This is most emphatically not an endorsement of Craigslist. I hear enough stories of people getting ripped off or having unsatisfactory anonymous sex to know better than to associate my good name with the world’s largest classified ads website.
It’s purely anecdotal that I’ve had several exceptional addresses in Amsterdam entirely owing to Craigslist and you should definitely not do what I did when booking your vacation accommodation in this amazing city.
So strongly do I feel that you should eschew my advice that I’m saying so in spite of all the advantages to having your own Amsterdam apartment for a few weeks in the summer. Firstly, it’s much cheaper than a hotel and on a par with a hostel. Of course if you’re traveling as a couple or group it becomes even cheaper again. Now subtract the cost of eating out as opposed to having your own kitchen and you’re starting to liberate a significant portion of your travel budget for whatever it is that people spend their money on in Amsterdam.
For all intents and purposes, renting out your property in Amsterdam is illegal. The federal and municipal governments are so implicated in the relationship between landlord and tenant that they dictate how much can be charged for an apartment based on a complex formula combining surface area with the state of the floors and age of the plumbing and proximity to, I don’t know, a bordello. Any profit that unlikely remains is taxed at slightly over 100%. That’s mostly made up but the effect is quite non-fictionally a dearth of rental property in Amsterdam in spite of the government’s energetic efforts to do Jack-shit about the problem.
Additionally, once you’re in an apartment you can’t be made to leave and there are hundreds of thousands of tenants enjoying rents that were negotiated decades ago and they’re not going to give that up so when they move in with their girlfriends or take a job in another city they sublet their apartments, which of course they’re expressly forbidden from doing.
Consequently there’s a massive black market for apartment rentals in Amsterdam. Everybody does it, including those whose job it is nominally to enforce this apparently immutable set of counter-productive laws. There are literally more people subletting flats then there are flats because the sublet chain can run as much as five deep (to my personal knowledge — doubtless the actual record is much deeper).
The one thing you want to avoid when renting out your flat, particularly for the short term, is renting it to someone who wants to live there. The risk that a fellow Dutchman will simply choose not to leave or in some other fashion upend the delicately balanced chain of sublets is too great and so the ideal tenant for summer rentals is you — the tourist who just wants to pay cash, live in Amsterdam for a little while, and then go away.
You still shouldn’t do it though. I had two huge advantages when I rented my flats in Amsterdam. First, I’m not a total moron and knew without asking that a three-bedroom apartment on Prinsengracht for €500 a month, payable upfront by Western Union, is concretely a scam. Second I was already there. That’s indispensable. It makes it almost impossible to plan from, say, Minnesota, but I’m afraid it’s the only way. Well, the other only way is to have someone you trust check out the property but they’d still need to actually be in Amsterdam. What you must absolutely not do is pay any money anywhere but standing in the flat with the keys in your hand.
If you can manage that, though, you’re going to get a bargain and you’re not going to get ripped off. Your Amsterdam landlord just wants someone to cover his rent while he’s in Thailand or at home from university for the summer or participating in clinical drug trials. The other hidden advantage of renting in Amsterdam is that everyone you meet is only slightly cooler and more easygoing than the last person you met. For me the experience was so consistently and thoroughly positive that were I to do it again I’d risk booking a hotel for a couple of days on the assumption that Craigslist would come through.
If you decide to do this thing that you shouldn’t do, try to choose one of the nice neighborhoods in Amsterdam, by which I mean any neighborhood in Amsterdam. Also try to pay on the black market courtesy and leave your vacation flat cleaner than you found it and maybe with a six-pack in the fridge.