A deposit not or just partly reimbursed, trespassing, inexplicably high costs for repairs, and a hard-to-reach landlord. These are just a few complaints from residents of Luna, one of the residential towers on the TU/e campus. On floors two to until thirteen, mainly students live in the building. Over the last few months, Cursor has interviewed several (former) tenants and visited Camelot's Eindhoven headquarters.
“Camelot entered my room several times without my permission. For example, to replace my cooker hood," says PhD student Plasma Physics Yaoge Liu. “They did not contact me about this beforehand and I only noticed that they had been in my room when I got home. Then I decided to put a note on my door: "don't go in without permission." Camelot’s Real Estate Manager Joost van Kasteren responds: “We would never just enter a house without permission. We contact the tenant first and arrange a suitable moment to come."
Camelot is a real estate management company which started as an anti-squat company. Nowadays, student accommodation, like Luna on campus, is also part of their activities. In the interview with Joost van Kasteren from Camelot, he stated that the main objective of the company was to offer affordable housing. “To achieve that, Camelot invests in the transformation of existing real estate and in new construction projects. Every day we work with highly motivated colleagues to optimally manage our campuses in order to make our residents as content as possible. We therefore like to hear where things are not going well so we can improve.”
The way Luna is supervised and managed is quite complex. TU/e owns the land where Luna is built on, Camelot owns the building, and TU/e rents the lower floors and uses them partly, and also subleases them to Spar, Hubble, Korein et cetera. As a result, there is no standard definition of rights and obligations. For example, this results in the fact that the TU/e is not the point of contact for the residents of the studios.
TU/e and Camelot have agreed that a maximum of 25 percent of the gross floor area of the residential tower (floors two to thirteen) may be used to accommodate persons other than TU/e students or staff. This is a legacy from when TU/e was looking for a market party for the management of Luna and there was no party that agreed to operate a building with only student residences.
Residents causing problems for other residents
Some problems in Luna go beyond ‘just’ complaints from residents aimed at Camelot. Other parties in Luna can cause problems for other residents. For example, a last year published article about cigarette butts and other junk thrown out of windows of the Luna building ending up on the playground of Korein Kinderplein. PhD student Liu: “I heard about this and I know that people smoke illegally in their room. Some even turned off the smoke detectors manually, because that was not too difficult."
Camelot stresses that smoking is prohibited in Luna. “If we see this, the offender will be fined. There are enough signs that it is not allowed. We also communicate about this with the tenants. This is not acceptable," Van Kasteren says, on behalf of Camelot.
Head of Real Estate Management Dorine Peters also called it "unacceptable", and said that Camelot approached its residents in various ways to ensure that the children of Korein Kinderplein also have a safe outdoor play area. "They are sending out emails, putting up posters in communal spaces and individual rooms, speaking to passersby in the lobby, and increasing their supervision of the area," Peters said.
Recently a permanent canopy has been created over the Korein playground.
Not only residents and Korein, but also Hubble and Scala are parties that face problems in Luna, although they do not rent directly from Camelot but from the TU/e, via a sublease construction. The Eindhoven cultural umbrella organization Scala, to which a total of nine student cultural associations are affiliated, also rents spaces in Luna.
“We rent spaces on floors 1, 0, -1 and -2 for our associations such as Footloose, Quadrivium and Doppio. There have been problems with ventilation since the beginning; it is inadequate. The spaces are used intensively every day by large groups of people (in total around 1,200 students are members of the cultural associations, ed.). Together with TU/e’s Real Estate Management, professional measurements were carried out which confirmed the shortcoming of ventilation," says Kai Witte, secretary of Scala.
“We moved to Luna in October 2017, after the Bunker was closed. We found out that several halls are connected to the same ventilation system: if we used two halls for dancing, we found out that the brass players of the music association were feeling muggy in another room. We heard this a lot during the intro workshops. The fire brigade then placed an emergency fan to get some cooling and circulating air,” says Yi He Zhu, former Scala board member External Relations.
"In the Corona room and in Orbit, members get a headache during and after the training sessions," says former Footloose chairman Jim Beckers. "These halls, but also the activity areas of Kinjin and the Knights are often warm and muffy due to poor ventilation," Zhu adds. “For Quadrivium, the classical music association, the climate must be as stable as possible. The temperature differences are bad for the instruments,” she explains.
