A lease will identify the property you’re renting, including both the street address and the apartment (either by number or location). If there are additional rooms or privileges included in the basic rental, such as access to a laundry room, garage, parking space or storage facilities, these should be noted in the lease. If you’re renting a semi-furnished or partially equipped unit, this should also be noted, along with an indication of what equipment or fittings are included.
A lease will indicate the amount of your monthly rent, the date it is to be paid and possibly the method of payment (many landlords require you to set up a standing order with your bank), plus any penalties for late payment. It should also include details of annual rent increases, which are usually indexed, as well as the procedure for increasing the rent above this amount. In addition to your rent, you’ll be required to pay an estimated monthly amount for.
Your lease should also include the amount and conditions of the damage deposit. When you move out, you’ll be expected to return the house or apartment to the condition it was in when you took over; if you fail to do so, the landlord can use your deposit to cover the cost of making any necessary repairs. The deposit will usually be held until the last common charges have been determined and settled, so it can be a year or more after you leave before you receive your deposit refund!
Most landlords require a deposit of one to three months’ rent. If possible, you should arrange to have this money held in an interest-bearing account, usually a blocked account that requires authorisation from both you and the landlord before the funds can be released. Some landlords will accept a bank guarantee for the amount of the deposit. You can arrange this through your bank, usually for a small annual fee. Beware of landlords who attempt to include a clause requiring you to return the property to ‘perfect’ condition rather than to the condition in which you received it. If you agree to such a clause, you could be faced with major renovation costs to cover previous tenants’ wear and tear as well as your own.
Other terms and conditions that may appear in the lease include notice periods and penalties for breaking the lease. Tenants’ rights are extremely well protected under most standard leases in Belgium. Evicting a tenant, even one who has caused considerable problems, is a process that can take months or even years, and the circumstances under which a landlord may evict a tenant are severely limited. In most cases, he must give a long notice period and pay you substantial penalties (which doesn’t mean you should make a habit of getting yourself evicted from rented accommodation!). For this reason, most landlords insist on verifying your employment, residence and income details before accepting you as a tenant. If you want to terminate the lease, there are standard notice periods and procedures to follow, and sometimes penalties to be paid. It has become common practice to include a so-called ‘diplomatic clause’ in the standard lease form. This permits you to terminate your lease at 30 days’ notice if you have to move owing to your employment, i.e. you’re transferred at short notice or you change jobs.
A standard lease in Belgium runs for a period of nine years and is often referred to as a 3-6-9 lease. This is because the base rent can be increased only at the beginning of each 3-year period, and then only if written notice has been given. Under the standard lease, you must give at least three months’ notice in writing in order to break or terminate the lease (usually six or nine months’ notice is required). If you break the lease within the first year, you must pay a penalty of three months’ rent. During the second year, the penalty is reduced to two months’ rent, and during the third year to one month’s rent. After the third year, there’s no penalty provided you’ve given adequate notice. After each three-year period, the landlord may eject you if he needs the property for his own or a close family member’s use, but he must give six months’ notice and pay you a large penalty (equal to nine months’ rent after three years and six months rent after six years). If the landlord fails to give proper notice, he must pay you 18 months’ rent as a penalty. At the end of the nine-year lease period, the lease is automatically renewed for another nine years unless you or the landlord has given notice of an intention not to renew at least six months’ in advance by registered letter.
It’s always wise to include a diplomatic clause in a rental contract but, unless you’re on amicable terms with your landlord, you may find that the Belgian courts won’t enforce it. Instead, you can often persuade your employer to reimburse you for any rental penalties incurred as a result of a forced relocation.
While you can negotiate some changes to the standard contract, you may find that the Belgian courts are unwilling to enforce unusual provisions or non-standard lease clauses if a disagreement with your landlord results in legal action. Open-ended or indefinite term leases aren’t permitted under Belgian law and, if you insist on negotiating a non-standard term lease, you run the risk of losing most of the legal protection that tenants enjoy in Belgium.
Leases in Belgium must be registered with the local office of the Receiver of Registrations, Ministry of Finance (Enregistrement/Registratie) within four months of being signed. Technically, you can be fined for forgetting this formality, although it’s in your own interest to remember to register the lease and any changes or codicils made during the term of the lease. Don’t take any notice if your landlord attempts to discourage you from ‘bothering’ with the registration process: if the landlord wants to re-let the property, the new tenant can only be held to the terms of the existing lease if these have been properly registered; if you haven’t registered your lease, the new tenant is free to evict you, raise your rent or change any of the other terms of your rental contract!
In Belgium, you must usually pay a deposit equal to three months’ rent, either in cash or by obtaining a bank guarantee for the amount, and an inventory is generally done before the lease is signed and deposits paid.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in in Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg from Survival Books.