Renting to a refugee

 

Why rent to a refugee?  I  How to rent via this platform?  I  Is my rental house suitable?  I  Frequently asked questions  I  Other rental options

 

Why rent to a refugee? 

Living necessity in Belgium

For years, Civil Society organizations have been sounding the alarm bell about the shortage of affordable homes in Belgium. This is problematic for all tenants in a precarious situation.

In 2015, in Belgium, the number of asylum requests, and correspondingly the recognition rates, increased significantly. In 2016, this led to an increase of recognized refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection that had to leave the asylum shelters. This means they have to go looking for a place to rent. As a result, the strain on the more affordable part of the rental market grows even bigger.

Accomodation – a challenge for recognised refugees

Most refugees led a life very similar to that of you and me: they went to work, owned a house, had children that went to school… Fearing for their lives, they abandoned everything and fled their home country perforce.

Those who receive a residence permit after going through an asylum procedure will get the opportunity and the responsibility to build a new life here. Within two months they are expected to leave the asylum shelter and find a place to live on the private housing market. They will have to do this without a social network, with limited knowledge of the housing market and a limited income.

Finding a home is the first step in the process of integration. Without housing it is as good as impossible to enroll in a language course, to call on the OCMW for counseling, to have their children attend school, etc. As a landlord you will be able to help them get a fresh start in life.

How to rent via this platform?

On the housing platform 'Mijn Huis Jouw Thuis' (My House Your Home) you can register your property for rent. First, you need to create an account. Click on ' create new account' (situated centrally at the top of the home screen). You will receive an email containing a link. Click on this link to activate your account.

Log on to the website with your new account. The login button is situated top right on the home screen. Go to 'Register a property' and add the details of the house, apartment or room you are renting out.  After your entry has been approved, the property will be visible in the housing list. 

Prospective tenants can contact you through a web form. You will receive an email on the email address linked to your account. Prospective tenants will not be able to see your email address, unless you reply to them. If you would rather be contacted by phone, you can add your cell phone number in the textbox when registering a property. This will be visible for everyone visting the webpage. Do not forget to mention how you would prefer to be contacted (phone, email, visiting hours, …).

Do you have questions? Take a look in the page FAQ about the website, or send us a message trough the contact form. 

Is my rental house suitable? 

Are you not sure wether your rental property is suitable to rent via this platform? Check out these questions: 

  • Is it affordable for a single person or family with limited income?

Most refugees who have just obtained residence status do not yet have a (steady) job. They receive a living wage to provide for them. This is a limited income. They are mostly looking for affordable quality housing.

  • Can you reach the residency by public transport? 

Most refugees who have just obtained residence status do not own a car. They depend on public transportation to go to school, their job, the supermarket, etc.

  • Can a tenant domicile to this address? 

To claim different rights - such as social welfare support - one needs an address for service in Belgium. Recognized refugees who no longer live in an asylum center, need to be able to domicile to their new address.

  • Does your property comply to Flemish living standards? 

The 'Dienst Wonen' of the city or municipality you live in can help you with this. Or check out the website 'Wonen Vlaanderen': https://www.wonenvlaanderen.be/verhuren/de-huurwoning-orde

  • Cohousing - Are you renting a room in your house? 

Are you living in community housing, a cohousing project or another form of cohousing and you would like to rent out part of the residence to a recognized refugee? That is possible. Mind you, a recognized refugee has to be able to register his legal domicile. In case multiple people are domiciled at the address, and one of the residents receives (complementary) social welfare, this could alter this person’s social benefits.

If you have any more questions about cohousing you can contact Samenhuizen vzw:  http://www.samenhuizen.be/ ; Samenhuizen vzw - Toekomststraat 6 - 1800 Vilvoorde ; T 0489 92 64 64 | info@samenhuizen.be

Frequently asked questions

This information is also available as a brochure, in English, Dutch and French.

1.Terminology explained

1.1. What is an asylum seeker?

People fleeing war, violence and prosecution can apply for protection (asylum) in our country.
In that case they have to submit a request for asylum at the Immigration Office (Dienst Vreemdelingenzaken). The Commissioner-General for Refugees and Stateless will investigate their application. During the asylum procedure, the applicants are called 'asylum seekers'. They have the right to accommodation and counseling and reside in collective shelters or individual residences.

1.2. What is a refugee?

Asylum seekers who meet the criteria of the Geneva Convention will be recognized as refugees.
They will get a special residence permit under refugee status. That way they can not be sent back to their native country. Refugees used to receive a residence permit for an unlimited period of time. Recently however, Parliament authorized a legislative change, limiting residence permits to five years. If after five years, the reasons why a person was granted refugee status are still valid, this permit will then become a residence permit for an indefinite stay. This change will take effect from the moment it is published in the Belgian Office Journal.