“You could only enter De Bunker with an entry pass. You’re supposed to use a same system here, but you can also enter the spaces of the cultural associations without a pass through a back door of Hubble,” Zhu says. We did the tour together and indeed, as an editor without a pass or authorization, I was able to enter all the training rooms and general areas through the doors of Hubble. “There has been nuisance and damage in the general areas several times,” Zhu says. "”nd we have found cigarette butts and beer bottles in Corona, the conference/showroom in Luna,” Beckers adds.
Back to the residents of Luna. Hugo Chaves, who works at ASML, lived in Luna for two years and had quite a few problems. “When I got a job here in the area, I was looking for a place to live. I wanted to live in a large building with a lot of young people because I thought it would be easier to make new friends that way. I found Luna online: videos from the studios are on YouTube. I contacted Camelot for a viewing. They told me that they didn't do viewings and that I could either sign the contract or that they would have other people interested. That was strange; if I am interested in your property, why don't you show it to me?” Chaves wonders. Van Kasteren denies this and says that "interested people can get a viewing."
Chaves needed a place and decided to sign the contract. “The contract mentions quite a few strange costs. Such as for ‘MyCastle’; a website for which you have to pay 202.50 euros. The only thing you can do there is add new laundry credit. The website looks like it came straight from the nineties,” he says. And then there are other contract costs and costs for gardening. For which garden? Normally you just pay a deposit of one or two months and that's it." Van Kasteren responds: “We have now correctly communicated this to all tenants. There is no garden, but there is a roof terrace."
Camelot lost the case
In 2019, !WOON, together with a few tenants of an Amsterdam student and youth complex from Camelot, went to court about the costs for MyCastle - also mentioned by Chaves - and excessive cleaning costs. Camelot lost that lawsuit and the company had to pay back the costs to the tenants. That money was not automatically reimbursed to all tenants. If you are a Luna tenant and have also paid these costs, then you can try to get your money back with a sample letter quoting this precedent. The letter and explanation are, unfortunately, only available in Dutch.
Many landlords and rental companies try to make money of the tight housing market by charging extra costs with creative names such as key money, contract costs, rental costs, or disproportional administration costs. This is illegal. Administrative work, such as the conclusion of a contract, may be considered as standard work for which a landlord or agency may not charge extra costs.
Only when the landlord has costs that are predominantly in the interest of the tenant, such as for a nameplate or applying for a housing permit, he or she can pass these actual costs on to the tenant. Unjustified contract costs can be reclaimed up to five years after they have been invoiced. It often concerns a few hundred euros. Interest group the 'Woonbond' has a free sample letter (in Dutch) that you can use to reclaim unjustified costs.
Noise nuisance: from sex to skype
“With regard to meeting new people and making friends, living in Luna was a huge disappointment. Although there are opportunities to meet other people, like at the communal soccer table, I have never really seen my neighbors there. There were some neighbors with whom I sometimes chatted, but in general there was a very cold atmosphere in Luna," says former resident Chaves.
Master's student Chemical Engineering Honglei Li came to live in Luna in September 2017. She soon experienced a lot of noise, which kept her awake. A few days later, Li found the source of the nuisance: the neighbor two doors away. "Can you imagine how bad the soundproofing is?"
Chaves recognizes her problems: “The soundproofing of the rooms was pretty bad. I heard my neighbor have sex, play her kizomba music and I could literally follow her skype conversations. And she also had issues with me, when I played my music. That is quite strange for a completely renovated building. After complaints, some studios got treated for better soundproofing." Li is not particularly pleased with the treatment her studio got: "I complained to Camelot and the only thing they did was put some sealant between the openings in the wall and ceiling in my room, which didn't help."
Li: “The master's program was intensive and the study pressure huge; I needed a good night's sleep to concentrate during the day. Then I contacted Camelot because I wanted to move. I was told that that was not possible because I had a year contract. I believed this was strange: I thought that there was just a one-month cancellation period. If I were to move, I would have to pay the remaining months of my lease. I didn't have that much money, so I had no choice but to stay."
“I tried to talk to the neighbor, but that didn't help much. Some people just seem to be ‘on’ 24 hours a day. I also asked the TU/e International Office for help, but I was told that Camelot is an independent party, and there is nothing they can do for me.”
PhD student Yaoge Liu also had a bad experience with damage. “I came home and noticed that the glass of my shower door was broken. I know I didn’t do that, so I immediately thought that someone had been in my room. How else could this have happened? I asked Camelot for the footage of the security cameras. They told me that they were not allowed to give it to me unless I reported it to the police. I had no burglary damage on my lock or door to proof that. I started googling for the chance that such glass might break on its own. It turned out to be very unlikely, but not impossible. I had no evidence that Camelot came in, nor could I prove that someone else had broken into my place, so I decided ‘bad luck, it broke by itself.’ Let's just pay for it and forget it quickly."
