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Brussels tenants to have first chance to buy when landlord puts property up for sale

15:29 22/07/2023

The Brussels parliament has given the green light to a proposal that would give tenants priority if their accommodation is put up for sale.

The text, presented by Brussels state secretary for housing Nawal Ben Hamou, states that landlords must inform their tenants if they want to sell their home, noting the price and conditions of the sale and giving them the right of first refusal.

Tenants then have 30 days to decide whether to go ahead - and only if they refuse to buy the property themselves will the house or flat be put up for general sale.

If the tenant refuses and another potential buyer makes an offer at a lower price or with favourable conditions, the landlord or his notary must also inform the tenant, who will then have an additional seven days to offer to buy the property.

This tenants’ right does not apply, however, to furnished properties, short-term lets (contracts of up to three years), sublets, co-rented flats, student accommodation or inter-family sales.

Given all these restrictions, while this reform is in principle a good one, “we think that there will be very few takers, given the economic situation,” said Jose Garcia, secretary general of the Brussels Tenants’ Union.

On the other hand, Garcia said that the proposal brings “a much more interesting development”.

"The fact that a tenant will be warned well before the sale will mean he can defend himself better," he said.

"Some will be able to register their leases, others can negotiate an early departure, and yet more tenants will be able to stay by stating their rights more effectively."

Unsurprisingly, the project is much less popular with landlords, who say that sellers will have much less freedom when putting properties up for sale.

“If you do not respect this legislation, there will be extremely heavy consequences,” said MP Olivier De Clippele, president of the Brussels-based National Union of Owners and Co-Owners (SNPC).

The text states that sales will be null and void if rules are not followed. If landlords do not comply, the tenant has up to a year to cancel the sale to another applicant and buy the property.

De Clippele argued that the proposed law would be very difficult to follow. “There are a whole series of problems where we will find ourselves in front of people who will claim to be tenants but are not, or who are, but the notary has been unable to verify if this is true,” he said.

The SNPC will therefore demand that only tenants in possession of a proper registered rental contract can claim this right of first refusal when their home is put up for sale.

In parliament too, the text had its critics. While the left-wing opposition PTB supported the proposal, the centre-right MR and N-VA parties voted against it.

In their view, the new measure would distort the market, create legal insecurity and stop landlords’ rights, also noting that smaller landlords and investors were already increasingly choosing to avoid the capital.

For the N-VA’s Mathias Vanden Borre, the new plan presents a new restriction to investments “desperately needed on the Brussels housing market with its mediocre housing quality”, and would mean that buying your own home at a reasonable price will become more and more difficult.

Written by Liz Newmark