Property Rental in Belgium
Tenants generally have flexibility to renovate the house or apartment they rent in Belgium, which typically come unfurnished. It's important, therefore, to know your rights when renting in Belgium.
Both rents and property prices are relatively low in Belgium, being closer to those in Poland than the UK. Around 28 percent of Belgium homes are rented, with 19 percent through private landlords. On average, Belgians spend 25 percent of their annual income on accommodation.
Belgium uses both French and Dutch. Throughout this article, terms are given in both languages in the following format Français / Nederlands.
Should you rent or buy in Belgium?
Unusual in Europe, tenants in Belgium are responsible for the majority of repairs to the dwelling they lease. With this responsibility comes greater freedom to redecorate, maintain and improve the property, which means that many renters find they have similar satisfactions of owning a house or apartment, without the mortgage.
Rental contracts are typically long and provide security, encouraging tenants to settle down. In contrast, the transaction costs are high when buying a property, typically 20–25 percent of the purchase price. This means that although average house prices are relatively low in Belgium, particularly compared to neighbours like the Netherlands or France, it can take a long time to recover the transaction costs of buying a property. For this reason, it is usually not worth buying unless you plan to stay in the country for an extended period, typically five years or more. Find out more in Expatica's guide to buying a home in Belgium.
Finding a property
As in most of the world, the two main options in Belgium are to use a real estate agent (agences immobilières/ makelaar) or an online property portal, and properties can also be found through small ads online and in local papers. Searching online will help you get a feel for the options and prices available, and we've listed online property portals available in English below.
English speaking estate agents are common, particularly in Brussels, and can help new arrivals cut through the language barrier. They may even be willing to drive you to visit properties, which can be ideal if you're still finding your way around. Agents' fees are typically paid by the landlord, so be particularly wary of any agent charging an up-front or signing fee.
Finding an interim home
The phrase 'short-term tenancy' has a specific meaning in Belgium where it refers to any tenancy of less than three years that is not a holiday let. This allows greater flexibility for expats on a short contract or looking to buy a home in Belgium. However, very short contracts may be difficult to find although there are a wide selection of holiday homes and serviced apartments available.
Subletting a whole property is not legal in Belgium. A tenant may sublet part of their property (e.g. a spare room or annexe) but only with the permission of the landlord.
Most adverts will include a living space estimate, in metres squared, as well as a number of bedrooms. They must include an accurate rent, otherwise the landlord can be fined.
Most properties are rented unfurnished. In Belgium, properties are frequently leased in an empty state, often without light fittings, curtains, carpets or any kitchen appliances. However, it is often not clear from property descriptions how thoroughly empty a property will be. Make sure you get a clear answer from the estate agent when viewing the property to avoid any unpleasant, and potentially expensive, surprises.
Applying for a rental property
Most areas in Belgium seem to be less competitive than other popular European expat destinations. You may be able to visit properties you are considering a second time before finally applying for the property with the estate agent or directly to the landlord. You can expect to provide the usual information regarding your financial solvency, employment status and residency status.
A tenancy agreement (contrat de bail/ huurcontract) must be a formal written contract in Belgium. Verbal agreements were allowed before 2007 but new contracts must be agreed in writing. You can view an online sample tenancy agreement (French/ Dutch).
Each rental agreement has to be registered and as a result you should expect to sign at least three separate but identical copies of the lease agreement: one for you, one for the landlord or agent and one for the local registry office (bureau d'enregistrement/ registratiekantoor). If the lease is a joint one, for example a couple or housemates renting together, then each individual tenant will receive a copy of the lease.
The lease must be registered within two months of being signed. Registering the lease is legally the duty of the landlord, although it is acceptable if the renter undertakes the registration. The process is free, so you should not pay extra for this service. The inventory must also be registered with the same authority, typically at the same time.
Types of rental contract
There are four kinds of tenancy agreements in Belgium:
- Short-term (three years or less);
- Nine years (including fixed term agreements between three and nine years);
- Long-term (more than nine years);
The standard option is the nine-year contract. This may seem mind boggling to someone moving from an area where a 12 month contract is considered long term, but it doesn't mean that you have to stay in or pay for the property for the entire duration of the contract. The key differences between the types of contract are:
- When rental increases can occur;
- when the landlord can give notice;
- when the tenant can give notice and with what penalties.
Typically, expats only undertake either short-term or nine-year contracts. The exact conditions of each contract will vary but in general a short-term contract will:
- Be of a fixed duration;
- last for no more than 3 years;
- impose a penalty for giving notice before the end of the contract;
- have a three-month notice period.
The nine-year contract is standard, and a short-term contract will be converted into a nine year contract if it is renewed for a second time or the tenancy continues after three years. A nine-year contract will typically:
- Allow the renter to give notice at any time;
- Have a three-month notice period;
- impose a penalty for giving notice in the first three years;
- allow a rent increase every three years.
The landlord can give the tenant notice to quit during this contract, however they must give six months' notice and either intend to occupy the property themselves, house a family member or undertake major works. There is also often a penalty of several months' rent to the landlord for giving the tenant notice to quit.
The penalty for the tenant when giving notice in the first year is three months' rent, two months in the second year and one month in the third year.
Cost of renting a home in Belgium
Rent: On average EUR 500 per month for a one bedroom apartment. However, this price can double or triple if you add extra bedrooms, search upmarket areas or rent housing in the major cities.
Insurance: The renter will have to buy contents insurance, and fire and flood insurance may be required by conditions of the rental contract.
Fittings: Many apartments will need curtains, carpets, light fittings, kitchen appliances and more.
Deposit: Up to three months' rent and must be placed in a special account. Do not hand over cash for this – set up a bank transfer.
Utilities: Typically around EUR 50 per month for a one bedroom apartment.
Commune and housing association fees: Monthly or annual fees charged by the commune (local council) or the housing association for maintenance. Properties may have neither or both, but in any case the tenancy agreement should be clear on the costs.
All rents in Belgium can be increased annually in line with the cost of living index. You must be informed of this rent in writing each year. If this is done, the landlord can charge you the cost of the increase as though it had been applied three months earlier. This means that every year, around the anniversary of your moving in, you will get a rental increase or decrease (the latter are rare) and have to pay a small extra sum to your landlord.
In addition to the annual cost-of-living increase, the base rent can be increased every three years.
Moving in and out
Tenants have more responsibilities in Belgium than in many other countries. This will often include caring for the building's infrastructure, such as clearing gutters. The tenancy agreement should have a detailed list of these responsibilities, as well as an inventory of any furnishings and fittings. When moving in or out it's important to check these documents carefully and report any inaccuracies, as you may be charged to replace missing items or repair damages. It's also a good idea to keep a detailed account (including costings and receipts) of work you do or pay for to assist you in getting some of your deposit back when you leave.
Belgium has fairly strong tenant's rights, and although the short-term and nine-year contracts may seem inflexible, they provide, as standard, a secure lease where it is difficult for the landlord to evict a tenant without good reason. For example, if the building is sold, the new owner must respect any rental agreements which are already in existence.
All tenants have the right to request an extension of their lease. If the landlord refuses, the tenant may take the case to a tribunal.
The tenants' association (syndicats de locataires/ huurdersbond) can provide advice and act as a mediator in case of dispute or disagreement between a tenant and a landlord. Should the dispute prove impossible to resolve, it will have to be decided by the courts.