) and service costs. Note: Look out for any dodgy charges there, they aren’t just allowed to charge you for anything (for example, key holding charges). Furniture may or may not be included in the rental cost (if applicable).

private housing in the Netherlands
Remember to read before you sign!

What are the responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant?

Like with social housing, the overall responsibility of the property falls on the landlord. However, some things also fall on the tenant too, so you need to be aware of this. For example, the landlord has the responsibility to ensure that:

  • The building is safe to live in
  • All major repairs are carried out at the expense of them
  • All repairs should be done promptly
  • They should not be coming to property without good reason, often and uninvited (unless it’s for major repairs)

The tenant also has responsibilities when living in a privately rented property. The tenant has the responsibility to ensure that:

  • Minor repairs are dealt with by them
  • They pay for these minor repairs (as long as they are not expensive)
  • They allow the landlord to come into the property when they are carrying out their own repairs/maintenance

How do I make a complaint about my landlord?

Your first course of action would be to complain to the landlord first. If there is no resolution to this complaint, then you can straight away take this up at a rent tribunal. Complaints can range from anything to unfair fees to poor maintenance. Basically, if you have an issue that is not being resolved, they can help you.

Are you looking for cheaper housing that isn’t social housing in the Netherlands? Anti-squatting dwellings may be the answer.

Need a more extensive guide to private housing in the Netherlands (and Dutch rental agencies)? Then check this guide out for all of the nitty-gritty that you need to know.

Have we missed anything to do with private or social housing in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments! 

This article was originally published in September 2018, and was updated in September 2019.


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