The official housing agency of Ghent city, WoninGent, has been fined €200,000 by a court in the city for renting out 17 homes it knew had been declared unfit for human habitation.
The case was heard before the court of appeal, which confirmed the verdict of a lower court from February last year. The agency at the time said it would appeal ‘with trepidation’ and ‘not wholeheartedly’.
However the agency agreed to appeal the ruling, which had the effect of freezing the fine for the time being.
“We would be much better off investing that money in the renovation of our outdated residential property,” said agency chair Marc Heughebaert at the time.
“We have been turning the page for a while and have no more occupied unsuitable homes. But we continue to be confronted with that legacy from the past.”
In the original case, WoninGent were ordered to renovate eight properties to a liveable standard within a year, or face a penalty of €150 per property per day if they failed.
The case came to light after a reportage by the VRT’s investigative series Pano, which revealed the conditions some people were being forced to live in.
WoninGent, like other social housing agencies in other cities, deals with people who have no other housing option, cannot afford the private rental market (or are excluded by various forms of discrimination) and have to accept whatever is offered.
Last month De Morgen reported on the case of social apartment blocks – again in Ghent, again run by WoninGent – where residents were being chased out by plagues of bedbugs and cockroaches.
One man complained he couldn’t sleep as a result, and the agency sent out a decontamination operative. “He sprayed a product around for five minutes,” the tenant said.
He later received a bill for a total of €476 for the ‘treatment,’ which in the meantime had had no effect.
For the properties concerned in the present case, all residents have since been found alternative accommodation. Eight properties have already been renovated. The remainder are still subject to the initial ruling of the lower court: one year to renovate all.
In the meantime, the €200,000 fine is suspended to the tune of €120,000, for a period of three years. The remaining €80,000 must be paid immediately.