Earlier we published a blog about a landlord of a free sector property, who had to repay €16,500 to her tenant because she had charged far too much for furnishing and because she had not specified Owner’s Association costs. In the meantime, it seems that a turnaround in case law has taken place and that lessors of houses in the free sector are being given more freedom to make agreements at their own discretion.
Determination of service costs
In short, service costs are the costs of the property that the landlord charges on top of the basic rent for supplies and services. Landlords are required by law to provide their tenants with an annual overview in which all service costs charged are being specified, including the method of calculation (Section 7:259(2) of the Dutch Civil Code). In practice, landlords of privately owned dwellings do not always use an exact approach when determining the service costs. They have simply included an amount in the tenancy agreement for the service costs which they believe adequately cover their efforts.
Determining the service costs by estimation could sometimes be expensive for the landlord in the past. When the tenant challenged the level of the service costs, it was not uncommon for the landlord subsequently to have to pick up the tab because it could not be demonstrated that the service costs charged were related to actual costs. The Amsterdam Court of Appeal ruled on this in 2017:
“The Court of Appeal deems (…) if the parties have agreed an amount for service costs, that amount must be reasonable, in the sense that it must be in reasonable proportion to the value of what is offered for it”.
In other words, the service costs charged by the lessor should be based on actual costs. Therefore, if the tenant could make it clear that the service costs were not based on actual costs, the lessor had to reimburse the service costs that were overcharged.
Current state of affairs
Remarkably enough, the Court of Appeal of Amsterdam has come to an entirely different conclusion on the basis of the legislator’s explanation of Section 7:259 of the Dutch Civil Code and is of the opinion that only when no or incomplete agreements have been made about the service costs, it should be determind that the service costs should be considered to be at least. For the rest, however, the Court of Appeal reasoned as follows:
“In the case of liberalized dwellings (…) contractual freedom with regard to (the level of) service costs (…) is the starting point, just as this freedom in principle also applies to the determination of the rent. (…) There is no need for a relation to the actual costs’.
In short, according to the last judgment of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, in case of a liberalized dwelling the parties are free to agree on a compensation for service costs at their discretion without necessarily having to make a connection with the actual costs. In short, a landlord may charge €350 per month for the rent of a couch of €300, – provided the tenant has agreed to this.
One may wonder whether the verdict of the court of appeal actually makes much of a difference. After all, even before this ruling it was possible for the landlord of a liberalized dwelling, if he was of the opinion that he was insufficiently compensated for the service offered, to increase the (bare) rent at will, provided the tenant only agreed to the higher rent. This ruling, on the other hand, forms a safety net for those landlords who, in the subdivision between bare rent and service charges, had wrongly included too much of the rent in the service charges.
However, with this ruling one may wonder what the function of the mandatory overview (Section 7:259 (2) of the Dutch Civil Code) still is, with the exception of the service charges part where the final amount is determined afterwards, as is the case for the use of utilities. There was already no statutory sanction for failure to provide an overview, and with this ruling landlords of liberalized dwellings seem to have even less reason to actually provide it, which does not improve transparency towards tenants.
Questions about service costs? Feel free to contact M2 Advocaten.
Lawyer Marius Rijntjes firstname.lastname@example.org