1.3. What is a war refugee or beneficiary of subsidiary protection?

People fleeing war usually don’t fit the definition of the Refugee Convention (Geneva Convention). Their lives are in danger nonetheless. Because of this they can acquire subsidiary protection. Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection get a one year residence permit, twice renewable for a period of two years. The permit will be renewed if the conditions in their home country remain problematic. After five years they will receive a residence permit for an indefinite period of time[1].

2. A refugee as tenant

A refugee or beneficiary of subsidiary protection generally possesses the same rights and obligations as a tenant who has been living in Belgium for a longer period of time. They are allowed to work, go to school, etc.

The road to a job is a rocky one. Recognized refugees who have just left the asylum shelter are, in most cases, still learning the language. They will not have had the chance to homologate their degree. People who haven’t found a job yet, can apply to the OCMW for guidance and welfare benefits.

Depending on the client's demand, the OCMW can support them for the most part. If you like, you can go to the OCMW together with the candidate-tenant, where a staff member can explain what guidance can be provided. They can also be helpful in drawing up a clear rental agreement.

3. The rental deposit

If a potential tenant is unable to pay the deposit himself, the OCMW can intervene. Every OCMW has its own way of operating, but usually the deposit will be put in an escrow account or the OCMW provides a letter that they stand guarantor (‘borgbrief’). This has to be approved first. Some OCMW can accelerate the approval of rental deposits, others can take a while longer.

4. Renting out to an ocmw-client

An OCMW social worker will guide the clients, this is advantageous for you as a landlord . In case of tardy payments or other worries, you are able to consult the OCMW together.

The OCMW requires time to grant all rights to a possible tenant. A recognized refugee who has found a home has to consult the local OCMW for social welfare and/or a rental deposit, after which the OCMW will undertake a social investigation. It could take up to a few weeks before the tenant will be able to actually rent the home.

5. Do recognised refugees receive support?

New arrivals in our country are not yet well-informed about all the written and unwritten rules of Belgium. Support by social services and volunteers could help people to find their way more easily. How do we recycle? When is garbage collection day? At what time should it be quiet in a residential area? Are there specific maintenance requirements for a home? How do you communicate with your new neighbors?

Those who receive social welfare automatically get assigned to an OCMW social worker.

With other services, people can request support on a voluntary basis, if offered in their region. Therefore multiple CAW offer living support. This means they support people, who have found a home, during their stay. This can go from explaining how recycling works to mediating in housing issues.

6. What support is there for me as landlord?

As a landlord you can join the non-profit Verenigde Eigenaars (Unified Owners) for support, information and legal assistance (www.ve-pr.be). At the same time local housing shops offer information and support to owners (www.wonenvlaanderen.be/huren/u-zoekt-een-betaalbare-huurwoning).

The CAW can help in answering possible questions as well. Either they will be able to help you in finding your answers or they will refer you to the right agency. The housing counseling can, if necessary, mediate between you and the tenant (www.caw.be/caw-in-je-buurt).

When the tenant gets OCMW counseling you can apply for mediation. OCMW-employees have professional confidentiality and are not allowed to share information about their clients, but they can contact them. If there is a good line of communication with the tenant, you and s/he can go to the OCMW together and talk about the living situation and anything that comes along with renting a home. This usually facilitates the process.

7. Am I allowed to rent to a non-accompanied foreign minor?

Yes, this is allowed. The lease will be signed by the minor and his guardian. With regard to further questions about renting out to non-accompanied minors it is best to contact the Platform Children on the run (www.kinderenopdevlucht.be).

8. The rent's guarantee foundation

Are you familiar with the rent’s guarantee foundation? This foundation (mostly) guarantees rent  payment in case of overdue payment. Therefore it also prevents eviction of the tenant. The rent’s guarantee foundation is little known. You can find more information about this foundation on www.wonenvlaanderen.be/premies/het-vlaams-huurgarantiefonds-bescherm-uzelf-tegen-huurachterstand.

9. Prevent misunderstandings

Prevent misunderstandings and frustrations by explaining everything beforehand. How does recycling work? Where can garbage be stored? When and from what time on are garbage bags allowed to be put outside? Are there special requirements for cleaning (like cleaning a parquet floor or porous tiles)?

Is it hard to communicate because of a difference in language? Consult the CAW to see if they are able to help with mediation and interpreting.

10.Any questions?

Take a look at these organizations:

Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Refugee Action Flanders): www.vluchtelingenwerk.be/huisvesting

Orbit vzw – project Woning gezocht – buren gevonden (Orbit non-profit – project Home wanted – neighbours found): www.woninggezocht.be

Platform kinderen op de vlucht (Platform children on the run): www.kinderenopdevlucht.be

Centrum Algemeen Welzijnswerk (Centre General Social welfare): www.caw.be/caw-in-je-buurt

Wonen Vlaanderen (Housing Flanders): www.wonenvlaanderen.be

Verenigde Eigenaars (Unified Owners): www.ve-pr.be

Other rental options

Letting to a social letting agency (SLA)  |  Rent via a non-profit organizationInteresting case scenarios

Letting a house to a refugee might not be the best or most appropriate choice for you. There are still other possibilities. 

