The student housing nightmare: a tale of discrimination, fraud, and protest

Moving to a new country is often something to be celebrated. However, for new international students arriving in the Netherlands, this is often a stressful time.

International students moving to the Netherlands often find that it’s not a hangover that causes them to miss their university commitments — but homelessness.

Instead of being greeted with the idyllic image of eating cheese whilst riding a bike and wearing clogs, many are faced with an unfair, confusing, and often discriminatory housing market. 🏡

Student housing crisis: The problems

One of the major issues seems to be a lack of affordable housing for all students, not just the internationals. Often rooms are subpar and overpriced, but the lack of a viable alternative means that students have little choice but to take what they can.

The Dutch student housing crisis is only predicted to get worse with time… Image: Unsplash

Just to illustrate how bad the situation is, in 2019, Tilburg set up a Tent City for new international students because there wasn’t enough room for them (involuntary camping adventure?). 🏕

Universities in the Netherlands are not responsible for finding their students’ accommodation. New students are left to face the daunting task of finding a room alone.

READ MORE | Student housing in the Netherlands: your guide to finding a room in 2023

On top of all this, new students may only find out that they actually have a seat at university as little as a month before they are due to start.

Facebook and student housing: it’s problematic 💸

To begin, Facebook groups are often plagued by scammers waiting to take advantage of desperate people. They offer a room if a deposit is sent straight away, but of course, no such room exists.

Some people have been scammed out of hundreds of euros before they’ve even arrived in the country.

Even if you go through a housing agency, there are risks. There are plenty of stories circulating of people who have paid huge agency fees to these companies only to be left with no house and considerably less money.

READ MORE | Housing & rental scams in the Netherlands: ultimate red flag guide

Even reputable agencies will charge vast sums in agency fees, contract fees, and basically, any fee that they can justify.

Utrecht student and vlogger Levi Hildebrand read this article and set out to give you 5 reasons why it’s a good idea to house an international student!

The Facebook groups paint a grim picture of exactly how bad things are. For every room posted, there are at least 50 posts from concerned prospective students pleading for somewhere to stay.

“Dutch girls only” 🙅‍♀️

This is when the internationals are faced with the cherry on top of all of their problems. The dreaded words at the top of nearly every post: “Dutch girls only”.

The arguments for girls wanting an all-female house are understandable, and some might say that it’s reasonable to want to live in an all-Dutch house in your own country.

READ MORE | 11 creative solutions to the Dutch student housing crisis that makes us say “Why didn’t we think of that?”

Unfortunately, what Dutch students want is in contradiction with what Dutch universities want. There’s a real drive from Dutch universities to bring in more internationals, but the housing market as it stands cannot cope with this influx.

As a result, there are people who have missed their first lectures, people sleeping in tents, couch-surfing, and dropping out of university. This is clearly not the best welcome and can lead to a feeling of a divide between Dutch and international students, which is far from ideal…

Student housing: Is there a solution?

For now, a solution to the student housing crisis seems to be far away in the distant and foggy future. However, over the past few years, students have started coming together across the Netherlands to try and ensure a fairer housing system.

Student protests

For example, in September 2017, students in Groningen took to the steps of the Academy building to protest the lack of housing facilities made available to an ever-increasing student population.

Check online or in Facebook groups to find when student housing protests are organised in your city. Image: Depositphotos

Temporary accommodation was offered to the students (in an old refugee asylum, and only until the end of October) for €16 a night, to be shared with 3 other people, with no Wi-Fi, a shared bathroom, and no access to a kitchen.

Student protests continue to this day, with more and more students calling for a fairer student housing market and universities to take more responsibility.

How do you feel about the student housing crisis? Tell us in the comments below! 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2017, and was fully updated in August 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Freepik
Emily Hine
Emily Hine
Emily is originally from the UK. She moved to Groningen over a year ago to study for her Master's degree and is struggling to leave. She is really enjoying learning about and embracing Dutch culture.

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  1. Unfortunately there is a lack of proper student housing for both local as well as international students.