Liu continues: “I contacted Camelot and said that I would pay to have the shower door repaired. Shortly after, I went on vacation. During my vacation, Camelot contacted me to enter my room, given the note on my door, to fix the shower door. I gave them permission and then they carried out the repair. For this they charged me 910.80 euros. For a shower door! I called them to get a proof of the costs incurred: I wanted to see a receipt. I never got one. Later they called me back and said the glass was of high quality. I asked for proof of the high price but nothing, just an invoice from them that I had to pay.”
A short online search shows that a comparable door does not have to cost more than 250 euros. No VAT was charged on the invoice that Liu provided Cursor, which is mandatory by our law in this case. Van Kasteren from Camelot acknowledges this and cannot explain why VAT was not stated on this invoice. On the invoice it is also unclear how much money has been spend on materials and how much on the repair work itself.
Getting your deposit back
Getting your deposit back appears to be a lot less easy than paying it, as experienced by various interviewees." After the previous incidents, I decided to leave," Liu says. “I informed Camelot about this and the two final inspections were planned. Before that time came, I cleaned thoroughly because I had already heard stories about a deposit that was withheld for a ‘dirty shower’. I even bought the strongest chemical cleaner at the hardware store to prevent that."
Liu’s first inspection was done by a young man who reported a scratch on a chair. Liu: "I admitted to that, yes, that's my fault, can I buy the chair? I did so. Then he saw a small crack in the sink. I checked the price and told him I wanted to fix it, because I no longer trusted Camelot. Later, I was called that I was not allowed to fix it myself, because Camelot is the only party that could do that and it would cost me 300 euros. The day of the last inspection, done by another manager, came and he told me that a door in the kitchen was not flat, and that I caused that damage. They would replace the door and deduct the costs from my deposit. I thought, ‘Come on!’ This is a two-millimeter height difference in an area of two square centimeters that I didn't even cause. What should you do then? Take pictures of each item before you go to live somewhere so you can prove that you have not done anything about that door and it has been ‘uneven from the start’? I feel that they are looking for ways to make you pay more and for them not to have to give the deposit back."
”In total I have paid a 1,000 euros deposit and in the meantime I have received 850 euros back (late November 2019, ed.). So the total loss - including shower door - comes to 1,050 euros. But in addition, I also received a new invoice of 653 euros with costs for replacing a sink, kitchen door, office chair and mattress cover. So this story hasn’t ended yet. After all experiences with this company, your expectations become low. I feel that they are abusing international students. I recently moved to a nice place from Holland2Stay and I am very happy with my new landlord so far: they care about your wishes and pick up their phone. That may seem simple and obvious, but I appreciate it after renting from Camelot," Liu says.
Also Chaves’ final inspection did not go smoothly. "By the end of my stay two inspections were planned: the pre-inspection and the final inspection, with about two weeks in between," Chaves mentions. "I was satisfied with how I left things; no dirty walls, no yellow towels, nothing strange. A former Camelot building manager carried out the first inspection. He complimented me by saying that properties are not often delivered this way. He made a note about a small dent in the kitchen. It was the only comment he wrote down and not even as a damage, but as a comment, which meant that I wouldn't have to pay for it. "
“A Camelot building manager came for the final inspection on April 1st. Everything was fine. On April 4th, I received an e-mail* stating that my mattress cover was very dirty and Camelot had tried to clean it, but did not succeed. That's interesting: a heavily soiled mattress cover that we both did not notice. Besides, I use my own waterproof plastic protection cover between my mattress and the sheets, which is very common where I come from. That thing itself wasn't even dirty, so how could the cover underneath be dirty? Anyway, I had removed the sheets from the bed and had not checked things carefully, and neither had he. ‘It is what it is,’ I thought then.
