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One of the most pressing concerns for expats who decide to move to Belgium is to find accommodation ideally before their arrival. The housing market in this country has noteworthy peculiarities to address. Therefore, the following guidelines will provide a general overview of these characteristics, along with an explanation of tenants’ rights. Finally, the section will illustrate useful suggestions on how to search for an apartment.
In Belgium, you can only rent a house for set periods of 3, 7, or 9 years. If you want to end the rental agreement at another time, you have to pay a penalty. The property market for those who seek either to rent or buy a property is attractive. According to studies previously conducted, only 33% of Belgians own a property meaning that there are plenty of options for non-Belgian home seekers. Housing prices are considered far lower than the housing market of all of Europe combined altogether.
There are no restrictions concerning the purchase of a property in this country. In case you want to rent out a property all you need to do is validate your identity and proof of authorized residence by the government, often known as a visa. It is also one of the requirements to give proper evidence of your being completely financially available to pay for the rent. An interesting fact about Belgium is that the government provides social housing to many single people and families with low-income rates.
Renting in Belgium as a foreigner
There are many ways to find a property to rent in Belgium. For example, you can hit the streets. Some owners simply place a ‘For Rent’ sign À louer (French) or Te Huur (Dutch) in their window, because maybe they prefer to deal directly with potential tenants. Another way is to search the Internet for potential properties. In this case, an agent can be extremely helpful especially if you are not in Belgium yet.
Furnished or unfurnished apartments?
In many countries, ‘unfurnished’ means the property still comes with light fixtures, window coverings, and the odd kitchen appliance. However, in Brussels, unfurnished means unfurnished. This means that you must provide most fittings and fixtures, including ceiling lamps, kitchen cupboards, appliances, and often floor coverings. The apartment will be neat and clean in most situations, ready to move in. You can also design and decorate such houses based on your comfort style. The tenants also pay for fixtures for the repairman. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to look at properties in person, so you can assess what will be included with your home and budget accordingly. Furnished properties are usually (meublé/gemeubeld) rare and often difficult to find except for short-term stays (less than a year).
Before signing any contract, always check the condition of the property. If the property is not in good condition, the tenant has the right to discard the contract. Any individual can also ask for the damage payments if convenient.
Requirements and documents to rent
Once you have found a property to rent, it’s time to pay a security deposit. This can be anywhere between one and three months’ rent, so it’s important to keep this in mind when budgeting for accommodation costs.
In Belgium, all accommodations are rented on the basis of a written and signed rental contract (also referred to as a lease or tenancy agreement). Be aware that your signature on a rental contract means that you accept all its clauses. The rules inherent in rental contract matters are subject to variations depending on the region in which the accommodation is located and the type of rental contract you sign. The lease or rental contract should include the following documents:
- Name of the owner and name of the tenant
- The start date of the contract
- Address of the property to rent
- Parking spaces, garages, or storage facilities included in the rental
- The monthly rent amount
There are two possibilities for a rental contract:
- a standard flexible lease for a period of between three and nine years
- a rather inflexible short-term lease for contracts lasting up to three years.
Rental process and rules
The owner of the property has to register the lease as soon as possible. If not, the landlord will receive a fine and the tenant can end the contract at any moment without having to give notice or pay any penalties. The registration can be in person at the local office of the property, by post, by email, or by fax.
Belgium possesses strong tenant rights, which puts tenants on the landlord’s safe side. The landlord cannot evict the tenant without a proper valid reason. On the other hand, if tenants have neglected the property the landlords can keep part of the deposit to pay for the necessary fixes. Usually, it is a rule that a period of six months’ prior notice must be given to the landlord’s tenant.
Buying a property as a foreigner
Whether you’re moving to Belgium or looking for an investment, you might be tempted by properties for sale in Belgium. The standard of living is high and Belgian property prices are relatively lower than neighboring countries and many other European capital cities. However, high property transaction costs can counterbalance any short-term benefits. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the Belgian housing market and regulations before buying a property.
