'There's abuse in the Brussels rental market': Parliament to tackle exorbitant rents

'There's abuse in the Brussels rental market': Parliament to tackle exorbitant rents
Photo by Helen Lyons/The Brussels Times.

The Brussels Parliament is looking to establish a rent commission aimed at addressing high rental rates, as the price of housing continues to climb in the Belgian capital.

“There is some abuse in the Brussels rental market,” Arnaud Verstraete, leader of the Green Party in the Brussels Parliament, told The Brussels Times.

“The prices are way too high for a certain amount of properties. We think it's about 10% - that’s 30,000 properties where prices are really out of order.”

Verstraete spearheaded the initiative to form a rent commission.

“More and more often we see that people pay too much for their rental property,” he said.

“With the rent assessment commission, we will ensure that people once again pay a fair price for their home and we will call a halt to usurious rent prices.”

The commission will be composed of representatives for both tenants and landlords, and the plan is for them to mediate when a tenant suspects they’re paying an excessive amount of rent for a property.

Brussels residents spend an average of 42% of their income on rent, while the general rule of thumb is to spend no more than one third (33%) of one’s income on housing costs.

“For many inhabitants of Brussels, rents are difficult to pay because they take up too much of their income,” said Verstraete.

“The fact that the inhabitants of Brussels are paying more and more for their rental property is due to the often excessive rental prices, especially in the lower segment of the rental market. We see that it is often the most vulnerable people in Brussels who fall victim to exorbitant rent prices.”

Verstraete hopes the rent assessment commission will make the market fairer for everyone, and help improve the financial situation of these vulnerable people.

According to the new legislation, a rent will be deemed exorbitant when it’s 20% higher than the reference rent, which is determined by independent research in the field related to things like a property’s size, the number of bedrooms, and whether or not it has a garden or terrace, for example.

While the reference rents came into existence around 2016, they didn’t actually mean much for the market.

“Up to now, they have just been indicative,” said Verstraete.

“There was no follow up, punishment or reinforcement if you respected it or not. What’s new with this legislation is that you really have to justify it if you're out of the scope of these reference prices - it’s up to the owner of the property to prove that it's not abusive.”

The newly established rent commission will use the reference rents to determine whether or not someone is paying an unfair rent, and then decide upon a more appropriate amount.

“Because the commission is composed of representatives of tenants and landlords, it is neutral and guarantees objective and fair advice,” Verstraete said.

“Whoever wants, in Brussels, can go and check the reference rents online. If your price is higher than those, you can go to the commission and ask for a new price.”

The existence of the commission is also expected to ease the burden on the court system for such disputes, as it can work more quickly than the legal system to mediate a solution between the landlord and tenant.

“The idea is that a tenant and property owner will be willing to find an agreement. If that’s not the case, one of them can still go to the justice system that already exists - but what is new now is that the justice system will also be able to apply the same 20% rule.”

The opposition has requested an additional check of the proposition from the council of state prior to a full approval. The initiative will face a vote after summer in the September plenary session, and would enter into effect in 2022.

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