Chaves asked what the costs would be for a new mattress cover. “It would cost me 283.58 euros and another 47.37 euros to have it put around the mattress. I know there are mattresses that are cheaper than that. And almost 50 euros to open a zipper, remove the cover and put it back? I asked for proof of the amount they had paid for the cover and suggested replacing it myself. Since neither of us had seen it, I thought it was reasonable to give me the opportunity to fix it myself. I have never received proof of the costs and then the building manager suggested that I would only be charged for the cleaning attempt and the replacing of the cover, which still resulted in an amount of 140 euros. I went against it and said it was still too much. I then received an e-mail that the new tenant had observed all kinds of broken things in my old studio, such as scratches on the floor, a hole in the bin and a broken shelf in the fridge, of which I received photos. Camelot told me that I would normally have to pay for this, but in this case I would be matted and I would only be charged the 140 euros. If I didn't agree with that, I would be charged for everything. Then I became really angry: this felt like a threat. This approach is illegal and very immoral,” Chaves says.
To provide a broader assessment of residents' complaints, Cursor conducted a survey. 58 (former) residents of Luna completed the suvey. Some conclusions are illustrated in the pictures below.
Garbage is piling up
Oliver van den Berg, Fontys student Orthopedic Technology, also lives in Luna. "The rooms are really very small," Van den Berg says. “Five Polish people in one room is what you hear sometimes. There is no control by Camelot, not even with regard to cleaning. All kinds of cultures live together here, with different customs. For example 'throwing away trash': in a student house you will talk to each other if something is not done as it is supposed to be. But here everyone has an individual room which changes how things work. Many people pile up their trash in the hall next to their room. It was mentioned this was not how it should go and then it was placed next to the container instead of in it. If you are registered with the municipality, you can simply use the containers with your city pass. But many internationals are not registered, while this is mandatory," Van den Berg stresses. That many students do not register in the city where they study, is a known problem. Though no figures can be found specifically about internationals.
Peters from Real Estate Management indicates that “in the past the garbage containers were not always used properly by the residents of Luna. Waste didn’t go in the containers but was placed next to them." Van den Berg: "There are things that go wrong in Luna, but that is because they (Camelot, ed.) have no experience with this type of rental," Van den Berg analyzes. “They do learn from it. The communication can be a bit curt, but I do see improvement.”
A kitchen without extraction
“We rent the spaces through TU/e’s Real Estate Management, in a loan agreement for Scala as a whole. The line here is therefore Camelot, Real Estate Management, Scala, individual cultural associations. We are not allowed to view the contracts between the Real Estate Management and Camelot. We have once received one paragraph, but we cannot see our rights and obligations,” Zhu says.
Interesting, when you consider that the large kitchen that Scala rents through Real Estate Management is managed by Camelot. And they pay a fair amount of money for that kitchen: “8,400 euros a year, of which the TU/e pays 4,400 euros and we pay the rest. That is a lot of money for the use of a kitchen. Volunteers cook there for the members who want to join for dinner," Zhu explains. “We use the kitchen 41 weeks a year, 5 days a week, 3 hours a day. For that money you would expect that everything works well, but no, that’s not the case. The amount of cookware is limited, as well as the number of burners. "
“Things got stolen from the kitchen, because one of the doors could not be locked. This has since been addressed by Camelot. We talked about this issue to the building manager of Luna, fortunately she was very helpful. The conclusion: now the kitchen and the cupboards in it are locked. The extraction, essential in such a kitchen, has not been working for two years and there have been many leaks. Instead of fixing the extraction, they have installed a heat detector in the kitchen to replace a smoke detector that went off every time (due to the lack of extraction), and the fire brigade had to come to switch it off. That is not a solution,” Zhu says.
Beckers continues: “Scala clearly indicated from the start what we would do with the rooms. All associations and Real Estate Management agreed to the design at the time, but we now notice that things are not working properly. We spoke with many people, including Studium Generale and Real Estate Management, after which a taskforce was set up. Then an investigation was started and measurements were carried out. There has been a considerable delay because no budget was available, but recently the Executive Board of the TU/e has made money available to adjust the installation. We are very grateful for this as Scala, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us.”
Ad van Rooij, contract director for Management and Maintenance at Real Estate Management, confirms that the ventilation system will be dealt with soon. He expects that the project will be finished at the beginning of the new academic year. He understands that it must have been very tiresome for the cultural associations to wait such a long time for the improvement of the ventilation system.
"That's partly caused by the fact that we had to invest quite some time to map out the problem. That we did with engineering and measuring. And it's a big project, for which we did't had the means available right away. At TU/e we just have a limited budget for maintenance, so we have to make choices every year. The quality of air and comfort are very important, but there is also legally bound maintenance work aimed at safety that has a higher priority. We are very glad that we are able to execute this improvement now, because it's absolutely necessary.”
