Renting a property in Brussels
As a general rule, the farther out from the city centre you search for accommodation, the more space you’ll get for a lower price. For this reason, many expats choose to live on the periphery of the city in nearby communities like Tervuren, Overijse, and Hoeilaart.
As accommodation in Brussels is expensive, or simply because you do not wish to invest in real estate, or because you don’t plan to stay long, renting in lieu of buying is the most popular option among expats.
Renting in Brussels is complicated. Because of strict letting requirements and stringent landlord expectations of the renter, it is wise to consult with a professional to help you through the negotiations. Any relocation firm will do this, or you can talk directly to the estate agency renting the apartment.
Guidelines to renting a property in Brussels
While ads placed by individuals appear in publications like The Bulletin, the main way to find a suitable property is via an estate agency.
There are numerous estate agencies and websites specialising in properties, both houses and apartments.
Important facts about renting:
1. Empty means empty
In Brussels, an "unfurnished flat" really means stripped bare. Unlike in the US and perhaps other countries where light fixtures, kitchens and window coverings are already in the house or apartment, this is often not the case when renting in Brussels. Built-in closets are also rare so purchasing armoires (wardrobes) are the norm. Keep this in mind when forecasting your budget; window treatments alone can run in the hundreds if not thousands depending on what you are looking for.
The nearby Ikea does big business in light bulbs, kitchens, window shades and armoires. Sometimes landlords will buy the items from you. It’s always best to ask in advance.
►Pro: you can take it all with you when you leave
►Con: a lot of it will be custom fitted and can’t be reused
Rental prices generally do NOT include phone, electricity, water, Internet and in some cases, fuel costs for heating (in older homes). Ask in advance before making your decision.
3. Duration of the lease
A Belgian residential lease is assumed to be for a period of nine years. Don’t panic. You are only financially obliged to three without financial penalty. This type of lease is the most common and is often referred to as a 3-6-9 lease, mainly because the lease and its components can be revisited every three years
4. Terminating the lease
Three months written notice must be given to terminate the lease. At the end of the nine-year lease, new periods of three years are agreed upon, without notification, if nobody has terminated the lease. Make sure you are aware of your lease date and plan accordingly if you plan to terminate the lease.
If the lease is broken within the first year a penalty of three months’ rent must be paid. If the lease is broken during the second year, two months’ rent is due. One months’ rent must be paid if termination occurs during the third year.
The landlord cannot terminate the lease within the first three years. At the end of each three-year period the landlord may terminate the tenant's lease if the property is required by them or by a member of their close family. In all cases, the landlord must give six months notice.
If the lease is broken after the first three-year period, the penalty is the equivalent of nine months' rent. Six months' rent is due if termination of the lease occurs after six years. If the landlord fails to give proper notice a penalty of 18 months’ rent is due
5. What’s in the lease?
The lease or rental contract should include the following:
- Address of the property to be rented
- Parking spaces, garages or storage facilities included in the rental
- The agreed upon monthly rental amount
- Details of future rent increases (notification process)
- The conditions of the deposit
- Signature of both the landlord and the tenant
Most landlords require a standing order to be set up with the tenant's bank in order to make the monthly payments.
An inventory and condition report should also be completed and signed when moving into a new property and include the following:
- State of the fixtures and fittings (if they exist)
- Cleanliness and condition of walls, decorations, if any
- Items missing or in need of repair
The tenant is required by law to have a comprehensive household insurance certificate (premium rates depend on the size of the property). Proof of insurance must be shown to the landlord at the signing of the lease, and may be requested each time the lease is renewed.
7. Responsibilities of the tenant
In addition to the aforementioned basics, the lease will include VERY detailed assignments of responsibility for appliances, garden, rain gutters, and any other item that directly impact the look and state of being of the house or apartment. This is completely different from a lease in the United States, for example, so it’s best to know up front what you are getting into.
In general, it’s safe to assume the tenant is responsible for everything he/she uses on a daily basis, including the repairs of all appliances, carpet cleaning, cleaning out rain gutters etc. Electrical systems, roof, plumbing (clogged toilets and broken shower heads do not count) heating systems, would fall under the care of the owner.
Some landlords include garden maintenance in the rent, but the majority will not. This is also something you should consider when budgeting for rent or negotiating the lease. If you have a large garden, the cost of maintaining it, which you are required to do in the lease, can run into the thousands of euros per year, depending on the size and scope of the garden. Choose wisely.
Most landlords require a security deposit, which may not exceed the equivalent of three month's rent. This amount is placed in an interest-bearing bank account in the tenant's name. This account is put in what’s called a “blocked” account and requires authorization from BOTH landlord and the tenant before the money can be released.
At the end of the lease, however, it is terminated, an “Etat des Lieux” is scheduled. This is the final meeting with an ‘independent’ contractor (picked by the landlord of course) and the tenant, who review the state of the house to determine how much of your deposit you will get back. The general rule is the house must be left in the same state it was received in.
Keep a file of every purchase, upgrade, change, maintenance records. This will serve you better in the end, though it’s still no guarantee you won’t lose most of your deposit.
10. Rent increases/decreases
It is only possible to change the base price of the rent every three years. During the lease, however, the rent follows a yearly index (a cost of living index), that is different from the rise of the base rent during the lease, and thus can be increased based on this index. Complicated, I know.
Basically, every year, the landlord can increase the rent based on a cost of living index that is determined at a federal level. The landlord must notify you on the anniversary of the date you entered into the agreement (usually the day you pay your rent) and has a right to raise the rent by this index AND collect three months retroactive in this amount.
If your landlord forgets to index you, he cannot come back to you in the fourth year and ask for a retroactive sum totalling what would have been the index increase in the first three years.
The rent can also go down.