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Magistrate backs shopkeeper who refused to pay rent

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A justice of the peace has ruled in favour of a franchisee of the Di chain of shops who refused to pay rent for the premises during the lockdown in March.

The operator of the shop in Etterbeek in Brussels, part of the chain selling make-up and other personal care products, had been forced to close down in March as part of the nationwide lockdown of all non-essential retail.

The operator refused to pay rent for the premises during the period of lockdown, which led the landlord to bring a case before the justice of the peace.

The case seemed open and shut, so there was some surprise when the justice found in favour of the defendant.

Lionel Evrard, lawyer for the defence, explained the reasoning.

It was not a matter of my client suddenly having less income,” he said.

But because the landlord has the obligation to rent out a building to the tenant with direct access to the public. The justice of the peace determined that this was impossible during the lockdown: there was no more direct contact with the public. And so there arose a kind of force majeure. The landlord could no longer fulfil his end of the contract, and so the tenant was not required to pay the rent.”

The logic of the ruling was defended by a leading jurist. Speaking to the RTBF, Nicolas Bernard, a professor at the Université Saint-Louis and a specialist in housing law, said the judgement was “a good application of the law.”

But it is sure that this will not constitute a new standard. To set a precedent, the judgment would need to be validated by the Court of Cassation, which would take, at the very least, several years.”

Lawyer Evrard also advised caution.

The landlord still has a few weeks to appeal against this decision. And it’s possible an appeal judge will rule differently. So it remains to be seen how this will ultimately turn out.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times