ACM: Dutch rental agencies to adjust their procedures
Dutch rental agencies NederWoon Verhuurmakelaars and Rots Vast have made commitments to the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) that they will no longer charge lessees any agency fees when acting as an agent between lessors and lessees. Earlier this year, another company, Direct Wonen, ceased operations as rental agency, but it, too, has promised it would adjust its procedures if it were to resume its agency operations in the future. Parties will adjust their procedures as a result of ACM’s focus on possible unfair commercial practices in agency activities of rental agencies. NederWoon and Rots Vast have made the commitment to implement the new procedure starting January 1, 2015.
Lessees are legally protected against any conflict of interests the rental agencies might have. If rental agencies act on behalf of both lessors and lessees when dealing with apartments and houses for rent, they are only allowed to charge lessors agency costs. ACM has established that rental agencies often routinely charge lessees agency costs of one month’s rent, while sometimes also charging lessors agency costs.
Anita Vegter, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “We take action against unfair commercial practices that are harmful to consumers and businesses that do play by the rules. With this approach, we hope to bring about a profound shift in mentality in the industry, thereby prompting other rental agencies to adjust their practices. Future lessees can no longer be faced with unlawful agency costs.”
There has been an ongoing debate about what exactly constitutes agency. According to ACM, agency for lessors occurs when a rental agency presents its housing selection on its website (or on any other website) with the intent to conclude a rental agreement, and the rental agency undertakes activities to that end. With its approach, ACM wishes to settle the debate, and to realize that all rental agencies no longer charge lessees any agency costs when acting as an agent between lessors and lessees. Various trade organizations and interest groups that are associated with the rental market support ACM’s approach.
ACM has carried out an investigation into possible unfair commercial practices by rental agencies. In part because of new regulations, this has led to commitments made by two major players in the market, which means, starting January 1, 2015, they will no longer charge lessees any agency costs if they also act as an agency for the lessors. Commitments are statements made by market participants to ACM in which they promise to adjust their procedures. As NederWoon Verhuurmakelaars and Rots Vast will have to make drastic adjustments to their agency procedures, ACM, in this specific case, agreed with them that they will have until January 1, 2015 to make the necessary adjustments. ACM is satisfied with the cooperation that these agencies have offered, and expects it will positively affect the rest of the market. ACM will check whether these agencies will stick to the agreements, and whether other market participants will adjust their procedures, too. The commitments offer certainty to lessees that have registered with other agencies about their position. ACM will also actively remind lessees about their rights through consumer information portal ConsuWijzer.
In its approach to the ‘housing market chain,’ one of the key priorities it identified earlier this year, ACM discovered the problems with rental agencies. In the current economic climate, more consumers choose to rent, and they increasingly do so by hiring a rental agency. The rules protecting consumers against unlawful agency costs only apply to apartments and houses for rent, not to rooms for rent. New agency legislation is currently being drawn up, as a result of which these rules will also apply to rooms for rent. This new legislation was part of the reason why these agencies decided to make these commitments.