The particularities of Belgium’s housing market make renting an attractive solution to many expats. This guide gives an overview of these peculiarities, explains tenants’ rights in Belgium, and offers tips on where to search for an apartment.
Both rental and property prices are relatively low in Belgium, being closer to those in Poland than the UK. Renting in Belgium is in line with the EU average, with around 28% of homes rented including many private rentals. On average, Belgians spend around 30% of their net salary on accommodation costs.
People in Belgium use both the French and Dutch languages. Throughout this article, terms are given in both languages using the following format Français / Nederlands.
This article provides key information regarding finding a house to rent in Belgium.
Buying a property versus renting in Belgium
In contrast to the majority of European countries, tenants in Belgium are responsible for most repairs to their property. Because of this, there is greater freedom to redecorate and improve the property, which means that many tenants find they have a similar level of satisfaction to owning a house or apartment, minus the mortgage.
Rental contracts here are typically long-term and provide security, which encourages tenants to settle down. In contrast, the transaction costs are high when buying a property, typically between 20–25% of the purchase price. This means that although the average house price is relatively low in Belgium, especially compared to its neighbours of the Netherlands or France, it can take a long time to recover the transaction costs of buying a property. For this reason, it is usually not worth buying unless you plan to stay in the country for a longer time, typically five years or more. Find out more in Expatica’s guide to buying a home in Belgium.
Properties can also be found through small ads online and in local papers. Searching online will help you get a feel for the options and prices available, and we’ve listed several online property portals available in English below.
English-speaking estate agents are common, particularly in Brussels, and can help new arrivals cut through the language barrier. They may even be willing to drive you to visit properties, which is ideal if you’re still finding your way around. Agency fees are typically paid by the landlord, so be particularly wary of any agent charging an up-front or signing fee.
Renting in Belgium: Finding an interim home
The phrase ‘short-term tenancy’ has a specific meaning in Belgium where it refers to a tenancy of less than three years that is not a holiday let. This allows greater flexibility for expats on a short contract or those looking to buy a home in Belgium. Very short contracts may be difficult to find, although there is a wide selection of holiday homes and serviced apartments available.
Subletting a whole property is illegal in Belgium. A tenant may sublet part of their property (e.g. a spare room or annex), but only with the permission of the landlord.
Apartment-sharing sites such as Airbnb are legal in Belgium, however, the owner must declare any income earned on their Belgian tax return.
Furnished, serviced apartments and apart-hotels in Belgium
A great option if you’re in a hurry to find a place or are just moving to Brussels for a few months is renting a furnished, serviced apartment, a solution that offers flexible leases and provides you with many amenities.
An even easier alternative are apart-hotels: hotel rooms or suites which come with kitchenettes, so you benefit from all of the hotel’s services and amenities, but with privacy, independence and the convenience of cooking your own meals.
Renting in Belgium: Property descriptions
Most adverts will include an estimate of the living space in square metres and the number of bedrooms in the property. They must include an accurate rent price, otherwise, the landlord can be fined.
Most properties are rented unfurnished. In Belgium, properties are frequently leased in an empty state, often without light fittings, curtains, carpets or any kitchen appliances. However, it is sometimes unclear from the description to what extent the property is empty. Make sure you get a clear answer from the estate agent when viewing the property to avoid any unpleasant and potentially expensive surprises.
Applying for a house to rent in Belgium
Most areas of Belgium seem to be less competitive than other popular European expat destinations. You may be able to visit properties you are considering a second time before finally deciding on it with the estate agent or directly with the landlord. You can expect to provide the usual information regarding your financial solvency, employment and residency status.
A tenancy agreement (contrat de bail/ huurcontract) must be a formal written contract in Belgium. Verbal agreements were allowed before 2007, but now contracts must be agreed in writing. The following provide an example of an online tenancy agreement in (French/ Dutch).
Each rental agreement has to be registered and as a result, you should expect to sign at least three separate but identical copies of the lease agreement. One for you, one for the landlord/ agent and one for the local registry office (bureau d’enregistrement/ registratiekantoor). If the lease is a joint one, e.g. a couple or housemates renting together, then each individual tenant will receive a copy of the lease.
