Unfortunately when perusing expat websites and fora, there are plenty of horror stories to be found telling of aggressive and negligent landlords preying on unwitting expats ignorant of the country’s rental system. But it doesn't end with leaking roofs. From outrageous fines for breach of contract to end-of-lease inspections leading to bills for thousands of euros for damages, the catalogue of disputes appears never to abate. The system is already complicated for Belgians, but for newly landed foreigners it can be even more perplexing due to language barriers and a lack of knowledge of local law.
Different types of rent
There are two rental contract possibilities: a standard flexible lease for a period between three and nine years, and a rather inflexible short-term lease for contracts up to three years. The first and more common option can be broken with three months’ notice and penalty payment (if you leave in the first, second or third year, you pay an indemnity of three, two and one month’s rent respectively). The second is set for up to three years and cannot be broken by either owner or tenant. It may be renewed once only, up to a maximum of three years, for example, a one-year lease may be renewed with a two-year lease. Don’t forget that rent is subject to an index-linked annual review. A landlord will always prefer more than one name on the lease for payment security reasons but this is not an obligation.
What your agreement means
A rental agreement, ‘bail de location/huurovereenkomst’, is governed by Belgian law. The onus is on the individual citizen to know the laws of the land (published in Moniteur Belge/Belgisch Staatsblad); in practical terms, this means informing yourself via local media, consumer magazine Test-Achats/Test-Aankoop and the estate agency organisation Institut Professionnel des Agents Immobiliers (IPI)/Beroepinstituut van Vastgoedmakelaars (BIV).
Providing a deposit and an inventory
A security deposit of two months is normally required, usually blocked in the tenant’s bank account. The sum will be released by the owner following an examination of the property at the end of the lease. An inventory, ‘état des lieux’/’staat van de woning’, is drawn up at the beginning of the lease. Make sure all defects and damage are noted to avoid being charged for them when moving out. If you want the landlord to repair any defects, note them down in the inventory or rental contract. The tenant is bound to return the property in the condition in which it was leased, barring everyday wear and tear.
How to avoid losing money
To avoid being stung for damage that equals the deposit amount (or more!) get an objective assessment by selecting your own agent for both the check-in and check-out. Estate agencies can also nominate a neutral expert and the cost is usually shared between owner and landlord. A tenant has to provide written agreement to any expert designated by the owner and it is possible to appeal against an expert’s report.
When signing a rental contract, the tenant promises to maintain all of the property’s internal installations, including electricity and heating. The owner is responsible for the structure and external fittings.
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