    I think the biggest downside (sub)letting a room to internationals is that it is hard to trace them once they are gone; I’ve sublet my room to an international exchange student while I was on exchange myself and she did not pay the last 3 months of rent, the girl just went away…eventually this had cost me over €1000. Furthermore international students are already enjoying the (relatively very cheap) top-level education sponsored by the Dutch government. So be aware that the Dutch tax payers are paying 80% of the tuition fee of the international students. Considering all this I don’t think the International students should have anything to complain about; it’s not all that mutch better for the Dutch themselves.

    • A lot of international students by the tuition fee at their home university. They also have to pay the full price for public transport. Also, when you live in the Netherlands and you can’t find housing, you can still go back home while searching for accommodation. As an international student, it’s impossible most of the time.

    • Your saying of Dutch tax payers pay 80% of the tuition fee of internationals only apply to EU students I am afraid. And it is indeed a crisis now that international students really can complain about, especially Non-EU students who paid way more to come to study. The universities should indeed take some responsibilities on this crisis because they are not so helpful on housing new student but meanwhile they are selling themselves to attract more students to come and study. Your subletting matter was indeed an unfortunate, but it was a individual matter after all, it doesn’t really apply to the majority…

    • WHAT! The international students pay TEN times the fee that the dutch students pay! So no, our education is in no way sponsored by any government. If the students happen to be from lower economy countries, this fee and the living expenses are a big deal as many of them have to rely on bank loans to even afford it. So excuse me if we complain about the housing problem here!

    • Hi Alison,

      It is true that the education in the Netherlands is relatively cheap, but do be aware that tax payers only support the international students from EU and EEA. Therefore people who come to the Netherlands from outside the EU have to pay 100% of their fees. For my faculty, that translates to €8000. Furthermore, bear in mind that inflation and differences in monthly income in various countries may affect international students’ budgets.

      Now that we have that out of the way, I absolutely agree that it is difficult for Dutch students to find accommodation. Why should it be hard for anyone, though? And why the fact that Dutch people have it hard as well should mean nobody has anything to complain about?

      P.S.: You know you can sue a person you rented the flat to, right? The contract makes them obliged to pay for the room

    • As an international student, I feel the need to remark that education in the NL is not cheap at all for non-Dutch people: indeed, people coming from outside Europe pay taxes which are much higher than the taxes Dutch students pay (if they come with a scholarship, foreign students don’t pay the taxes themselves, but there is still someone paying a lot of money). Students coming from other countries of Europe still find the taxes high, since the NL have a high general cost of life compared to many countries of Central and Southern Europe (including the cost of education).

    • And even for students within the EU, the subsidised amount is about the same in many countries (or, e.g. in Germany, there are no tuition fees). So considering the number of Dutch students abroad it pretty much balances out. It’s a moot point.

    • I’m sorry for your bad experience, but you do know that most students targeted by this article are not exchange students? The University of Amsterdam has around 4.000 not-Dutch students (hard to say considering new English courses are opening up every year) who are gonna be here for at least three years, if not more, and many of them will never actually move away from Amsterdam.
      This being said, have you ever tried looking at a website for rentals? Just today I can count at least one out three posts that are for “ONLY DUTCH!!!”. A lot of rooms are also only available to “professionals above 21” which do not really sound like the kind of people who will move away soon. I’d like to remind you, this housing discrimination is currently illegal in the Netherlands and is weird considering how you pride yourselves on being progressive.

    • wow dutch tax payers paid 80% of tuition for international students?. This is ridiculous. I am afraid that this is only for EU students and non-EU students like me must pay at least 8000euro per year. And other costs for non EU students need to pay when we need to apply in the Netherlands. We also pay taxes when doing groceries, renting a room… Before you say something, you need to search for information. We have rights to complain about housing problems in this country ???

  2. Indeed. My partner and I struggled too much to find a place, we had a very bad experience. The housing problem somehow meant to me loosing the opportunity to get cum lauden, as I had my first exam already at the end of September when we didn’t have yet a decent place to live. We were in a provisory “place” with NO internet that the agency rented to us until the apartment we were supposed to rent gets ready, the same that we never got. Hope the housing conditions will improve for upcoming students.

  3. I think it’s not just about not wanting to live with foreign students. It’s the wish to live with people who look like you, who are members of the same “groups”. Students at secondary education, young working-class people face the same problem. They also get rejected when they want to rent a room in a house filled with university students. A common social phenomenon, where people surround themselves with people who are “like” them. Sad but true.

