Before trying to gauge the character and extent of temporary rental arrangements in the Netherlands, it is necessary to first define what is meant exactly by temporary rent. The core of such rental arrangements is that they can be ended without the landlord being legally obliged to give a juridically valid reason for not continuing the lease. This includes fixed-term contracts (e.g. 6 months) where the landlord is under no compulsion to renew the lease after expiration, and unlimited contracts (such as anti-squat contracts) in which no end date is given such that the landlord can terminate the contract at short notice. In addition, I focus on temporary rental arrangements in the context of residence, as opposed to other forms of use, so short-term accommodation for recreation (i.e. holiday homes) or renting for business purposes is excluded from my definition. Lastly, arrangements that do not involve an exchange of money (i.e. letting somebody stay for free in exchange for labour) are not considered.
In the Netherlands, permanent rental contracts have been the norm for a long time. Such contracts are characterised by strong tenant rights, because they have an unlimited duration and can only be terminated by the landlord for a legally restricted number of reasons. The tenant, on the other hand, can in almost all cases always terminate the contract on a short notice of 1 month, without having to supply a reason. Furthermore, the starting level of the rent as well as ceilings on annual increases are in 95 % of all Dutch rental contracts not determined through the market, but subject to regulation (Haffner and Boumeester 2010). Lastly, most housing regulation applies irrespective of the ownership model. That is, rent protection in terms of security of tenure, rent levels and rent increases exists regardless of whether one rents from a private landlord or a non-profit housing corporation.
Permanent contracts in the Netherlands can only be terminated by the landlord for three reasons, which have to be proven in court before eviction becomes legal (Dutch Civil Law Book 7:271–282, Lawson 2011). Firstly, if the tenant fails to meet certain basic legal requirements, a court can terminate the contract. For example, a tenant is obliged to pay the rent, to not cause extreme nuisance (noise, criminal behaviour) and to not damage the property. To secure eviction on such grounds, a landlord has to prove in court that the tenant has persistently violated at least one of these basic requirements. The second legal ground for ending a permanent contract is that a home owner urgently needs the property because he/she or a member of their close family wishes to live in it. In this case, the landlord has to prove that she/he cannot reasonably be expected to seek accommodation elsewhere. (Moreover, if the owner bought the house less than 3 years ago, this ground does not apply.) The last legally allowed reason for terminating a rental contract occurs when the home owner wants to demolish the dwelling or renovate it so extensively that the tenant cannot continue to live in it. In most cases, the landlord is then obliged to supply other, comparable housing to the tenant. Table 1 summarises the main differences between permanent and temporary rental contracts in the Netherlands.
If we now turn to the international context, we note that in Western Europe tenants’ rights are in broad terms quite strong as well. Contracts are either permanent or long term, with a right to renewal. While starting rents are often determined by the market, ceilings on annual increases are often state regulated. In Germany, Denmark and Sweden, for instance, most rental contracts are permanent and subject to largely the same conditions as in the Netherlands (Kemp and Kofner 2010; Scanlon 2011), while, for example, in Belgium, Austria and France, contracts are usually of limited but long duration, and the landlord has to supply a valid reason in court akin to the ones described above for not renewing the contract (Scanlon 2011). In contrast, Anglo-Saxon countries are characterised by weak tenants’ rights and market dynamics (Scanlon 2011). Here, contracts that are either of limited duration without a right to renewal or of unlimited duration but with termination possible at short notice are the norm. In the UK, for instance, leases of 6 months are most common. The situation in the USA, Australia and Canada is similar. The main differences between Anglo-Saxon and European rental systems are summarised in Table 2. The similarity with Table 1 is deliberate: temporary contracts within the otherwise permanent European rental system can be viewed as (emerging) islands of Anglo-Saxon rental norms within that system.
The divide between these two rental systems can be seen as a reflection of the difference in welfare-state regimes, originally caused by historically shaped national class alliances (Esping-Andersen 1990). Indeed, whereas Anglo-Saxon countries exhibit traits of liberal forms of government that are minimalistic in provision and rely largely on markets, Western European countries have been characterised as either social democratic or corporatist, resulting in, respectively, universalistic or more hybrid public–private provision, but in both cases with a larger role for government intervention and regulation (Esping-Andersen 1990, 1999). Kemeny (2001) expanded on this thesis. He argues that Anglo-Saxon governments encouraged the market to supply rental housing and supplemented this with a residual public housing stock for a minority of disadvantaged welfare recipients, resulting in a dualistic rental market. In contrast, European countries did not make such a sharp distinction between needs-based state provision of housing and private rental markets, but encouraged competition between profit and non-profit housing provision resulting in unitary rental markets. The last two decades have seen some convergence between the two groups of countries towards more neoliberal policies (Peters 2012), and the Netherlands has been no exception to this trend (Musterd 2014).
