The Expat Trap

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If you ever heard the phrase “Tourist Trap” then this one is basically the same, only different situation. If you also heard about “Parent Trap” well, this definitely has nothing to do with it. The expat trap is more tangled and more expensive compared to tourist trap. It relies heavily on how you know the country you live in, its official rules, and which support system you need. Expats are a group of people whom vulnerable to scams and dirty tricks by who else if not their landlord. There are other tricks performed by other types of interest groups, but the most effective and highly corrosive one is expat housing trickery. I even know several people who solely rent their spaces to expat only. Why is it so attractive? Because expat usually made a lot more money with the 30% tax rule and they tend to go as easy as they come. Mostly also look for fully furnished living spaces and they are willing to pay more than just a basic room rent because they think that they are cozy enough with tumble dryer, satellite television, and fully equipped kitchen, besides the basic such as electrity, heat, and water. So here are some trickery I have come to know and how to deal with them.

It is a common practice to pay a two or one month worth of rent as deposit. The deposit will be returned to you as soon as the contract ends and you hand over the keys back to the owner. It is also common that the owner or the landlord rent the house via secondary medium such as housing agency. So the expats have to deal with not only one but two separated entities in order to get their rent. Sometime the expats are totally new for the country and only been here for travel or never even been here before. So, they think quickly of how they settled first and do the rest afterwards. They will not bother looking into empty spaces which here in The Netherlands, it means totally empty with only uneven concrete floors and white walls. So fully furnished is the choice to be. Perhaps they even think about the price, whether it is a good match with the house facilities and condition or not, but sometimes it is a rush decission since they will have to attend an early morning meeting the next day. Besides, they don’t know the area just yet so they decide to postpone calculating until further notice.

Bear in mind that the period for the agency or landlord to return your deposit is 15 days unless stated otherwise in the contract. Which is a rare case. Also the same with your rent rate. There is actually a group called Wijksteuntpunt Wonen who will help you ease your doubts. In one particular case, a doubtful expat called them regarding the rent rates and WS Wonen came and calculated the location and facilities provided for the expat. In the end, it was true that the expat was paying more than what is worth. So, they made a deal with the landlord and the expat got not just a new lower rates but money returns from the excess of previous rents.

The next trap is municipal tax (gemeentebelasting) and other taxes which came annually. My suggestion is to know how these taxes are calculated and how to claim tax return, if any. For instance, water tax is calculated annually which vary based on the number of people living in your living space (apartment, house, etc) and also the place where you live. For underwater areas such as Amsterdam, of course it will be more expensive due to the water treatment and to make sure that the city will not drown anytime in the future. Per person is € 54 and basic water tax is € 93.24 / year. So, if you are affirmative that you will not live in a place for one full year, then you should call the gemeente to ask for reduction or claim for tax return in the following year. This method also applies to municipal tax.

So, how do you as an expat know how many people are registered within the same address? Please take in mind that anyone can registered with your address to the municipal (gemeente) office and the last person registered is considred as the current owner, thus all the tax bills will be sent to them. Say if you one year received a tax bill with your name and the next year it is sent to the owner, then it means that the owner registered his or her name again to the same address. Which means, your tax is now doubled because by the gemeente knowledge, there are more than one person living in the same address. Hence the new amount. Sometimes, towards the end of a contract, when the expat decide to no longer living in the place, the owner can easily say that the expat owe the owner a certain amount of money due to taxes. Now now, stay calm and remind him or her that why the hell the bill got send to them in the first place? And how many people are counted? Can you have a copy of the invoice (factuur)?

Also be careful with your last water and electricity meter. I experienced myself that a previous landlord hold our deposit and charged us € 500 for electricity. At that time we were still green and innocent, so we just paid that amount and weep in the corner looking at our bank statement. Apparently, we can call the water and electricity people and notify them that we are due to leave the place within 2 months (notice periods may vary) and arrange a last meter count with them. So the next month when you no longer live there, you will not be charged for the water or electricity, but most importantly is that you are not charged more by your owner.

If you broke things or seemingly so, according to the landlord, it is okay to ask him or her for invoices. If you broke two ceramic coffee mugs then it is only make sense if they order two new ones instead of a dozen. Or perhaps two but much more expensive and with heat insulation inside. Does not make sense.

So, before the expat decide where to live and how long, do a little research. Find a support group. Get to know all laws and regulations which involve money, and the ones which do not involve money. Also keep in mind that all taxes are possible of multiple payments, not just one and done.

img: guardian.co.uk

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