The owner of a second home at the Belgian coast has served home affairs minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V) with a writ, calling on him to declare the ban on visiting a second home unlawful, or pay a fine of €50 a day for every day the ban continues.
The case has been brought before the civil court of first instance in Brussels.
“My client is not alone in this wish,” said Stijn Verbist, the lawyer for the plaintiff, who wishes to remain anonymous. “In the past week a number of people have made inquiries.”
“Patience has run out, now that the government has made it clear that people can only return to their second home on June 8 at the earliest,” he said.
“People had taken no action because they assumed that they would be allowed to go to their country house some time in mid-May. This owner did not want to wait any longer and filed for a writ immediately. It is not unrealistic that lawsuits will soon be filed by other owners. Moreover, and this is not unimportant, plaintiffs have the right to file claims up to five years after the fact.”
Verbist claims the decree implementing the ban is an attack on property rights.
“In the latest version of the decree, it is recommended that purchases be made in your own city or municipality. That means that it is not prohibited to do so in another city or municipality, so I do not see the problem for people who decide to spend the lockdown in their country residence,” he said.
No-one, he said, disputes the need for measures to be taken in a crisis such as this, but such measures need to have a legal basis, and there is at present no legal grounds for limiting the ownership of second homes. The measures, he points out, have not been approved by parliament.
In addition, he argues, the decree which introduced the lockdown measures says only that people are required to stay at home, without defining what is meant by “home”. A place in the country or at the coast could just as well fit the description, as long as the other rules were being observed.
Earlier, a number of mayors of coastal towns had expressed a willingness to go against the orders of the national security council and allow second home owners to come to visit their property, though not to rent it to third parties.
Now, however, the ten mayors concerned have agreed to abide by the council’s decision, asking only that the return of visitors be staggered: first owners, then those staying in hotels, B&Bs and campsites, and lastly day-trippers, and then only when cafes and restaurants were finally allowed to open again.
The office of Pieter De Crem has made no comment on the service of the writ.