Requirements to buy a property in Belgium
There are no restrictions to stop foreigners from buying property in Belgium, even if they are non-resident, although different tax implications apply between resident and non-resident buyers in Belgium.
House prices in Belgium
Listed properties for sale are known to have negotiable prices, and the idea is to make an offer slightly below your ideal price. New Belgian properties are usually subjected to extra charges. For example, VAT is charged on any Belgian property that is less than two years old.
The average house price in Belgium are:
- Brussels-Capital region €429,647 ($498,500)
- Flanders €236,189 ($274,040)
- Wallonia €196,000 ($228,230)
Get a mortgage in Belgium
Loans are typically fixed for a period of at least 10 years or more, as this provides a tax advantage in Belgium.
In order to get a mortgage in Belgium, you must be under 65 years old and submit proof of income. You must also prove that all your existing liabilities (rent, loan repayments, etc.), plus your mortgage payments, won’t exceed 35% of your net monthly income. The lending will be based on your ability to pay, and won’t take into account any rental income from the property.
You may also be required to obtain a survey of the value of the property. Surveys are done by an expert valuer approved by the mortgage company. The value assessment is often based on the replacement or forced sale value, not the market value. You will have to pay the expert valuer´s fees. Note that this survey doesn’t always give you signs of potential problems with the building.
Mortgages have typically a 20-year duration. The minimum loan is €30,000, with a maximum loan-to-value ratio of 85%. Since 2008, the market has been dominated by loans with interest rates fixed for the duration of the loan, or at least for ten years.
Process and steps to buy a house in Belgium
The first step when buying a property in Belgium is to pay a small deposit or holding fee, which you will lose if you back out of the sale. This commitment to buy is often requested by agents but not essential. It ties the buyer to the sale but allows the seller to back out without penalty.
The second step involves the sale agreement which outlines the details of the contract. At this point, you will usually need to pay a deposit of around 10% of the purchase price, after which you have four months to pay the remaining balance.
The third and final step is the notarised deed which transfers ownership of the property. This must be signed within four months of the sale agreement.
Guide to additional expenses when buying a home in Belgium
Here is a guideline for additional costs when buying a property:
- Fixed state-agreed costs for the services of the notary which are around 1.6%
- A deposit of usually 10% of the sale price
- Registration tax of 12.5%.
Utility companies: Electricity and gas
There are plenty of choices when it comes to signing up a contract for your utilities in Belgium. The Belgian energy market is liberalized, letting you choose the right electricity and gas supplier for you depending on your needs and where you are in the country.
The following companies operate in all three Belgian regions:
- Energie 2030 (gas and electricity)
- Engie (electricity)
- Lampiris (gas and electricity)
- Mega (electricity and gas)
Despite the wide range of choices between service providers that might seem intimidating, companies offer packages to make you save money.
Each region has its own water company. To set up a contract the following information is required:
- The address of the property
- The name of the new occupant
- The moving-in date
- The meter reading
- Copy of the new occupant’s passport or identity card
The water supplier is the Intercommunale Bruxelloise de Distribution d’Eau (IBDE) / Brusselse Intercommunale voor Waterdistributie (BIWD).
The water company for the region of Flanders is the Vlaamse Maatschappij voor Watervoorziening, VMW.
The water company for Wallonia is the Société Wallonne des Distributions d’Eau (SWDE).
What you need to know
- The governments of the regions are responsible for policy and regulation related to water supply and sanitation, and for environmental policy more generally.
- Many providers also offer green energy options
- Water is provided separately and you won’t be able to choose a supplier
- When it comes to paying your energy bills, there are three main components. The first is for the amount of energy you have used. The second is for the use of the power network itself. These networks are operated at a regional level; you cannot choose a different network or opt out of paying the associated charges. The third component is related to fees and taxes.
- Your energy supplier will ask you to check your meter readings once a year.
- Generally speaking, you’ll receive a water bill from your supplier once every quarter.