Living above a cafe
In the spring of 2018, the Hubble Community Café opened on the ground floor of Luna. A problem for some students, like Honglei Li. "There were regular events with loud music and people who were still screaming after 1:00 AM. As a result, I contacted Camelot again and asked if I could at least move to another studio, further away from Hubble. The answer was no. In total I lived in Luna for one year. I will never forget how I struggled through my days because of the lack of sleep," Li says. “I remember how much coffee I took to stay awake in class, how hopeless it made me. It is already a challenge to be alone and far away from home, let alone if you’re given a hard time like that. Fortunately, I graduated in the meantime, but I am still mentally and physically affected by that period.”
Hubble rents a space on the ground floor in Luna. Xaveria Vossen, chairman of Hubble since May 2019: “The people who are coming to live here are often not aware of the fact that they are going to live above a bar. Some communication focused on that, can help. Camelot is originally an anti-squat company and that’s what they are good at. But this (Luna, ed.) is something else. Here we have residents with wishes."
The occasional noise nuisance is inevitable. “We want people living above to feel comfortable in their own home. Camelot itself communicates very little to their residents and together with the TU/e we try to fill this gap as much as possible. This is difficult at times because not all residents have a connection with the university. Sometimes complaints come in via Facebook Messenger, such as during the introduction week, when people stick around outside after activities and make noise, et cetera. We cannot prevent that. We want residents to feel heard, so we invite them for coffee in the bar and discuss the problem,” Vossen explains.
“We notice that residents know how to find us, also when they have problems. It has often happened that there are residents who have accidentally left their keys in their rooms during the weekend. No one from Camelot is available during the weekend. Unfortunately, outside of a hot cup of tea and a chat we can't do anything for them," Vossen says. Van Kasteren denies this and says that "residents can call customer service 24 hours a day (+31 (0) 88 226 3568, ed.) and they will also be helped outside of office hours if they have locked themselves out."
Nicole Ummelen, vice-president of TU/e and responsible for housing, says that she recognizes many of the statements made in the article above and that these are regularly discussed. Ummelen: “Even though we aren’t a party formally - Camelot is the owner and operator - we do feel a responsibility to provide a proper accommodation for our students on campus. That is why we send out these signals, and our concerns about them, during our regular meetings with Camelot, and why we hold regular meetings about solutions.”
Former Luna resident Chaves thinks that the university should do more: “This is a university campus where many students live. The university must protect its students and be very careful with the practices and who operates on their campus. I understand if the university says they don't want to manage housing themselves. Fine to outsource it to another party, but make the frameworks of what can and cannot be done, very clear. The doubtful practices that I experienced are in no one's favor," he concludes.
Entering the apartment without permission is recognized by more residents. In the survey that Cursor conducted (see illustration), 46 percent of respondents said they have experienced an unauthorized visit from Camelot in their apartment. Marcel Trip, spokesperson for the Woonbond, emphasizes once again that this is certainly not allowed: “A landlord cannot just enter: that is trespassing. In an anti-squat property this is allowed, because people who live like that are not under the rent legislation and the rent protection that comes with it. If maintenance needs to be done, the landlord must make an appointment with the tenant. As a tenant you have to cooperate. If a landlord nevertheless enters your house, you can put another lock on the door. Save the old lock for when you move, then you have to put it back."
Cursor also asked Camelot for an overview of the reimbursements of the deposits from 2019. How many times were deposits only partially reimbursed? And how often not at all? Camelot manager Joost van Kasteren promised to search for such numbers during the interview at the head office. Even after a repeated request for an overview by e-mail, Cursor did not receive the requested document. Also, no reason has yet been given as to why it is not possible to deliver this.
During the interview, Van Kasteren also showed a video and some photos of rooms in Luna that were left in a rather deplorable condition by the tenant. According to the Camelot manager, nobody will be surprised that the deposit will be partially or fully retained for the purpose of restoration.
* Hugo Chaves provided Cursor with a complete e-mail history of contact with Camelot about the inspection of his studio and the problems found later. Both the current building manager and a former building manager have been asked to respond to the findings. The former manager referred to the current manager. Camelot decided to only respond through an interview with Real Estate Manager Joost van Kasteren and not from the point of view of the (current) manager.
Luna is not the only residential tower on campus: Aurora is located on the opposite side and has more than 300 residential units. This building is managed by Vestide. After writing this article, we are also curious about the situation in Aurora. How do residents experience living there and how do they feel about the landlord? If you want to comment on this, you can contact the editors via cursor@. tue.nl