Penalty clauses in housing rental contract

In 2013, a ruling of the European Court of Justice revealed that many penalty clauses in leases with private tenants are not valid because they are considered unreasonable under European law. However, the District Court of Amsterdam recently issued a nuanced judgment, ruling that if the landlord is also a private individual, there is not necessarily a disrupted balance of power, as a result of which the landlord can still claim the fine.  

ROZ model and penalty provisions

When a house is rented out, usually a written rental agreement is drawn up. Often landlords use a standard Council for Real Estate Affairs (Raad voor Onroerende zaken, abbreviated: ROZ) model drawn up by specialists. Not surprisingly, many landlords assume that they have established a solid contract with this document. The ROZ-model also includes various penalty provisions to ensure that the tenant meets his obligations. But it was precisely these penalty provisions that proved to be far from ideal.

Unfair terms directive

In 2013, the European Court of Justice issued a judgment[1] which showed that the Unfair Terms Directive applied to rental contracts for residential premises. According to the Court, the aim of the Unfair Terms Directive is to provide consumers with effective protection against abuse by a commercial party of its dominant position.

Penalty clauses such as those in the ROZ-model were often found to be unfair according to this standard. An important consequence of this was also that the penalty clause turned out to be completely invalid, which meant that moderation was no longer an option. In short, the user of the ROZ-model could suddenly no longer claim a fine, even though the tenant in question was clearly at fault.

Judgment of the District Court of Amsterdam

The Directive thus aims to protect consumers against abuse by companies that are their landlord. But what if the landlord is a private individual? Until recently, this situation was uncertain, but recently the Court of Amsterdam ruled on this matter.[2] In this particular case, the landlord had only one property available for letting and it was apparently the first time that the landlord rented out housing. The court ruled that under these circumstances the lessor was entitled to claim the fine because there was no question of a disrupted balance of power.

Although the judgment as described above can be interpreted as a relaxation with regard to penalty clauses, our opinion is that in this case there were very special circumstances. We consider the scope for a broader application to be small.  For the majority of landlords, it is therefore particularly important to ensure that the penalty clauses comply with what is considered reasonable. For example, the penalty amount should not be unreasonably high, should be capped and should preferably be agreed in the lease itself and not in the general provisions[3].

Incidentally, the Council for Real Estate Affairs has meanwhile adopted a new ROZ-model for home rentals that has been adapted with due observance of current case law. If you would like a tailor-made rental agreement and/or would like to have checked whether your penalty provisions are valid, please contact M2 Advocaten.

[1] HvJ EU 30 mei 2013, EECLI:EU:C:2013:341

[2] Rb. Amsterdam 22 januari 2020, ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:291

[3] Hof Den Bosch 24 september 2013, ECLI:NL:GHSHE:2013:4346

 

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