The end of a moratorium in Brussels on evictions for rent arrears from the end of August threatens to bring with it a wave of evictions and other rent problems, tenant representatives have warned.
The moratorium was introduced in all three regions at the start of lockdown. The reasoning being that people were being asked to stay at home as much as possible, and it was impossible for tenants to visit new accommodation or for landlords to advertise.
But with the progressive relaxation of lockdown measures, the moratorium operating in Wallonia was ended in June, and in Flanders in July.
In Brussels, the deadline was extended three times, resulting in the regional government being taken to the Council of State by the association of landlords, who argued the government was burdening property owners with the problems caused by the failure of municipal social aid agencies.
That case failed, but the original moratorium runs out on 31 August, and there are no plans to renew it again.
That presents the problem of a new wave of evictions once the moratorium is lifted. Since it was introduced, many people have become unemployed, or have been living on 70% income under temporary unemployment, or in the worst cases have lost all or most of their income entirely.
How many people are affected is not clear, according to separate enquiries carried out by Bruzz and by the RTBF.
José Garcia, secretary-general of the tenants’ union, estimates 300 cases immediately in September.
“If you consider that there are normally 600 evictions a year in Brussels, you can assume that there should have been at least half in the past six months,” he told Bruzz.
But exact figures are hard to come by. An order for eviction is issued by the local justice of the peace (JP) on an application from the landlord. But the justice ministry said it was unable to give figures due to a software problem. And local magistrates report no sudden surge in applications.
One JP told the RTBF he feared “a tidal wave of applications” from September. Another said the effect might not be immediate.
“It is difficult to give an indication now, because landlords are of course aware that the moratorium still applies. Perhaps they have waited with their application,” he said.
“But based purely on my own experience, I don’t see a significant increase or decrease in the number of applications.”
The application is not, however, the end of the story. The Brussels health and welfare observatory CMCS pointed out that the procedure is more complicated.
“It certainly takes a few weeks or months before the procedures are arranged by the bailiffs, who have to establish contact with movers and the police,” said Sarah Luyten of the observatory.
“In any case, we expect more difficulties in payment of rent, given the degree of vulnerability of the inhabitants of Brussels as a result of Covid-19. As a result, there may also be an increase in the number of forced evictions, and also applications for evictions.”
The tenants’ union is calling on the government to take steps before the end of the month.
“If the moratorium is not extended, we ask that JPs presented with seized with a rent problem due to COVID-19 should in no circumstances be able to order an eviction,” Garcia said. “And we are asking the executive not to wait until August 31 to realise the social disaster that is looming.”