Science - March 6, 2008

The battle of the Binnenhaven

International students have been living for over three years in the old IPO (Research Institute for Plant Protection) building opposite the Binnenhaven complex. With forty occupants of different nationalities, it has a name in Wageningen student circles for being a lively and fun place to live. The occupants themselves are also quite happy with their housemates, but haven’t a good word to say when it comes to their landlord, Idealis.

Although the old IPO building is not fit for human habitation, the students living there manage to have a good time.
‘The fuss with Idealis started when I moved in here at the beginning of September,’ tells Regina, who is from Austria. ‘A cleaner comes, and we pay for the service, but she doesn’t clean properly. We’ve complained about this to Idealis and, after many mails, we finally received a letter saying they understood and now we have a new cleaner. But it’s still not clean here. We’ve had a problem with mice in the kitchen for ages. When we complained Idealis sent a letter saying it was our rubbish that was causing the problem, and written in italics: ‘Rubbish bags must be closed and placed in the containers’. This makes me really angry: they are shifting the problem on to us, although we have always disposed of our rubbish properly. The mice are here because it’s never cleaned decently.’

Spokesperson for Idealis, Ursula Kuyper, replies in an email: ‘We have indeed received complaints about mice from the occupants. The caretaker of the complex wrote a letter in reply, correctly pointing out that clearing rubbish is essential. We have also taken measures to get rid of the mice.’

‘Another thing is the electricity,’ tells Regina’s housemate Mauro, from Brazil. ‘The sockets are old and we have frequent power cuts. At one point we had to move all the freezers each week because different sockets weren’t working. When we told Idealis about the problem, they replied that there is not enough electricity for the number of people living in the building. We were told not to use electric kettles, hotplates or other electrical equipment in our rooms. A couple of lamps also broke in the kitchen. The landlords said they would not repair them, as it would cost too much money and the building was due to be demolished soon.’

João from Portugal joins in: ‘We can live with these problems, but when you consider how much rent we pay, the service doesn’t match up. We sleep two to a room and both occupants pay 214 euros a month for a room measuring 4 by 4 metres. That’s an awful lot of money for a building that’s due for demolition. And part of the rent is for the furniture, but the furniture is old and many rooms don’t even have any. When one person complained that a cupboard was missing, she was told to take one out of the kitchen. Isn’t that ridiculous?’

Kuyper explains that, at the request of Wageningen UR, Idealis has been responsible for managing the old IPO building as temporary accommodation for international students in the last five years. ‘It’s an old office building, belonging to Wageningen UR, and not suitable for student accommodation. Daily management is not easy and causes lots of problems. It is difficult to keep clean and the electricity supply is not intended for residential purposes. The rent is twenty percent under the maximum reasonable amount allowed by the government.’

‘The worst problem is the communication with Idealis,’ continues Regina. ‘For instance, the people who moved in in September didn’t get a contract until the end of December. We thought we would have to leave then because the building was going to be pulled down. On 11 December we got a letter saying we could extend our contract until 1 April 2008. So we were only told two weeks in advance that we could stay after all. And Idealis only sent this letter after lots of people had been to the office. To make matters worse, new people came to live here at the beginning of January, so Idealis probably knew long before that the building was not going to be demolished immediately. Why only tell us at the last minute?’

In fact, the contract with Wageningen UR expires on 1 May this year. ‘Idealis has decided not to renew the agreement,’ writes Kuyper. ‘We do not want to damage our image by managing a complex that is not suitable for living purposes. As an alternative, Idealis has offered to make 35 extra furnished rooms in the Bornsesteeg available to international students.’

Despite all the problems, the housemates agree that they don’t want to leave the IPO building. ‘The atmosphere here is great. I think it’s unique.’

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