How to get rental security deposits back

In recent years, the Shallow Man has regularly heard stories about how some Dutch landlords come up with the most incredible excuses to keep their hands on the rental security deposits of their expat tenants.

The purpose of rental security deposits

The norm in the Netherlands is that as a tenant you’ll pay two or even three months rent as a deposit. The security deposit is the money that you pay prior to moving in and should get back after you move out. The purpose of this money is to protect the landlord in case you damage the apartment or leave owing rent. It’s not, however, a cash bonus for the landlord (or landlady) to spend on pepernoten, bitterballen, brown shoes or black leather jackets.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post, how to get your rental security deposit back from a greedy landlord.

lying to keep expats rental security deposit

Pinocchio was a great landlord but told a few lies to try and keep rental security deposits

Rental security deposits an expats tale

Recently, the Shallow Man received a message from an expat reader that made me laugh and cry.

“Dear Shallowman, I’ve been renting a studio apartment for over two years. I never had any problems with the landlord, but now that I’ve moved out, he’s refusing to return a large part of my deposit”.

I followed up with the reader and confirmed his situation which was as follows:

  • He was renting a 45 square meter apartment
  • His cleaner spent three hours on his last day in the apartment cleaning up

So imagine his surprise when the landlord sent him the following (handwritten) breakdown of costs.

bill for tenant outlining why the security deposit will be kept


Move over Charles Dickens

The hand written invoice above is surely one of the greatest works of fiction in history. Forget Dickens, Shelly or Keats, here we have a piece of literature that is also incredibly poetic. As well as charging the tenant for maintenance of the boiler, which is usually the responsibility of the landlord, not the tenant, the owner claims that it took him 18 hours to clean a 45 square meter apartment!

Dutch landlords often do everything to not give back rental security deposits

The landlord took great care in cleaning the apartment

Eighteen hours to clean an apartment

Upon reading the bill, the Shallow Man was immediately flooded with guilt. I pay my cleaner for four hours work for cleaning an apartment of 110 square meters. Obviously, I’m not allowing her enough time to clean properly. She really needs to spend a minimum of 36 hours based on the time claimed by the landlord. Nor am I paying her enough as the landlord charged an eye-watering 25 euros an hour for cleaning services. The collective labor agreement in the Netherlands for cleaners is 12.44 euros per hour.

Rot op and good luck

The expat had rented the apartment via an agency. When he complained about the bill he received from the landlord, they claimed that the cleaning costs are completely normal. The landlord refused to change anything in the bill and was even kind enough to advise the expat to take legal action, but warned him that the cost of taking him to court would be a lot more than the amount he was losing from the deposit.

greedy landlord holding euros taken from an expats rental security deposit

Jouw deposit, mijn vakantiegeld

How to get rental security deposits back

In desperation, the expat reached out to the Shallow Man. I suggested the following:

  1. Talk to the agency and tell them that if they refuse to assist with the return of the deposit that the story including the name of the agency will be published on various expat social media, including my site
  2. Make an appointment with your local Citizens Advice Bureaux 
  3. Write a message detailing your objections to any claims by the landlord on your rental security deposit. Print it out and send it by registered post. (Obviously, PostNL might not deliver it, but it’s worth trying)
  4. In the letter demand that the landlord returns the deposit within five working days or you’ll start legal action
  5. Make sure that the agent is aware that you’ll publish details of your complaint on Google Reviews, their Facebook page etc. Apply as much pressure as possible

The outcome of this story and some additional tips

The expat in question took my advice and has managed to agree a financial settlement with the agency and the landlord. My advice to expats new to the Netherlands looking to rent apartments is:

  • Check the Google Review and Facebook ratings of any agency you’ll be working with
  • It’s illegal for an agent to charge a months rent as a fee for placing you in an apartment. The landlord has to pay this.
  • When moving into an apartment take a detailed inventory and ask the landlord/agent to sign this

No cleaning ladies were hurt during the writing of this post.

Until next time, “be grateful that you’re allowed to live here and stop complaining!”