The power to adopt rules governing residential leases was transferred to the regions further to the Sixth State Reform of 1 July 2014.
In the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region, the new rules are still being discussed and are not yet final:
On 14 July 2017, the Flemish government adopted a preliminary decree. In September, the Flemish Housing Council (Vlaamse Woonraad) issued its opinion. The Council of State is still reviewing the draft. The entry into force of the decree is in principle scheduled for 1 September 2018.
The Walloon Minister of Housing, Valérie De Bue, tabled a draft decree on the reform of residential leases in September 2017. The draft was approved on third reading.
In the Brussels-Capital Region, where around 60% of households are non-owner occupied, an ordinance was adopted on 27 July 2017 (the "Ordinance").
Although to date only the Brussels-Capital Region has adopted rules on residential leases, it should be noted that are many similarities between the three regional reforms. For example, we see a general trend to combat discrimination. Furthermore, in all three regions, the reform is intended to create a stable, durable and well-balanced statutory framework which ensures a threshold quality of housing for tenants and a proper return for landlords. In addition, different ways of living are taken into account.
This article summarizes the modifications that will enter into force on 1 January 2018 in the Brussels-Capital Region, which can be divided into two parts: general modifications (Part 1) and modifications to the Housing Code (Part 2).
1. General Modifications
1.1 Pre-contractual information (Article 217 of the Ordinance)
Landlords must now provide more information to future tenants, including comprehensive information about shared costs, a precise description of the premises, the presence of a trustee, etc.
The possibilities for the landlord to request personal information on the candidate tenant are limited.
1.2 Termination/assignment of a short-term lease
The lessee may terminate a short-term lease prior to the contractual expiry date with three months' notice and the payment of one month's rent.
The landlord cannot terminate a short-term lease during the first year and thereafter only for personal occupation.
It is not anymore possible to sublet/assign a short-term lease without some written formalities (i.e. communicating the identity of the assignee, etc.).
It is now possible to extend a short-term lease several times, at the same conditions, for up to three years.
1.3 Security deposit
Persons under the age of thirty five will be able to benefit from grants by the Housing Fund (Fonds du Logement/Woningfonds) to set the deposit, reimbursable over the entire term of the lease agreement rather than only over eighteen months.
The BRUGAL fund may also advance a security deposit under certain conditions. In return, the tenant must agree to pay a monthly contribution whose amount will be determined based on his or her income (from EUR 5 to EUR 30) or without a contribution if guaranteed by the CPAS/OCMW.
1.4 New tools
A template inventory of fixtures has been adopted by the Region. It is still required to jointly prepare an inventory of fixtures prior to signing the lease agreement (as well as at the end of the lease), and it is strongly recommended that the parties do so with the help of an expert.
A list detailing the respective obligations of landlords and tenants is available on the website http://logement.brussels/. Many articles of the Civil Code were indeed not adapted to the current situation. A non-exhaustive list of repair and maintenance works for which the landlord is responsible or which must be done by the tenant will be made available and will allow many conflicts to be avoided.
The Region will adopt a standard lease agreement and a standard student lease agreement.
An indicative reference table of rent levels, based on the type of housing, its size, location, etc., will also be adopted. This is to help tenants to make their choice and both landlords and tenants will be better informed.
2. Modifications to the Brussels Housing Code
As from 1 January 2018, the provisions on residential leases will be incorporated into the Brussels Housing Code. In addition to simplifying and clarifying the Act of 20 February 1991, the Ordinance introduces new provisions in response to specificities of the Brussels-Capital Region. The main modifications include:
the introduction of new rules on co-tenancy;
the creation of a student lease;
the introduction of a transferrable lease to assist low-income households.
In order to share an apartment or house, two documents will now be required: (i) a (co-tenancy) lease agreement and (ii) a roommate agreement:
The lease agreement between the landlord and the roommates (co-tenants) provides that the latter are jointly and severally liable to the landlord and for a flexible departure procedure. Thus, a roommate can leave with two months' notice and without compensation. The other roommates must find a replacement who is acceptable to the group. In the event of repeated refusal, a roommate who can demonstrate that he or she has actively searched for a replacement will be released from his or her obligations. If more than half the roommates leave the premises, the landlord is entitled to terminate the lease agreement.
Henceforth, roommates must conclude a roommate agreement. In general, they remain free to decide the terms of this agreement, with the exception of certain mandatory provisions such as the allocation of rent. Once signed, the roommate agreement is appended to the lease agreement. The purpose of this agreement is to make roommates more aware of their obligations to one another. A roommate agreement is binding only among its signatories and does not affect the landlord. The roommates can rely on this agreement, even in court, in the event of non-compliance by one or more signatories.
2.2 Student lease
A student lease may be concluded for a maximum term of 12 months.
The student is entitled to terminate the lease agreement at any time with two months' notice and without compensation. If the student wishes to renew the lease (at the same terms), she or he can do so for a period of one year. Another feature is the possibility to cancel the lease up to one month before entering the premises, subject to the payment of one month's rent.
This new lease agreement is part of the Student Housing Plan launched in June 2015. One of the measures proposed by the plan is a "student housing label", which will offer students a guarantee of quality.
A student lease agreement must result from mutual consent of the landlord and the student. They can always opt for a traditional lease agreement. It should be noted however that the new student housing label, which will be awarded to housing that meets certain quality criteria, implies the use of a student lease.
2.3 The transferrable lease for low-income households
This new type of lease agreement is based on a relationship of trust between an association, a tenant and a landlord. The lease assignment is concluded between the landlord and the association which takes out the lease on behalf of, and ultimately assigns it to, the low-income tenant (the assignee). The association provides support for the tenant so that, in a nutshell, the latter is able to pay the rent and maintain the property independently. After a maximum period of three years, the lease agreement may be assigned to the tenant.