Scarcity of digs leaving students at the mercy of the scammers

There’s help out there for those who need it, but blink and you might miss out on a dream place

Anna-Laura Seifermann signed up at Kollegiernes Kontor i København before arriving in Copenhagen, but found herself on a waiting list of somewhere between 700 and 2,000.

Luckily, the German student knew some people in the city who let her couch surf for about two weeks before she found housing.

“I only got my first place because I went there literally the moment I got the message with the address and signed the contract right away,” she said.

“As I was leaving, another person came and was turned away because he was just minutes too late.”

Nevertheless, Seifermann’s house-searching days weren’t over. Short-term leases frustrated her efforts, and on the one occasion she found one, the landlady cancelled moments before the contract was signed.

In just one year, she saw more of Copenhagen than most Danes, living in Nørrebro, Vesterbro, Østerbro and Frederiksberg.

It was a similar story for Tanmay Singh Madan, a student from India.

“The main struggle I’ve had is finding willing landlords. They claimed they preferred another tenant, or wanted someone older,” he said.

“As an international student your most essential tools should be KKIK, Findbolig, Facebook and patience.”

More students than housing
Seifermann and Madan are not alone. According to the Danish Construction Association, of the 66,000 students starting university this year, 24,000 are in need of housing – 9,500 in Copenhagen alone.

Charlotte Simonsen – the head of housing at the University of Copenhagen Housing Foundation (UCHF), which helps international students at the university – concedes there is a major problem.

“We don’t have enough housing and it’s expensive sometimes, but at the same time, both the municipality and different organisations are trying to get more rooms,” she said.

“We have about 1,400 beds that we have signed leases on, and they are reserved for international students.”

The foundation has almost doubled the number of its available beds in the last two years and now has housing at 25 different addresses.

“Two new residences opened this autumn with help from private investors and the municipality,” enthused Simonsen. “These residences mean about 350 more beds for students.”

Problems and pitfalls
It’s good news for international students, who are often susceptible to scams. The Facebook group Scammers in Copenhagen, which was set up by the Sustainable Housing Group of the Copenhagen International Volunteer Club, offers advice to its 1,750 members about avoiding potential scams.

“The group is a response to the dysfunctional housing market in Copenhagen,” said Andrew Madsen, the administrator of the Facebook group. “Its creation stemmed from my frustration at fake offers, and at the restricted rental market.”

Madsen advises house-hunters to see the place before transferring large sums of money (particularly if it specifies through Western Union!). He pointed out that scams can be face-to-face as well – a common one being when multiple people are tricked into renting one property.

Telltale signs
Jette Horn, the creator of Copenhagen Rental Service, has seen it all: from students going to view houses that don’t exist, to ones who quickly learn their rooms come with sexual advances from their landlord.

She started her service after witnessing a rapid rise in students searching for accommodation online. Her Facebook group currently has close to 5,000 members, and she estimates getting as many as ten messages a day.

Telltale signs, she warns, are landlords saying they are out of the country, asking for money and saying they will send a key, illogical deals and suspiciously cheap prices.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it is!” added Simonsen.

“Get help when you first arrive, from someone who knows the system better,” she advised. “Try to do some research on the internet, and use web pages where information has been used by students before.”

Typical mistakes
According to Horn, typical mistakes made by students include not registering for a CPR number, sending a personal ID online and paying money without any documentation.

“Don’t let stress put you in situations you can’t manage,” she warned. “It’s better to find temporary solutions.”

This is exactly what Seifermann did. She recommends alongside Facebook groups.

“Make your message as personal as possible and adjust it to what is said in the posts!” she said.

“Also, it is worth looking into dormitories that have an application process with a motivation letter such as Egmont or Tietgen.”

Ultimately, Seifermann would not swap her experience in Copenhagen – good and bad.

“I liked my Copenhagen experience since I got really great insight into different parts of the city,” she said.

“But it also means moving around a lot and not having a lot of belongings, but you get used to it.”