The lease must be registered within two months of being signed. Registering the lease is legally the duty of the landlord, although it is acceptable if the tenant undertakes the registration. The process is free, so you should not pay extra for this service. The inventory must also be registered with the same authority, typically at the same time.
Types of rental contract in Belgium
There are four kinds of tenancy agreements in Belgium:
- Short-term (three years or less);
- Nine years (including fixed-term agreements between three and nine years);
- Long-term (more than nine years);
The standard option is the nine-year contract. This may seem unusual to someone moving from where a 12-month contract is considered long term, but it doesn’t mean that you must stay in or pay for the property for the entire duration of the contract. The key differences between the types of contract are:
- When rental increases can occur;
- When the landlord can give notice;
- When the tenant can give notice and with what penalties.
Typically, expats only undertake either short-term or nine-year contracts. The exact conditions of each contract will vary but in general, a short-term contract will:
- Be of a fixed duration;
- last for no more than 3 years;
- impose a penalty for giving notice before the end of the contract;
- have a three-month notice period.
The nine-year contract is standard, and a short-term contract will be converted into a nine-year contract if it is renewed for a second time or the tenancy continues after three years. A nine-year contract will typically:
- Allow the tenant to give notice at any time;
- Have a three-month notice period;
- impose a penalty for giving notice in the first three years;
- allow a rent increase every three years.
The landlord can give the tenant notice to leave during this contract, however, they must give six months’ notice and either intend to occupy the property themselves, house a family member or undertake major works. There is also often a penalty of several months’ rent to the landlord for giving the tenant notice to leave.
The penalty for the tenant when giving notice in the first year is three months’ rent, two months in the second year and one month in the third year.
Cost of rental housing in Belgium
A breakdown of pricing associated with finding a house to rent in Belgium can be found below:
Rent: On average €600-650 per month for a one-bedroom apartment (€700-750 per month in Brussels). However, this price can increase greatly if you add extra bedrooms, search in more upmarket areas or in the major city centres.
- Insurance: The tenant will need contents insurance, and possibly fire and flood insurance depending on the conditions of the rental contract.
- Fittings: Many apartments will need curtains, carpets, light fittings, kitchen appliances and more.
- Deposit: Up to three months’ rent, this must be placed in a special account. Do not hand over cash for this – set up a bank transfer.
- Utilities: Typically, around €150 per month for an 85m squared apartment (electric, heating, cooling, water, garbage, internet).
- Housing association fees: Monthly or annual fees charged by the commune (local council) or the housing association for maintenance. Properties may have neither or both, but in any case, the tenancy agreement should have these costs clearly specified.
All rental prices in Belgium can be increased annually in line with the cost of living index. You must be informed of this increase in writing each year. If this is done, the landlord can charge you the cost of the increase for the previous 3 months. This means that every year, around the anniversary of your moving in, you will get a rental increase or decrease (the latter are rare) and will have to pay a small extra sum to your landlord.
In addition to the annual cost-of-living increase, the base rent can be increased every three years.
Moving in and out
Tenants have more responsibilities in Belgium than in many other countries. This will often include maintenance of the building’s infrastructure, such as clearing the gutters. The tenancy agreement should have a detailed list of these responsibilities, as well as an inventory of all furnishings and fittings.
When moving in or out it’s important to check these documents carefully and report any inaccuracies, as you may be charged to replace missing items or repair damages. It’s also a good idea to keep a detailed account (including costs and receipts) of work you do or pay for, to assist you in getting some of your deposit back when you leave.
Belgium has strong tenants’ rights, and although the short-term and nine-year contracts may seem a little inflexible, they provide a secure lease where it is difficult for the landlord to evict a tenant without good reason. For example, if the building is sold, the new owner must respect any rental agreements which are already in existence.
All tenants have the right to request an extension of their lease. If the landlord refuses, the tenant may take the case to a tribunal.
The tenants’ association (syndicats de locataires/ huurdersbond) can provide advice and act as a mediator in case of dispute or disagreement between a tenant and a landlord. Should the dispute prove impossible to resolve, it will have to be decided by the courts.