Two members of a landowner family arrested for routinely renting out properties in unsanitary conditions have been released under certain conditions.
Arnold and Manu Appeltans were released on December 26 following their arrest at the start of the month as part of an investigation into scores of complaints from tenants in Leuven, where they own several properties.
Their arrest was initially extended for a month on 10 December, a decision that the pair appealed against and which resulted in their release, the Leuven public prosecutor confirmed without specifying the conditions for their release, De Standaard reports.
The father-and-son and their family had earned the reputation of "slumlords" in the predominantly student city, where they had been leasing insalubrious properties for decades.
Since around 2010, the family was found to have been striking leases with tenants for properties which they had officially declared as vacant or uninhabitable.
Authorities in Leuven launched an investigation for violations of the Flemish Housing Code and criminal associations, with complaints and the inquiry revealing a score of irregularities and violations in their properties.
As the complaints against them mounted, the family resorted to using fake identities to strike leases with new tenants, who eventually organised into a Facebook group named “Anti-Appeltans Front,” which totals more than 800 members.
The investigation also revealed that, on top of students, the Appeltanses were leasing increasingly to asylum seekers or refugees, to whom they rented out properties in a dilapidated state, with some reporting having to sleep elsewhere due to electrical or plumbing failures or pest-infested apartments.
Leuven's housing alderwoman, Lies Corneillie, said that the investigation into the family is still ongoing and that father and son's recent release does not mean anything regarding their guilt or innocence.
"We have to wait for the entire investigation," Corneillie said. "Additional inquiries are still being carried out in a number of buildings, and we as a city are fully cooperating in this. We are therefore not concerned about this conditional release."
The Brussels Times