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Renting Property

Belgium - Renting Property


There are a variety of federal and regional laws which apply to rental property, allowing you to be sure of a safe home with a contractually protected rent. Tenants’ rights are quite strong compared to some other countries, allowing longer term leases and the ability to reasonably redecorate a property.

EU law does not allow any discrimination of a prospective tenant other than for their ability to pay the rent and keep the property in the existing state of repair. Race, gender, sexual orientation and social origin must not be relevant to a landlord’s decision of whether to accept an applicant as a tenant.

In addition to rental properties being advertised in local newspapers and estate agency branches, properties are typically listed on rental websites.

A range of large family houses for rent can be found here.

A range of apartments and rooms to let in shared apartments can be found here.

If you decide to look at privately advertised properties without the services of an estate agent, take care not to accept a property belonging to a bad landlord or fall for a scam. Private landlords who own one or two rental properties dominate the rental market; more than two thirds of them will not use an estate agent to find tenants. If you have problems entering a property for a viewing for whatever reason or meet a ‘friend’ of the landlord, take further steps to ensure the arrangement is genuine and legal. If you are asked to pay a reservation fee or the first month’s rent in cash, do not pay it and walk away.

Since a Royal Decree in 1993, estate agents in Belgium have been regulated as individuals, providing a good degree of protection for consumers and an official route for complaints should any serious problems occur. Many estate agents will have a basic knowledge of English, especially in Brussels where there is a significant English speaking community living and working in the area. For newcomers to Belgium, using an estate agent to find the first property in a new country will provide a good degree of protection, financially and contractually.

The length of tenancy agreements varies significantly, so this must be clarified when visiting the property. Be sure you are happy to agree to the length of lease suggested. If you are thinking of staying six months, do not accept a three year lease, but discuss your plans to see if an agreement can be reached before the contract is drawn up.

When you have visited a property, found out all the terms and conditions of the rental, and have decided you want to go ahead, your estate agent will ask for a fee to be paid. It is usually about one month’s rent, and covers administrative, advertising and miscellaneous costs.

You will also have to pay a security deposit, which protects the landlord should you damage their property during your occupation. It will normally be the equivalent to two or three months’ rent, and this amount should be clearly communicated before you agree to take the property.

Never pay the security deposit to the landlord, either in cash or to their bank account. The estate agent may hold a client account which legally protects your money from being withdrawn without your permission. Alternatively, set up a blocked bank account in your own name with yourself and the landlord as signatories, with clear instructions to the bank that no withdrawals may be made without both signatures on the paperwork.

All tenancies must be agreed in writing before occupation commences. Three copies must exist; to be held by the tenant, the landlord, and to complete the compulsory registration of contract. The registration will occur in the local authority offices in the same area as the property is located, and will protect the tenant against the threat of eviction should the property be sold to a new landlord.

The only exception to this is where the tenant moved into the property prior to 1st June 2007 on the basis of a verbal agreement and where no subsequent request for a written contract was made; but this is a rare situation.

The tenancy agreement, or lease, must legally contain all terms and conditions.

• The identity of the landlord
• The identity of the tenant
• The period of tenancy
• The rent
• Statement that the premises will serve as the tenant’s main residence
• Starting date of the contract
• Detailed description of all parts of the rental property including gardens, cellars etc
• Contents to be included

There are two annexes to be added to the lease contract.

• The first lists the minimum conditions which any property to be leased as a main residence must meet in order to comply with the "elementary requirements for safety, health and habitability"
• The second is an explanation of the important aspects of the law on domestic leases, which will vary according to the region in which the property is based.

Neither the landlord nor the tenant should sign the contract unless they are happy that it servces a full and true picture of the agreement being made, as all terms and conditions will be legally enforceable.

At the time the contract is signed by all parties, the property to be leased must meet the “elementary requirements for safety, health and habitability” in all areas, but particularly:

• functions of the building
• structure and stability
• damp
• natural light and ventilation
• fittings
• accessibility

Safety:

• adequate locks on entrance doors
• well-lit entrance hall and stairwell
• water-heaters fitted with fume-extraction flue consistent with applicable safety standards
• no dangerous products used in decoration or construction
• safe and well-lit access to cellars and meters, electrical wiring consistent with applicable standards

Health:

• no vermin
• no abnormal damp

Habitability

• no seepage
• rooms that can be aired
• windows that open
• kitchen equipped with a sink
• drinking water
• space for a fridge and a washing machine and room to use an ironing board
• bathroom or shower installed

Furnished accommodation in the Brussels Regions also legally requires the landlord to produce authorisation from the Housing Department (Service de Logement) of the Brussels-Capital authorities. The landlord must also provide proof, in the form of an attestation de contrôle, of regular inspections of the individual heating systems (every 2 years), the electrical wiring (every 5 years), gas fittings and fixtures (every 2 years) and extraction flues for fumes and smoke (every year).

Should the property fall short of these requirements in any respect, the tenant may ask for the contract to be dissolved, with a request for any appropriate damages. Alternatively, the tenant could ask for works to be carried out to rectify the problems, and in this situation a court could reduce the tenant’s rent until the repairs are completed.

The rent cannot be increased during the term of the rental agreement, except in exceptional circumstances and for which full written explanation is given. The rent can be indexed to inflation once a year, but no more frequently.

It is the tenant’s responsibility to keep the property in good condition whilst living there. Any repairs needed after damage or neglect has occurred may be charged against the security deposit and possibly through further legal action if the sums are significant. Normal routine repairs which have not been caused by the tenant - such as a leaking pipe - are the responsibility of the landlord to fix.

The landlord is required to hold building insurance on the property, so that in the event of flood or fire damage the property will be fixed. It is the tenant’s responsibility to obtain insurance for contents though; if you have not taken any out then the same flood or fire could destroy all your possessions and you would be left without recompense.

If the owner wants to terminate the rental lease early, a full six months’ notice must be given. If the tenant wants to leave, a full three months’ notice must be given. This would be done by sending a registered letter which must be signed for by the recipient, and must have been received before the three month deadline is reached. There may still be a financial penalty to pay. In the event that you decide to leave and do not give statutory notice or pay the penalty, you will be legally obliged to pay the rent for the rest of the lease term.

If you are an EU citizen who has lived in Belgium for three months or longer, under EU law you are treated equally to Belgian citizens when making an application for social housing via a housing association. However, with a small rental market and years of underinvestment in social housing, waiting lists in Belgium for permanent homes in the social housing sector are long.


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