The number of houses in Flanders that have been declared uninhabitable has almost doubled in the last four years, mainly as a result of more proactive checks being carried out by the government.
In 2020, 4,065 buildings were declared uninhabitable, up from 2,359 properties in 2017, according to Flemish Housing Minister Matthias Diependaele, who explained that it is "too simplistic to assume this is due to a similar increase in problems with the properties."
"There is actually more proactive monitoring by the government. Compared to 2019, for example, an additional 300 homes were declared unfit or uninhabitable in 2020 based on requests from the housing inspector," he said in the Flemish Parliament.
Houses that do not meet the minimum quality standards can be declared unfit and/or uninhabitable following an investigation, which can either be requested by the person living in the property, by the municipality it is located in, or by other authorities (including social services).
Additionally, any complaint about housing quality or overcrowding should be seen as a request to start the procedure for the declaration of unfitness and habitability.
Crackdown and fines
Diependaele stressed he wants the housing inspectorate to have more power to ensure the most serious cases of "slum letting" - the renting out of a (student) house that does not meet the housing quality standards - are dealt with under criminal law.
"An effective, efficient and decisive criminal enforcement also creates a deterrent effect and therefore works not only reactively, but also proactively," he said, adding that the possibility of an administrative fine will also be introduced, which would prevent no further punishment being made if the public prosecutor chooses not to take further criminal action.
Once a complaint is made, the municipality investigates whether it is justified. If it is, Wonen-Vlaanderen will inspect the dwelling and give advice to the mayor about the property's quality. Around 70% of the requests resulted in a property being deemed unfit or uninhabitable in 2020.
A property is declared unfit if a serious defect has been found that negatively affects the living conditions of the occupants, but which do not constitute a direct danger to safety or health.
A property is unfit and uninhabitable if serious deficiencies that cause undesirable living conditions or constitute an immediate danger to the safety or health of the occupants have been found.