‘It’s not shameful, but you have to do something about it’
Are your rental payments in arrears? Sadly this means that the amount you owe will only increase as time goes on. Naturally this is a situation both you and DUWO would prefer to avoid. Social manager Louis Lengams works together with students with rent arrears to help find a solution. ‘I don’t believe that when you start studying and live in student accommodation that you have the intention not to pay rent. There is always another reason,’ said Louis.
Rent arrears often happen in the first month. This is an expensive period because students have to furnish their rooms, arrange so many parts of their schedule, they are living away from home for the first time, and on top of that, they have to study and pass exams. Sometimes the rent simply remains unpaid. But once you end up in arrears, the costs can rise relentlessly in less than six months. Louis gives an example: ‘The all-in rent might very soon reach €500. If you don't pay this in the first month, then by the second month you end up with arrears of €1,000 + collection fees. Over and above that, there’s 20֪–30% for the bailiff's costs, and then after just the first couple of months of your studies you already have a debt of €1,200 to €1,300. And you have to cough this up in one go, because it’s not possible to set up a repayment schedule in the first six months.’
Students with rent arrears often don’t dare to contact DUWO out of a feeling of shame. ‘They don’t dare to talk about it. I tell them that in my student days I also had rent arrears and that it isn’t something to be ashamed of, but that you must do something about it before is escalates.’
Although nowadays almost every commercial enterprise uses email to communicate with their customers – including DUWO – Louis always seeks out personal contact. He first asks tenants to come along to his office, and if that doesn’t happen, he visits them at home. ‘I want to talk with the students because I want to hear their side of the story. I really don’t believe that students enter their studies and take rooms with the intention of not paying the rent. There’s always another reason behind it.’
Is your approach always successful? ‘No, I always want to come up with a solution, but sometimes there simply isn’t one. Then you have to say: terminate your rental agreement to limit the damage. That’s the best advice I can give under such circumstances,’ according to Louis.
The personal approach does bear fruit, though. Louis doesn’t just collect the arrears, but he is also greatly appreciated by the people he’s helped and listened to. They mainly find it essential that somebody listens to what they have to say. ‘As far as I’m concerned, it’s important that tenants can look back with pleasure on their time at university. Perhaps they say: OK, so I had rent arrears, but we sorted it out together and retained our respect for each other. It was tough going, but they listened carefully to what I said,’ says Louis.