A general rule when it comes to renting a property in Brussels is that the farther out from the city centre someone searches for accommodation, the more space they will get for a lower price. For this reason, many expats choose to live on the periphery of the city in nearby communities like Tervuren, Overijse and Hoeilaart.
Most expats prefer to rent accommodation in the Belgian capital because property is expensive, they don’t want to invest in real estate, or they don’t plan on staying long. Renting in Brussels is complicated because of strict legal requirements by landlords. It would be wise for expats to consult with a professional to help them with the process. Any relocation firm will do this, or the estate agency renting the apartment can be spoken to directly.
Important facts about renting in Brussels
Unfurnished accommodation in Brussels
In Brussels, when an apartment is "unfurnished", it really is stripped bare. In many countries, light fixtures, kitchens and window coverings are already in the house or apartment. This is often not the case when renting in Brussels. Built-in closets are also rare, so purchasing a wardrobe is the norm.
Expats should keep this in mind when budgeting. Window treatments alone can run into the thousands depending on what a person is looking for. Large chain stores are a good option for light bulbs, kitchens, window shades and wardrobes.
Sometimes landlords will buy items from the tenant when they move out, although it’s always best to ask in advance. Otherwise, the tenant will be able to take everything with them when they leave, but if custom-fitted it might not be reusable.
Utilities in Brussels
Rental prices generally don’t include utilities such as electricity, water and internet. Expats need to ask about this before signing a lease.
Signing a lease in Brussels
Most landlords require a standing order to be set up with the tenant's bank for monthly payments. An inventory and condition report should also be completed and signed alongside the lease when moving into a new property.
Duration of a lease in Belgium
A Belgian residential lease is usually assumed to be for nine years. However, tenants are only financially obliged for the first three years, after which they won’t have to pay any penalties for early cancellation. This type of lease is common and is often referred to as a “3-6-9 lease” because the lease and its components can be revisited every three years.
Terminating a lease
Tenants have to give three months written notice to terminate a lease. At the end of the nine years, a new period of three years is automatically agreed upon without notification if nobody has terminated the lease. Expats will have to be aware of their lease dates and plan accordingly.
If a lease is broken within the first year, a penalty of three months’ rent must be paid. If it's broken during the second year, two months’ rent is due. One months’ rent must be paid if termination occurs during the third year.
Landlords can't terminate a lease within the first three years. At the end of each three-year period, the landlord may terminate the lease if they or a close family member need the property. In all cases, the landlord must give six months’ notice.
If the landlord breaks the lease after the first three-year period, the penalty is equal to nine months' rent. Six months' rent is due if the termination of the lease occurs after six years. If proper notice isn’t given, a penalty of 18 months’ rent is due.
Tenant responsibilities in Brussels
In addition to the basics, leases in Belgium will usually include very detailed assignments of responsibility for appliances, the garden, rain gutters, and any other item that directly impacts the state of the house or apartment. This is completely different from leases in many other countries, so expats should know what they're getting into upfront.
In general, it’s safe to assume that tenants are responsible for everything they use on a daily basis, such as repairing appliances, carpet cleaning and clearing out rain gutters. The owner is usually responsible for electrical systems, roof, plumbing and heating systems.
The tenant is required by law to have a comprehensive household insurance certificate. Proof of insurance must be shown to the landlord at the signing of the lease and may be requested each time the lease is renewed.
Some landlords include garden maintenance in the rent, but the majority won't. This is also something expats should consider when budgeting or negotiating the lease. The cost of maintaining a large garden, which is usually a requirement, can cost thousands of euros per year.
Rental deposits in Brussels
Most landlords require a security deposit. A deposit may not exceed the equivalent of three months' rent. This amount is placed in an interest-bearing bank account in the tenant's name. It is put in a blocked account and requires authorization from both the landlord and the tenant before the money can be released.
At the end of every lease in Brussels, an Etat des Lieux is scheduled. This is the final meeting between an independent contractor, picked by the landlord, and the tenant, to review the state of the property and determine how much of the deposit will be returned. The general rule is the house must be left in the same state it was received in.
Expat tenants should keep a file of every purchase, upgrade and change. This will serve them better at the end of the lease, though it’s still no guarantee they won’t lose most of their deposit.
Rent increases in Brussels
It's only possible to change the base price of rent in Brussels every three years. During the lease, however, rent follows a yearly cost of living index, which is different from increases in the base rent. As such, rent can also be increased based on this index.
Every year, the landlord can increase the rent based on a cost of living index that's determined at a federal level. The landlord must notify the tenant on the anniversary of the date the lease was signed and has a right to raise the rent by this index as well as collect money for the three months before the adjustment was made.
If a landlord neglects to index their tenant, they can't ask for any retroactive sum in the following year.