Dutch housing regulation is in theory elaborate and strict. The norm is a permanent rental contract, and temporary contracts are only allowed for a limited, restricted number of reasons. Four main forms can be discerned: limited contracts conditional on the status of the house, limited contracts conditional on the status of the renter, unlimited but easy to terminate contracts and unlawful contracts.
Firstly, limited contracts conditional on the status of the house are issued when dwellings will be demolished, renovated or sold in the near future and for this reason cannot reasonably be expected to be rented out normally. Over 70 % of all rental housing in the Netherlands is owned by housing corporations, large not for profit organisations (Statistics Netherlands). In the context of urban renewal projects, they often demolish or upgrade entire blocks of buildings. The tenants of those blocks that have permanent contracts usually obtain a right to replacement housing, as well as financial compensation towards moving costs (Huisman 2014). They are given a period of time to choose, and to move into, their replacement housing. Once these tenants leave, the vacated dwellings are rented out on a temporary basis, to prevent them from standing empty. These temporary renters do not obtain the right to rehousing, nor are they recognised as stakeholders in the participatory urban renewal process (Sakizlioglu and Uitermark 2014). Also when a dwelling is empty and for sale, it can be rented out on a temporary contract. In the Netherlands, the sale of a dwelling is not a valid reason for the termination of a rental contract. This means that renting out a dwelling with a normal, permanent contract will make it almost impossible for the new owner to evict the tenant and thus make the dwelling uninteresting to buy for a future owner–occupier.
The second form of legal temporary rent is conditional on the status of the tenant. In the case of student and youth contracts,Footnote 1 people can rent a dwelling for as long as they fulfil the condition that they are in higher education or below a certain age (Van der Molen 2011). If students graduate or quit their studies, they are granted 6 months to find other housing; if they fail, they can be evicted. The same applies for tenants with so-called youth contracts; if they reach a certain age, they need to vacate their apartment (Nul20 12 June 2011 and 6 February 2012). Both forms of conditional contracts are recent phenomena; campus contracts were introduced at the beginning of the 2000s, youth contracts only in 2011, on an experimental basis.
In contrast, contracts with unlimited duration which can be terminated by the landlord at short notice without reason are forbidden in the Netherlands. This is why anti-squat agencies maintain that they do not rent out dwellings, but instead employ security guards to prevent squatting and vandalism.Footnote 2 These ‘security guards’, however, do not receive a salary for their services, but have to pay a considerable fee for the privilege of guarding a building, a fee that often reaches the level of normal rents in the Netherlands (Dutch Union of Tenants 2014). Their contracts are notoriously precarious; it is usual that the landlord is permitted to terminate the contract with only 2 weeks’ notice (Martínez-López 2013).Footnote 3 As such, anti-squat is a deliberate attempt to circumvent strict Dutch housing regulation. Anti-squat agency Alvast, for instance, makes this clear on its website: ‘The contracts of Alvast are formulated in such a way that the temporary users cannot claim rights pertaining to protection of tenure’.Footnote 4 However, in some of the few cases that have been legally tested, the courts have ruled that the ‘guards’ should be considered renters with normal, permanent rental contracts (e.g. Amsterdam Court of Justice 2011). But given the continuing shortage of affordable housing in the Netherlands, many anti-squatters are happy to have secured some form of housing and do not dare or want to claim their legal rights.
The last form of temporary housing consists of the grey market. Given the scarcity of housing in some parts of the Netherlands, many landlords manage to impose conditions on their tenants that are not legal, such as a contract for a limited period of time or an unlimited contract with the possibility of short-notice termination as well as rent levels or increases above what is allowed by law. The practice whereby renters rent out their dwellings to somebody else without permission of the landlord also falls in this category. Both anti-squat and the grey market reflect that security of tenure for tenants is not only just determined by existing legislation, but also on circumstances in practice, as well as how tenants experience that reality (Hulse and Milligan 2014).