Being an expatriate means living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language and engaging with a foreign culture. One of the aspects of this culture that may surprise you is the legal system. Indeed, you may even be astonished by the differences between the legal system here in the Netherlands and that in your native country. You may run into some of these differences when you buy a house or a flat. Let me give you a couple of examples from my own practice.

Oral agreements are not binding – and you’ve got a few days in which to reconsider your decision

When a private individual buys a house in the Netherlands, a legally binding contract is deemed to have been formed only once a written agreement has been signed by both parties, i.e. the buyer and the seller. An oral agreement is not legally binding. Once you have signed on the dotted line, you will be given a copy of the contract of sale. This is the formal starting point for a three-day ‘period of reflection’, during which you are entitled to change your mind, i.e. to cancel the transaction, without having to give any reasons for doing so. It is important to note that this is not the same thing as the proviso often made by house-buyers, to the effect that the transaction may not formally proceed until the buyer has arranged a suitable loan.

No deal without a deed of transfer

The first step in buying a property is to agree with the seller on what you are buying and on the various requirements it needs to meet. However, you do not actually acquire the title to the property until a deed of transfer (known in Dutch as a leveringsakte or transportakte) has been drawn up and ‘executed’ by a notary public. The transfer of title is then registered at the Land Registry Office.

Buying a house in the Netherlands does not necessarily also entail buying the land on which it stands

This may sound rather illogical, but the house you wish to buy may well have been built on land that the seller acquired under a ground lease (erfpacht in Dutch) or in relation to which the seller enjoys certain ‘building rights’ (recht van opstal). These are both more limited forms of ownership than what is generally termed ‘naked’ or ‘bare’ ownership. This type of situation may affect your legal and financial status.

Buying a flat or apartment automatically means becoming a part-owner of the building of which it forms part

Under what is called ‘apartment law’, not only are you required to abide by the rules applying to all the other owners in the same building, you are also forbidden from making any structural alterations to your apartment without the other owners’ permission. You need to make sure, when buying an apartment, that the ‘owners’ association’ meets at least once a year and that it has drawn up a long-term maintenance plan and has set aside sufficient funds to pay for the necessary maintenance work. These are all statutory obligations. You should also ensure that the seller has paid his or her share of the association’s costs for both the current and the previous financial year, as you may otherwise be held liable for the previous owner’s debts.

Can your neighbour really become the owner of part of your garden through lapse of time?

Let’s say that you buy a house with a garden. When you ask the Land Registry Office to remeasure your plot boundary, you find out that, for the past 20 years, your neighbour’s fence has actually run through your garden, at a distance of one metre from the boundary rather than on the boundary itself. Requested to remove the fence and rebuild it on his own land, your neighbour refuses, claiming that, through lapse of time, he is now owns a metre-wide strip of land running the length of the boundary. Is he right? Well, he could well be. This type of situation can indeed arise in the Netherlands, despite not being evident from the data held by the Land Registry Office.

There’s no need for the dimensions stated in the contract of sale to be accurate

The information provided by the seller (or by his or her estate agent) about the dimensions of the property – including the floor space and the volume – is assumed to be no more than a general indication. There is no requirement for these figures to be accurate. It’s all a matter of ‘what you see is what you get’. Unless the seller has given certain guarantees about the dimensions of the property, you can’t claim any damages or compensation if the figures prove to be wrong.

A sitting tenant is part of the package

If you buy a property all or part of which has been rented out, the tenancy contract does not end simply because the title to the property has passed to a new owner. The fact is that sitting tenants come with the property, even if you have agreed otherwise in the contract of sale. The seller is liable for compensation, however, if he or she has undertaken to sell the property ‘unencumbered by tenancy’, but you nonetheless find, on taking possession, that there is a sitting tenant in residence.

Thinking of buying a flat or a house?

If you’re thinking of buying a flat or a house, you may be interested to know that we can screen your draft contract of sale and advise you about key aspects of the transaction. We can carry out a check in the Land Register in order to ascertain whether the property is subject to any charges or restrictions. We also have access to an extensive network of estate agents and structural surveyors whom we can call on if necessary. A good contract means not having to worry. It takes a lot of time, energy and money to remedy a poor-quality contract. It’s better to be safe than sorry!