1. Letting to a social letting agency (SLA)

Do you want to let your property to recognised refugees or other vulnerable groups, but are you worried about possible problems? Then letting to a social letting agency (SLA) might be a good solution for you.

Letting to a social letting agency has many advantages.

  • Your rent punctually paid each month

As landlord you sign a lease with the social letting agency for a minimum of nine years (in Brussels three years). The social letting agency provides social tenants and makes a sublease contract with them. The SLA pays you the rent monthly, even if the property is empty or when the social tenant does not pay. The SLA is the main tenant with respect to the social tenants and therefore responsible for all tenant obligations.  You have no contact with the social tenants and are sure to receive each month's rent.

  • Administrative follow-up and supervision of the tenant

The letting agency takes a lot of administrative burden and responsibilities over from you. For example, the SLA is responsible for drawing up a formal inventory at the start of the rental period. They commit to returning the property in the same condition (taking into account wear and tear) at the end of the rental period. They are responsible for certain administrative tasks such as registration of the lease, fire insurance, and the like. They also oversee the organization of any repair and maintenance work (such as cleaning the boiler) on behalf of the tenant. If necessary, certain tenants receive rent assistance.

  • Tax credits and grants

If you let your property to a social letting office, you may be eligible for a number of contributions and deductions such as renovation financing, improvement financing ... You will also enjoy a reduced rate for the property tax. Sometimes you can get additional financing by the province or city for renovation if the property is let to an SLA.

In exchange for these benefits, some concessions are expected from the landlord.

  • A fair rent

A social letting agency demands no commission in exchange for their work for the landlord, but do ask for a fair rent which is below the average rent on the private market.

  • The SLA determines the tentants

As landlord you do not decide who will live in the property. The letting agency decides based on a point-based system so the most vulnerable are housed first.

  • A long lease term

In order to enable the operation of the SLAs, they request a lease of 9 years This means that during this period you will be sure of your monthly rental income, will not need to look for tenants and have no administrative burden. At the same time, you cannot just terminate the lease. If you sell the property, the new owner also remains bound by the contract. This also applies to the heirs. If you or a family member decides to live in the property, the contract can be terminated without charge.

For more information, please visit:

 

2. Rent via a non-profit organization

Some non-profit organizations offer additional (financial) support for landlords and refugees. 

Huizen van Vrede vzw (Houses of Peace)

Huizen van Vrede is an organization from Bruges. They rent houses from owners and sublet them to refugees. They offer the following guarantees to house owners: 

  1. They support the subtenant to properly maintain the property
  2. They overcome the language barrier for the landlord.
  3. .They ensure a punctual implementation of the lease. Not just a rental deposit and punctual payment of rent, but at the end of the lease, the landlord gets the property back in good condition. 

Huizen van Vrede can only take in houses in the area of Groot-Brugge. 

Contact details:

E-mail: huizenvanvrede@telenet.be
Johan Vanhollemeersch, chairman, Abdijbekestraat 56, 8200 St-Andries, 050 67 08 93
René Tytgat, director, Abdijbekestraat 8 bus 20, 8200 St-Andries, 0498 85 68 39

They have an information folder, only in Dutch available. 

Woonhulp voor vluchtelingen Lier (Housing Support for refugees - Lier)

This non-profit organization from Lier supports recongnized refugees in their search for a house. They organize housing clubs. House owners from Lier, who wish to rent to refugees, can contact the organization to see of they can rent the house and then sublet to refugees. 

You can contact them by e-mail: woonhulp.regiolier@gmail.com 

3. Are you looking for interesting case scenarios?

Have a look at the project Solidair Wonen in Sint-Niklaas. Three organisations (VLOS, CAW and Straathoekwerk) rent large homes together. Through a customized contract, refugees and Belgians can let a part of the house at an affordable price. (http://www.vlos.be/VLOS/index.php/materiele-ondersteuning/materiele-ondersteuning/opvang/113-solidair-wonen-geen-luchtspiegeling.html)

House of Colours has houses in Vosselaar and Turnhout where they house recognised refugees, and support and reinforce them. You can find further information at: www.houseofcolours.be

Collectief Goed cvba-so is a new cooperative housing model that lets good, affordable housing to vulnerable families in Antwerp. The cooperative resulted from a collaboration between Samenlevingsopbouw, Dienstenhuis, CAW Antwerp and De Ideale Woning. You can find further information at: http://collectiefgoed.be/