Brussels government attacks property rights, thus disrupting the housing market

8 October 2021
Mathias Vanden Borre

The proposed regulation provides for a prohibition for the landlord to put forward so-called “excessive rent”. Rent is considered excessive if the rent is 20% higher than the reference rent or if there are substantial quality defects. The N-VA believes that the majority is entirely wrong here with an absurd regulation that results in disproportionate, arbitrary and unpredictable interference in the landlord’s right to property.

“The goal of the majority to counter the rise in rents may be noble, but the means are completely out of proportion. The proposal is full of uncertain, unpredictable, arbitrary and subjective elements. An owner who wants to offer a quality property is in fact punished. Because if housing is rented out at more than 20% above the median price, the owner will have to justify it, even if there is no question of exploitation. The approval of this careless and far-reaching proposal will be an attack on confidence within the rental market and will lead to enormous legal uncertainty and a brake on investment in quality rental property. There is absolutely nothing liberal about this proposal. It is incomprehensible that Open VLD supports this and MR abstains,” N-VA MP Mathias Vanden Borre says.

“A possible effect of the proposal would be that even defects that do not breach minimum health and safety standards could still be considered to be ‘substantial intrinsic quality defects’. For example, a cramped shower room, although a totally subjective factor (what is spacious for one person is cramped for another), could be taken into account to reduce the rent. In addition, environmental factors, such as noise or odour nuisance, may also be taken into account. However, these are matters over which the landlord in most cases has no influence or control whatsoever,” says Mathias Vanden Borre.

There are, however, enough solid alternatives to avoid an excessive rise in rents and to prevent exploitation. The housing supply must be increased and improved, such as by converting vacant office buildings into apartments. Investors must in fact be encouraged, while the majority’s proposal would actually lead to less investment, as imposing a lower rental yield in certain neighbourhoods will deter potential investors. In the Brussels context, investors are indeed more than welcome: purchasing power in the Region has increased by barely 1% in a period of 25 years, and unemployment figures are skyrocketing. If you don’t have any money, you can’t buy a house, and you have to rely on the rental market, where demand exceeds supply.

What must this government do:

  • Housing inspectors must carry out permanent site checks to detect and fine slum landlords and poor housing.
  • New justices of the peace must be appointed, as seven of the 19 cantons have no holder (federal).
  • Social housing construction has been falling short for decades: there have only been 3,500 new social housing units in 15 years! 10% of Brussels residents are on a waiting list.
  • The institutional knot between municipalities and the region must be untangled, because it leads to legal battles and a lack of investment.
  • Purchasing a home must be encouraged, as less than 40% of residents are homeowners.

“Rather than pumping work and resources into this dragon of a system, creating yet another new agency, this government would do better to focus on strengthening and optimising the existing agencies. Invest these resources in the competent regional services, such as the regional housing inspectorate, Urban, Perspective and Citydev, so that these services can do their job and ensure that municipalities no longer block projects. In the best-case scenario, another new paper mill with tax money has started up. At worst, this is a new obstacle that deters investment in this Region, a problem that keeps on growing given the urban exodus of the middle classes and businesses,” Mathias Vanden Borre concludes.

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