    A solution might be to start renting houses or rooms outside the city, it’s cheaper and you don’t have to with other students. Don’t forget that a lot of students, especially at secondary education still live with their parents and travel each day to the cities, till they found their friends in the city and finally find a room.

    Try to mix with the locals in different areas also might help. Become a member of local studentgroups, go to a Dutch sportclub and be one of them.

    I will do the same in a few weeks, when I move to Lisbon.

    Go local.

  4. I remember this being a big problem for my girlfriend at Tilburg Univeristy. As late as mid October last year there was reportedly 400 people still searching from rooms in the city. The suggestion of trying outside the city you are studying does make sense, but adds considerable cost once one considers the cost of train in the Netherlands, especially since there is no travel grant subsidy available for international students as there is for the Dutch.

    I was lucky enough to study at Radboud Univeristy which had done a great job at being ahead of the curve on this issue and providing housing for most international and many Dutch students in the area. It feels like universities organising housing for internationals is the only solution as time goes on, as with the expanding number of international students, this problem is only going to get worse. Internationals simply cannot compete, as Landlords will always take a Dutch person first, since scare stories of internationals trashing houses, or not paying rent, have created a large atmosphere of discrimination.

    The only way to get a house as an international at the minute seems to be to risk paying an extortionate amount to an agency (often between 400 and 800 euros), hope that they actually find you a room, then just accept that you are never going to get your deposit back at the end of the year, since you have almost no recourse to the courts. This kind of really ruins your experience studying in the Netherlands, as you spend your first month basically missing classes and deadlines and failing your degree whilst you search for a house, then the rest of the year catching up. FUN FUN FUN 😉

  5. Without network everything is really difficult and very expensive, especially arriving in a new country, sometimes from very far away is indeed very stressful and puts people under a lot of pressure. However, I have heard that the general legislations concerning the official renting out of rooms and so on is complicated and hence for many people owning houses not their prefferred option… I furthermore heard, that there are many many houses empty (for whatever tax benefits and so on?). Anyways I’m not sure what exactly the problems are and what is true concerning those rumors, but reviewing legislations and policies concerning this issue might be of importance.

  6. Great article, Emily. Hopefully students do their homework before coming to the Netherlands and realise that this is a big issue. Then they know what they are choosing to face when they come here. As Alison said, it’s the same for the Dutch.
    NB potential international students. It’s pretty much the same in all major Dutch cities

  7. I agree, great article. It really angers me how (international) students are being exploited by some landlords. Due to the lack of rooms we’re forced to rent rooms/flats at any price and in any condition. I feel like it’s worse for internationals because the landlords take advantage of the fact that we can’t speak Dutch and struggle to have our rental price checked by the Huurcommissie. Even if the Huurcommissie determines that our rent is too high, like in my case, it’s a struggle to enforce the Huurcommissie’s decision. Furthermore, the process takes several months. For students who are only here for a year it may be difficult to get their money back. It’s all very frustrating.

  8. We’d like to add the details of our experience to your report about student accommodation.
    Our granddaughter was offered a place at RUG, then was told that the offer was cancelled. She was then told the place was available again, just before the data for registration.

    We travelled with her from Sheffield to Groningen – she registered in the faculty of Arts on August 31st.

    We stayed in a hotel in Bornholmstraat and looked for accommodation in Groningen, assuming we would get help from the University, but there was no help on offer.

    We tried agencies, etc., without success, and had to return to England leaving her suffering from a virus. We paid for her to stay in the hotel for a few more days, so she could look for somewhere to stay.

    She had no success whatsoever, and is now sleeping on the floor of another student. Because she has no permanent address, she can’t open a bank account or get a mobile phone plan.

    It is disgraceful that a vulnerable 18 year old girl should be virtually on the street in a strange country – a sorry contrast to the care students can depend on in the UK.

    It remains to be seen if she can attend her course without an address and a safe base.

  9. Another huge problem caused by the lack of housing is that the houses and flats available are in terrible conditions, with rent starting at 300 Euros minimum. Really, before I came here, I had never heard of anyone that had mice in their house (besides on the attic maybe), here almost everyone has them. Most windows are very old and don’t close properly, so you end up wearing several layers of clothing in your house during the winter, eventually even getting ill. Usually, when you inform your landlord about this he will either make empty promises or not do anything at all.
    Clearly, not finding any house at all is the bigger issue here, but paying way too much for a room in bad conditions is influencing life quality in the long run, too.

