Confronted with rising rent prices, Brussels residents must settle for substandard housing and live in spaces that are improvised or ill-adapted to a family’s size. But this reality persists largely out of sight and is difficult to quantify because no citywide, objective data about housing quality is available. Even today, determining with precision how many of the 300,000 rented properties in Brussels have safety or hygiene issues is impossible.
We can reasonably assume that in recent years, the situation has improved. In large part, this is due to the Housing Code’s implementation in 2004, which established basic minimum safety, hygiene and technical standards for rental units.
In 2013, legislators passed a reform to the Housing Code. The changes were designed as concrete responses to landlords who rent unsafe or poorly maintained units, while also improving how rental units are inspected and renovated. What remains to be seen is the effect of this legislation on the ground.
Understanding a building’s state of repair in Brussels means relying on studies performed in 3,000 rental units undertaken by the Observatoire des Loyers. This data indicates, for example, that 9% of renters feel that their accommodations are in a bad or very bad state of repair. In terms of reoccurring problems, humidity and weatherproofing, as well as poor sewage maintenance, are all cited as problems in the report.
The Direction de l’Inspection Régionale du Logement, DIRL, a department tasked with regulating housing standards in Brussels, publishes annual reports in which it claimed to have received 4,000 complaints over an 8-year period (from 2004 to 2013). On its own, the number of DIRL complaints does not reveal the effects of unsafe, insalubrious and ill-adapted housing in Brussels. Apparently, large numbers of renters refuse to file complaints essentially out of fear of not being able to find new accommodations. Simply put, too few affordable accommodations in a satisfactory state of repair are available in Brussels. And renters are never in short supply, even those willing to accept substandard conditions.