Rental agencies are only allowed to offer their customers additional services if those services are truly optional, and are separate from the rental process itself. This has been explained in guidelines that the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has published regarding the rules that protect lessees against illegal agency fees. ACM has seen that more and more rental agencies offer additional services as part of the rental process. The agencies make it seem as if lessees are required to take out these additional services in order to be able to rent a home or room, whereas these services are entirely separate from the rental process itself.
ACM has pointed out to rental agencies that they cannot charge their customers these additional services as mandatory costs or present them as such. These services include applying for a permit or starting services for natural gas, water and electricity. Rental agencies are allowed to offer such additional services. However, lessees must be able to decide for themselves whether or not to take out such services, without that decision having any repercussions for their ability to rent a home.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “People who are looking for rentals are in a vulnerable position, especially in the current housing market. That is why we act against rental agencies that charge illegal agency fees, no matter what the agencies call them. We are very clear about what is and what is not allowed. Offering additional services, separate from the rental process itself, is not prohibited, but those services must be optional. And they also must be presented and communicated as such. Otherwise, they are at odds with consumer protection rules.”
New business model
In its investigations into rental agencies, ACM has seen that more and more agencies offer additional services that are separate from the rental process itself, but which are presented as required steps in said process. It seems as if rental agencies have developed a new business model with these additional services. That is why ACM has reminded them of the rules that apply to offering services that are separate from the rental process itself:
- Additional services cannot be made mandatory. They can only be offered as individual options;
- Lessees must be clearly informed in advance about what the rental process entails and what is included in it;
- Lessees must explicitly give their consent to individual options. None of the boxes on the form can be pre-ticked.
If lessees are required to take out the additional services, their costs will then be considered agency fees, and are thus prohibited. In addition, lessees may have been misled, for example, if the rental agency fails to provide the consumer with clear and complete information about its services.
With the help of trade associations, ACM has reminded all rental agencies of the rules, and has published its guidelines on its website. ACM has also reprimanded several rental agencies individually. ACM will check whether rental agencies adjust their commercial practices, for example, by monitoring the reports that consumers file with ACM’s consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. Rental agencies that do not comply with these rules risk fines of up to 600,000 euros or, whichever is more, up to 7.5‰ of their annual turnover.
Investigation into rental agencies
ACM has already conducted various investigations into rental agencies that illegally charge lessees agency fees. Rental agencies are not allowed to charge lessees any fees if they work by order of the lessor. ACM previously already imposed orders subject to periodic penalty payments on four agencies. In order to strengthen the position of consumers on the rental market, ACM will continue to keep a close watch on any development that may threaten their position. The investigations into illegal practices on the rental market are still ongoing. Consumers who wish to share their experiences with ACM can do so via ACM ConsuWijzer.
03-09-2020 Guidelines regarding costs for additional services in the rental process (in Dutch)