The city of Leuven has sent 18 refugees who they put up in a hotel to escape from slum rental properties back to the previous landlord, the councillor in charge of housing has confirmed.
The 18 refugees had been living in properties owned by the father and son Arnold and Manu Appeltans, who were arrested in December for letting out accommodation that was unfit for habitation. The building in which the 18 were living had been similarly condemned.
The city council took the unusual step of moving the refugees into a city centre hotel, the Ibis Budget, where they were accommodated at the city’s expense – though the costs will eventually be recouped from the accused. Leuven city councillor for housing Lies Corneillie, said the step was “a temporary solution to an immediate problem.”
Now it has emerged that the refugees were offered new accommodation in other properties owned by the Appeltans pair, via their company Arlimo NV. The choice was simple: either accept the offer, or be turned out of the hotel onto the streets.
Corneillie (Groen) and Leuven mayor Mohamed Ridouani (sp.a) insist they are following established procedure. “In these situations the city has a duty to act to find a solution,” the two said in a statement. “A number of tenants were put up in a hotel for a month, because in Leuven and surrounding municipalities no temporary accommodation was available. Just at that moment the landlord was reminded of his responsibility to find an alternative.”
The council is obliged, the statement says, to make all efforts to limit the costs of rehousing, keeping them low “such that the sums later to be reclaimed from the landlord are as low as possible”.
The Appeltans’ agency Arlimo, a city spokesperson said, had now presented alternative accommodation for the 18 refugees as a means of limiting their own costs. “Obviously the alternative accommodation must be found to be healthy and safe.” And the city was obliged to take up the offer, or risk being unable to claim the costs back for the hotel rooms.
Four of the refugees accepted the offer immediately, and the others were given until Friday to accept or be ejected from the hotel in any case.
The Flemish tenants’ association described the city’s reaction as “completely absurd”.
“I have sympathy with the difficult situation Leuven finds itself in because of the housing shortage,” said coordinator Joy Verstichele. “But the fact that the social aid agency is putting pressure on the refugees to sign a contract with the same criminal landlord who is responsible for the situation is completely unacceptable.”
The decision of the remaining refugees has yet to be announced.