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Rental agreements: giving notice and renewing the contract

There are four recognised durations for rental contracts in Belgium. Mutual agreement to end a contract before it’s up is always possible without any penalties needing to be paid, but it does need to be mutual, and it’s advised to get it in writing. But if no mutual agreement is found then this post explains where you stand legally when notice is given, depending on how long your contract is.

How long can a contract be?

There are 4 recognised durations:

  1. 9 years (the most common). Any duration between 3 and 9 years is still recognised as a 9 year contract. More on breaking, ending and extending these kinds of contracts below.
  2. 3 years or less (known as a ‘short’ duration). More on breaking, ending and extending these kinds of contracts below.
  3. More than 9 years (known as a ‘long’ duration). In terms of breaking, ending and extending, these contracts follow the same rules as 9 year contracts.
  4. For the lifetime of the tenant (known as a ‘lifetime’ duration). As you may guess, these contracts end when the tenant passes away. The tenant cannot end the contract early, unless stated in the contract. The landlord can, but must provide 3 months’ notice.

Nine year contracts

  • If either the tenant or the landlord doesn’t want the contract to be extended beyond 9 years, they still need to give notice no later than 6 months before the end of the 9 years.
  • If no notice is given, the contract is automatically extended by 3 years at a time. 6 months before each 3 years is up, the landlord and tenant have the right to conclude the contract again.
  • During the 9 years, the tenant has the right to end the contract, without needing to give a reason. They need to provide written notice, 3 months before they will leave. But there is a penalty to pay if you leave within the first 3 years. The tenant needs to pay 3 months’ rent within the first year; 2 months within the second year and 1 month within the third year. This penalty does not legally need to be paid at the same time as notice is given. Instead this is sorted out during the moving out process.

Can a landlord give notice on a nine-year contract?

During the 9 years the landlord has the right to end the contract. But depending on the circumstances, the tenant is entitled to different things.

They (or an extended family member) are going to live in the property

  1. The landlord needs to provide written notice of this 6 months in advance. The written notice needs to contain the reason and the personal details of who will be moving in.
  2. ‘3rd line’ family members (uncles, aunts, and some others) are excluded from this option in the first 3 years of a 9 year contract.
  3. As the tenant, you are allowed to ask to see proof of the relationship in order to accept the notice.
  4. Assuming the landlord has met the requirements, the tenant has to move out before the end of the notice period. The tenant cannot claim any compensation.
  5. If the tenant can later prove the following, they can claim compensation of 18 months rent from the landlord:
    1. That the family member hasn’t moved in within 1 year of the acceptance of the notice
    2. Or that they haven’t stayed for at least 2 years
    3. AND the landlord cannot prove any extenuating circumstances

Work is going to be carried out on the property

  1. This can only happen at one of the 3 year points in the 9 year contract
  2. And only if written notice is given 6 months in advance
  3. Written notice must include the motive, and 4 other things:
    1. Proof of the work to be carried out
    2. Confirmation that the works have been approved (where legally required)
    3. That the works make the property uninhabitable for the tenant, i.e. work on the garden or facade are not a reason to end the contract
    4. That the cost of the works is more than 3 years of rent
  4. Assuming the landlord has met the requirements, the tenant has to move out before the end of the notice period. The tenant cannot claim any compensation.
  5. If the tenant can later prove the following, they can claim 18 months rent from the landlord:
    1. That work has not started within 6 months
    2. Or that work has not finished by 24 months of the acceptance of the notice
    3. AND the landlord cannot prove any extenuating circumstances

Just because they want to break the contract

  1. This can only be done after either the 1st or 2nd 3 year period
  2. Written notice needs to be given 6 months in advance
  3. The landlord needs to pay the tenant 9 months’ rent (after the 1st 3 year period) or 6 months’ rent (after the 2nd 3 year period)

Note that if the landlord gives notice of the end of the contract in one of these 3 ways, and within the first 3 years, the tenant can give a counter-notice of one month. This means that the tenant can leave the property within one month, without having to make any further rental payments, and without paying any penalty.

Contracts of 3 years or less

  • So-called ‘short’ contracts can be renewed (same conditions, same rental price), but not for a total period of more than 3 years.
  • When they are renewed they can have a different short-term duration. E.g. a one year contract can be renewed for 2 years, but not more than 2 (as this would be more than 3)
  • They can only be renewed once within that 3-year period
  • Neither the landlord nor the tenant can end a short-term contract early. Unless there is an agreement on how to do this set out in the contract
  • If either the tenant or the landlord doesn’t want the contract to be extended beyond the original duration, they still need to give notice no later than 3 months before the end of the contract.
  • In the event that no notice is given 3 months before the end of the contract, or if the tenant just continues to live at the property, the contract is not automatically renewed. Instead it is extended and the contract retrospectively becomes a 9 year contract. If the contract claims that there is a different automatic extension, this has no legal value.

Good to know

  • No contract can be terminated in any other way because the other party hasn’t kept to the contract (e.g. if the tenant hasn’t paid rent). The only way a contract can be ended under these circumstances is by a legal process.
  • If you are married, your written notice to end the contract must be signed by both parties.
  • The notice period begins on the first day of the month following the month in which written notice was given.
  • Without wanting to end on a downer, if either the landlord or the tenant dies during a non-lifetime contract, their heirs inherit the contract. They must see it out according to the same legal requirements as the original landlord/tenant.

Note: While we have done our best to make sure this information is accurate, rules and regulations change and each individual situation might be different, so it is always a good idea to check with appropriate authorities for the latest information. Consequently, the authors do not assume any responsibility or liability for any issues or damages stemming from the use of the information found on this website.

Last updated: August, 2018

Heather
Heather is a language and travel geek at heart, having gotten the bug for it while studying German and Italian in her home country, England. After managing hotel content for a start-up in Berlin, being an Erasmus student in Bologna and writing for Frommer's travel guides while in London, she moved to Gent in 2015 for a year. Still here, Gent must have been doing something right! She's now determined to help other newbie expats settle in and build a great life here in this beautiful city. If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to heather@thesquare.gent

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