All the basic information you need to find and rent a property in Brussels, including how to choose which neighbourhood to live in when moving to Brussels.
Home to EU bureaucrats, world-famous chocolate and a small statue of a boy peeing, Brussels has its own unique character. Although property prices in the capital are the highest in the country, they’re still significantly cheaper than London or Paris.
BBF, a company that specializes in serviced apartments for renting in Brussels and other cities in Belgium, gives a brief overview of the housing market in Brussels, and tips on apartment hunting.
BBF Serviced Apartments
BBF Serviced Apartments’ portfolio includes more than 1500 serviced apartments in Brussels and other great locations. With flexible rental packages, full service support, and an attractive reward scheme, their multilingual team will help you find the right place at the right price.
Renting in Brussels: a brief overview on accommodation
When first looking for an apartment in Brussels, the first hurdle you may encounter is the language: Dutch, French or English are the commonly used languages in the area. Belgium has three official languages, French (36%), Dutch (55%) and German (1%). Brussels is in the Dutch-speaking part of the country, although in a French-speaking enclave. English is a common second language in the city. In the article, terms in translation are given in the following format: Français / Nederlands.
Most newcomers and expats arriving in Brussels will look for a flat in which to live for a short or long term: however, some may also consider the advantages of buying property in Brussels.
Renting an apartment in Brussels
Leases in Belgium are long and favour the tenant. Unusually, the tenant is responsible for most repairs and improvements required during their tenancy. Although this means that the landlord probably won’t fix something in the flat it if breaks, it also means that you can put up shelves, repaint a wall or replace a washing machine without losing your deposit when renting in Brussels.
City centre rents are typically around €1,000–1,500 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, and somewhat lower in less popular areas. The Belgian government provides a tool to calculate an estimated rental price of your property, which can also help you determine if you’re paying too much rent.
Adverts must include an accurate rent, otherwise the landlord can be fined. As a result, negotiating the rent is rare. Expect an annual rent increase (or occasionally decrease) tied to the cost of living index. This will be applied retrospectively for the preceding three months. Base rent may be increased either at contract renewal (short term lets) or every three years (standard and long term leases). The tenancy agreement (contrat de bail/huurcontract) should list the details.
Paying Belgian utilities
In Brussels, utilities are the responsibility of the renter and are usually paid separately. The rent may include water and sewage, but any others are rare.
In addition, there are often fees owed to the housing association (particularly for apartment blocks) or the commune (e.g. for garbage collection). You may have to pay both, or neither, or they may be included in the rent so be sure to ask up front. Read more about switching on Belgian utilities, internet and television.
Fees and the deposit
The deposit will be up to three months’ rent. It must be handled separately from the landlord’s other finances and the rent, and placed in a special account. Instead of paying cash, insist on a bank transfer to ensure there is a record of the deposit.
Types of properties and contracts for renting in Brussels
Belgian rental contracts have some quirks, particularly the standard of a nine-year contract (often known as a 3-6-9 contract as the landlord can only increase the base rent every three years). Read more about regulation and contacts in our guide to renting in Belgium.
Short or long term?
In Belgium, a short-term contract is three years or less, however, the standard contract of nine years can actually be more flexible. Short-term contracts impose a penalty for giving notice before the end of the contract; in many cases, you will be charged for the full duration of the contract if you leave early.
Longer contracts – from nine years to the long-term contract of up to 25 years or ‘for life’ – impose penalties (up to three months’ rent) for giving notice in the first three years; after four years, no penalty applies for breaking a contract. Even where penalties apply, the tenant can give three months’ notice at any time.
On the other side, landlords will also have to pay a penalty of several months’ rent to the tenant if they give the tenant notice to leave.
Furnished properties or aparthotels are often used for serviced apartments, which are actually furnished apartments combined with several services. Here, one can rent an apartment for a short or a long term with a service package that usually includes insurance, wifi, cleaning services and technical support.
Compared to renting an apartment with a private owner, these types of accommodation often mean less work on behalf of the tenants, as they do not have to apply for additional utilities such as water, electricity, gas, TV and internet connection. Also, any technical problems in the apartment are generally handled by the apartment’s own technicians. Expats and business travellers working in multinational companies and European institutions often use serviced apartment providers when renting in Brussels for the convenience of move-in ready accommodation.
Furnished apartments to rent in Brussels without a service package are rare, as many of them are holiday rentals.
Unfurnished residential apartments
Residential apartments are typically rented unfurnished, often without carpets, curtains, white goods or light fittings. You may be able to purchase some items from the existing tenant by negotiating with them directly. An inventory must be completed and registered, as for furnished properties. The property must be returned in the state described in the inventory, which typically means empty with neutral décor or with agreed improvements. Keep any documentation relating to improvements or repairs safe to prove you’ve done the required maintenance.
Many institutions have dorms. Students typically have their own bedroom and share a bathroom and kitchen with 2 to 10 other students. Charges for this type of accommodation start at €250 per month, though depending on the quality and location of the property, can be as high as €500. Dorm rooms are arranged through the university or college, so you need to contact their housing department for details.
The alternative is to live in a private apartment, shared house or rent a room in a family home. Subletting a room is legal, with the permission of the landlord, so renters may do this to make a bit of money.
Apartment or house?
Although Brussels is home to over a million people, it’s only about 20km in diameter. The city centre is primarily apartment blocks and old town houses split into apartments, but this quickly gives way to suburbs. As a result, it’s easy to find a house with a garden.
How to find a new home in Brussels
Relatively few Belgians (around 30%) rent their home – but the figure is nearer 60% in Brussels, as the city’s market is skewed by the large number of expats on short-term postings. This means that landlords are often accustomed to expat renters, but may also be tired of the quick turnover. Contact your company to ask about relocation services or look online. Real estate agents often focus on narrow geographical areas, so wandering the streets of pleasant neighbourhoods and looking in agency windows can be effective too.
Using an estate agent
A good real estate agent (agences immobilières / makelaar) can not only help you find a home but also smooth over the endless red tape. English-speaking agents are common, and many businesses have connections with a particular agency.
Estate agents dealing with renting in Brussels are usually paid by the landlord. Be wary of any who ask for a fee from you, the renter, particularly if they request money to let you view a property. If you hire a search agent, however, you should expect to pay them a fee, typically between €250 and one month’s rent.
Where to live in Brussels
A small city with little geography, Brussels is ideal for cyclists. Public transport is good and even driving is relatively easy – particularly when compared to capitals like London or Rome. As a result, you can commute to the centre easily from the many attractive and peaceful suburbs and villages that surround the city. The busier city centre district is also relatively affordable. Find out more about where to live in Brussels or consider commuting from farther out and living outside of Brussels.