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ACM: rental websites that only offer a search service must be clear about that

Consumers often do not know that many rental websites only offer a search service, and that these websites do not act as agencies. This has been revealed by a study conducted by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). Such websites must inform consumers clearly about what they do and do not offer, so that consumers know what to expect when taking out a paid subscription. In addition, these websites must be clear about the availability status of the rentals on offer as well as whether or not their rentals on offer are up-to-date. Consumers must be able to rely on the fact that such information is correct. This will prevent consumers from being misled, and from taking out a subscription to a rental website under false expectations without actually being able to find a suitable home.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “People that are looking for a rental home in the current tight housing market use various methods such as rental websites to find a suitable home. It is important that such websites are clear about the service that they offer, and that they do not mislead consumers. We have confronted several rental websites with our findings, and have ended our study for now.”

What rules apply to rental websites?

If you are looking for a rental home, there are different options. Some websites collect listings posted by third parties and present them in one convenient location. In some cases, you need to take out a paid subscription to such websites in order to gain access to their listings and to be able to reply. These websites present listings, but do not establish direct communication with the realtors or lessors. It is essential that relevant information about the listings such as their availability status or the duration of the lease is correct and is kept up-to-date.

Rental websites thus offer a search service, but do not act as agencies. Websites must inform consumers about that, so that consumers know what they are paying for. In addition, websites must be clear about the subscriptions they offer, what their costs are, and how to cancel them. Consumers looking for rentals are advised to find out about all the different ways to search for rentals. For example, they can also use free rental websites, or contact a realtor or rental agent directly, who often also act as intermediary and publish their listings for free.

The housing market

The housing market is one of ACM’s top priorities. The Dutch housing market is extremely tight at the moment. Many people have a hard time finding affordable housing. The protection of consumers against unfair practices by providers on the housing market (rentals and sales) deserves special attention. In addition, ACM will assess whether distortions of competition exacerbate the housing shortage.

More information about what to keep in mind as a consumer when looking for a rental, visit ACM ConsuWijzer.