ACM imposes fines for seriously misleading homeseekers
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has imposed fines totaling EUR 985,000 on two firms and three individuals for having seriously misled people that were looking for rental homes and apartments. Homeseekers signed up on a website where rental homes and apartments were offered. They were subsequently called and given an offer to sign a document that would allegedly move them up the list. However, it turned out that those who did sign such a document had apparently signed a so-called ‘deed of arrangement,’ allowing the firms in question to collect directly from the consumers’ employers. These consumers were not fully informed about the costs and contents of these deeds.
Individuals who were desperately trying to find rental homes or apartments were sold an expensive service without being aware of what exactly they had agreed to, what it cost, and what it would bring them. Because of the seriousness of this case, we have decided to impose fines on both the firms and the executives.
Misleading agency practices
Huurbegeleiding B.V. (formerly Woondirect B.V.) and Financial Media B.V. are the owners of various websites on which rental homes and apartments are offered. Their portfolios include websites such as huurwoningen.nl and huurbegeleiding.nl, but also websites with different names. Individuals that are looking for rental homes or apartments are able to sign up on these websites on payment of a fee. After signing up, consumers were contacted by Huurbegeleiding B.V. over the phone, and they were told that they had to sign the ‘lease’ (later: surety contract) if they really wanted to speed up the process. In most cases however, it was unclear to consumers what this ‘lease’ exactly meant, what it cost, and what it brought them. They were under the impression that they provided a future lessor more certainty over their ability to pay the rent. However, it turned out later that they had actually signed a ‘deed of arrangement.’ With these deeds, Huurbegeleiding B.V. collected its fees directly from the employers of those who signed those deeds, and future lessors would be given the right to collect any back rent directly from the employers, too. Although various sub-district courts have ruled that such deeds of arrangement are not legally valid, Huurbegeleiding B.V. made consumers believe that they would be able to move up the list if they signed such a deed.
Fines on firms and executives
ACM has established that Huurbegeleiding B.V. and Financial Media B.V. did not inform consumers clearly or failed to inform them at all about the price, method of payment, and the main features of their services. They also wrongfully told consumers that they would not be able to cancel these services prematurely, and that consumers would be stuck with these services for two years, even though consumers had the right to cancel their contracts at any time. Furthermore, these firms also collected direct debits without having the legal consent of consumers to do so.
ACM considers these violations to be very serious. As a result of these practices of Huurbegeleiding, consumers frequently faced unexpected, major financial setbacks, as Huurbegeleiding collected the fees for its services from the consumers’ employers. Both firms have been negligent in their treatment of a vulnerable group of consumers who were trying to find affordable housing. That is why ACM has imposed fines on both these firms as well as on the executives involved, totaling EUR 985,000.