  10. Hi.
    I truely agree with this problem. It’s like a nightmare for me because I got almost everything ready for coming to the Netherlands except the accommodation. I remembered advertising myself on Facebook, applying to so many different housing websites and sending a lot of messages to strangers for housing. It was not even easy to understand all the housing posts since many are written in Dutch. And though you spend your energy for translation and send msg to the house owner or someone looking for roommate, it doesn’t garuntee that they will even read your messages. I ended up getting a room that was sub-rented to me by a former renter who surprisingly earned some benefit from me. I wish every international student good luck on this adventure. People say it will be better when you arrive here and gain more network,so you just need to be very very patient…

  11. Yeah, thank you for voicing all the difficulties facing the internationals to find a fair place in Groningen. Dutch only, female or male only, they sound understandable but still discriminatory. Although I have nice Dutch friends in life, but that’s how I feel when I was reading the messages and looking for a room on facebook. Hoping people could become more open-minded in the future and things could improve.

  12. […] A logical follow up to the lack of space is the lack of houses, at least that’s certainly what it feels like. Ever tried finding a reasonable place to live in Amsterdam? It’s really super easy, just accept homelessness or crippling debt. Ok, so that’s not everyone’s biggest issue, but it’s certainly a problem if you’re an international student. […]

  13. […] The situation is made worse by the discriminatory practice of landlords and rental agencies who will only rent homes to “working professionals,” Dutch students looking only for other Dutch housemates, and women that only want other female housemates. International males are left particularly disillusioned, but it’s a situation that affects all new students. Also, this situation is not just unique to Leiden – frustration over the lack of housing culminated in protests at the University of Groningen back in September. […]

  14. Don’t leave out Craigslist. I used to rent rooms, living with the landlord, and it was always much cheaper and I always found a great place. In my opinion, Craigslist is still the best place to find a room.

  15. It takes so long time and effort to build a building in Netherlands, but it’s much sooner for universities to increase student influx. Actually not only accommodation is in shortage, but also labs, classroom, lecturers, library…I think Dutch universities should think twice before they send out more admission.

  16. It’s not just the international students – in cities like Leiden, very few rooms are available to any new students, Dutch or foreign. My son can’t find a room, has a 1.5-2 hour commute each way, and once every while he can compete with ~100 students for a single new room …

  17. I came to study in Delft and faced these issues first hand. There were many of us living at a hostel to attend the first days of classes while looking for a place.

    In the end I got extremely lucky and found a decent place after only three weeks of messaging, instemming, etc.

    I was subletting from another student that was going away for an exchange year and understandably wanted to hold on to his lease.

    Maybe try getting in contact with students coming to your country from the Netherlands on international student groups like Erasmus etc to try and work out a similar deal.

    Good luck, you’re going to need it :-p

  18. Great article. It has been 4 years and nothing changed. I lived in Amaterdam before where for students there was more help then now in the Hague. I went through tons of scams starting searching in May, but now its mid-August and I couldn’t find anything by far. Leiden University does not help.

  19. 🤔 I remember having to stay at an ‘eco farm’ 🐐 in a little trailer on the outskirts of Groningen – a 30 min ride 🚴 from the city Center – back in 2018 because of this crisis. I also couch surfed 🛋 for a few days… I see that the more things change-the more they stay the same.

  20. There are more international working people than the Dutch and they are contributing with a lot more to the economy. If the internationals will leave, NL will be in economical crisis.

    I have been 4 years in Nederlands and my impression about the Dutch is the same: working the little as possible, coming high at work, talking a lot, scam internationals, lot of racist and giving a fake smile. Let’s not speak about their history…

    Why you Dutch have against the internationals?

    You are just lazy as …. bad mentality, been afraid when a international hard worker comes…

    Hope the CARMA will come and NL will finally be underwater

    • You’ve been here for four years, working here even. Yet not only do you still not reply here in Dutch, also your English is worse than ours. It might just be you? And if people are allowed to be high on the job, it’s not because of the Netherlands, it’s because of your employer (and colleagues). You might want to switch jobs. Shouldn’t be hard as compared to us you are such a hard worker.


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