No household is spared the pressures of inflation, with bills rising across the board. But where energy bills are concerned, tenants are in the most precarious situation, relying on the goodwill of landlords to make improvements to energy efficiency.
The rental market in Belgium is poorly insulated. While tenants can take steps to reduce their energy consumption, it is down to the homeowners to improve the energy performance of a building by renovating their properties. But this is not an obligation.
Nicolas, a tenant, told RTBF that he asked the owner of his house to carry out an energy audit. "My landlord told me that he has no interest in investing and refused, saying that I would benefit from the returns on investments whilst he would bear the costs."
The only obligation an owner has is of informing potential tenants which energy category (A, B, C, D, E) the property is, real estate lawyer Lauren Collon told RTBF. To find out, the owner must ask a third party to carry out a study of the property and share the information with the tenants.
An unfair situation
José Garcia, leader of the tenants' union, criticises the unfair position of tenants: "Not only are they suffering from the increase in energy prices, but they are also suffering from the increase in rental prices since the indexation is now 10%."
To prevent tenants from ending up in a situation where they are unable to pay their bills, Garcia has three suggestions.
- Rents are indexed by no more than 2%.
- Rent should be calculated according to the state of the accommodation and what is offered to the tenant. "It's not normal that a tenant suffers for the poor state of a building."
- Regions should invest massively in thermal insulation. This is the best way of making homes more energy efficient. "Landlords could be given certain incentives to improve the energy performance of their buildings."
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For real estate lawyer Laurent Collon, the best option is to negotiate directly with the owner if at all possible. "The best solution is that owners agree to improve the performance of their property, even if this means asking tenants to share the costs. Negotiation is always the best."
72% of home occupants in Belgium own their home. However, in cities such as Brussels 60% of residents are tenants.
What if you can't pay?
Tenants and homeowners can ask energy suppliers to create a payment plan if they are unable to pay.
It is also possible to find help from social assistance (CPAS) or a debt mediation service. CPAS can provide financial assistance through a 'Gas Electricity Fund'. These services, although subject to conditions, are also for people not registered with CPAS.