The slum lord of the Netherlands

A few months ago I wrote about the notorious ‘slum lord of the Netherlands’, Ronnie van de Putte. The real estate businessman and his company, Bever Holdings, own nearly a dozen properties around the Netherlands, including several landmark parcels in Noordwijk and a once-luxurious villa in Wassenaar, Huize Ivicke. If you’ve driven between Leiden and The Hague on the N44, you have undoubtedly seen this dilapidated villa on the western side of the highway. Like the other properties held by Bever Holdings, it’s been neglected, left to the elements and occupied by squatters since it became a part of its owner’s real estate portfolio. And like the other properties, the governing municipality has urged Bever to renovate it, sell it or do something with it.

Unlike most of the other properties, the municipality of Wassenaar has actually made progress against Bever Holding with regard to Huize Ivicke. Through new laws, political pressure and rezoning of the property, the city of Wassenaar ruled that, starting November 2020, a city-sponsored renovation of the property could begin. This was much to the dismay of the owner, who – for reasons unknown – did not want to have this property restored, used or even occupied. Still, the city of Wassenaar prevailed and construction workers arrived towards the end of November to begin repairing the estate. The owner was upset, but – perhaps tired of fighting with city councils during the last decades – seemed to do nothing. It was a breakthrough for any business dealings with this much-disliked real estate company.

Even in Noordwijk, there seemed to be some breakthroughs in taking over the dilapidated properties there. Bever Holdings was behind on the mortgages on most of these vacant properties and through a new law of ‘right of first purchase’, ratified specifically for these properties, the municipality was ready to purchase these locations and even started with fantastic design and development plans. After more than three decades of fruitless negotiation with Bever Holdings, it seemed that Noordwijk was finally on the way to restoring these landmark locations to their original glory and make the seaside resort a beautiful tourist destination again.

But unfortunately for Noordwijk and Wassenaar, these breakthroughs have both hit road bumps, and it looks like both will have these ‘slum properties’ for much longer than hoped. For Noordwijk, it seems that in the final hour Bever Holdings arranged alternative financing for some of the abandoned properties and is now current on the mortgage payments. This has made all the work, effort and energy needed to create a new law a waste of time, since the properties are no longer in a foreclosed status and will not be auctioned off. This is not the first time this has happened: in 1996 a foreclosure sale of one of the properties was also cancelled at the last minute, while earlier this year the foreclosure auction of the shops around Noordwijk’s iconic lighthouse were also scrapped.

For Wassenaar the situation is very different. As the municipality started renovations, a report was made to the Omgevingsdienst Zuid-Holland Zuid (the environmental service of southern South Holland) that bats were presented in the rundown building. According to law, bats are protected animals and before any building works can begin, a study has to be made in order to see if bats are present; if they are, the loss of habitat should be compensated for during the works. It’s unclear whether a study was done at the villa to determine the environmental impact of the restoration, so the municipality has to wait until one is carried out.

All of this seems quite coincidental … the last-minute scrapping of development plans for most of the properties; the sudden payments that brought the mortgage accounts of the Noordwijk properties current; and now the anonymous report of bats at Huize Ivicke and subsequent calls for investigation into how Wassenaar approached the restorations in the first place. The fact that this has been going on for decades leads one to believe that this is the strategic approach of Bever Holdings: buy properties, leave them to deteriorate, fall behind on mortgage payments and leave municipalities to handle the fallout. But what is the end-game for this strategy? It’s far from a money-making strategy and looks more like a strategy for chaos – and very expensive chaos at that.

Written by Marla Thomson