An amendment to the country’s law on property passed by the federal parliament yesterday introduces a new procedure for settling neighbour disputes, as well as bringing the law closer to a recognition of animal rights.
Belgium’s laws on property, the VRT explains, date back to a framework established in the time of Napoleon, when society was much more agrarian than it is now, and where notions of co-habitation were rather different.
The new law takes into account changes in notions of social living, town planning and even animal rights.
Beginning with the last: the new law adopts a principle already current in French, the Netherlands and Germany. “Animals have the power to feel, and have biological needs”. Now exactly a declaration of equality, but according to experts an important change which takes animals out of the real of pure property and opens up the possibility of judges using the definition to punish more severely offences such as animal cruelty and neglect. “With this new definition it becomes explicit: animals are not merely objects of personal property, they are also protected by concerns for animal welfare,” said Vincent Sagaert, professor of property law at Leuven university.
On the question of neighbourly disputes, the law introduces the notion of taking action before damage is caused to the property of another. No need, in other words, to wait until that dangerous wall falls down before taking action. A neighbour may now, albeit under strict conditions, take a case to the justice of the peace before any actual damage is caused.
Those conditions, Prof. Sagaert said, include “serious risk to safety, health or pollution”.
The law goes into minute detail in some cases. For example, it sets the limits for plating trees next to a border fence: if the tree is more than two metres tall, it must be at least two metres from the border; trees and bushes measuring less than two metres should be a minimum of 50cm from the border.