Finding Permanent Housing in Leuven

This article provides some helpful information before you start looking for permanent housing in Leuven. It briefly covers the basics of renting such us finding housing, rental contracts, and cost of living.

No Dutch?  (Usually) no problem!

Most owners and realtors in the Leuven region will have no problem communicating with you in English, but rental agreements by law have to be made up in Dutch. Nevertheless, some realtors and even owners provide pro forma translations of the contract. 

But first things first: finding a new home.

In all fairness, the housing market in Leuven is competitive. For expats as well as for locals the websites mostly used to find available properties (both for renting and buying) would be www.immoweb.be and www.zimmo.be. These list both properties privately owned and managed, as well as the ones managed by a real estate agency. Real estate agencies or immo’s as we call them in Dutch, will list properties they have in a portfolio and show them to you, but will not browse the complete market.  An immo in Belgium represents the landlord. Upon renting a property, the immo generally receives the equivalent of one month of rent by way of commission. The good news is that this means you needn’t pay the realtor or immo. The bad news is they will not do the housing search for you outside of their own portfolio, they simply have little incentive to do so.

To sum it up: you’ll need to go online and search for yourselves unless you enlist the help of a professional relocator, but as usual, good service comes at a price.

TOP TIP: Leuven is a small city so you can also look at the surrounding towns, such as Herent, Bierbeek, Bertem and Oud-Heverlee. They are more rural and you are more likely to find a house with a garden there for example, or larger properties.

HEADS UP: Immoweb and Zimmo are open to anybody paying for an ad, and not everybody has good intentions.  Avoid ads or offers asking for a deposit to send you keys from abroad (a common scam unfortunately).  Also, if something looks to good to be true… it usually is.

On top of the normal rental searching websites, there are also some facebook groups that can be helpful to either ask questions to other expats (about which neighborhoods are preferred for example) or to search available properties. The same heads up applies for facebook ads, watch out for scams. 

Rental contracts

In Belgium, there are two types of rental contracts, which regulate duration and termination requirements.

  1. Short term contract (< 3 years)
  2. Long term contract, often referred to as a 3-6-9 contract

A short-term contract may be renewed once, in writing and under the same conditions, without the total duration of the rental exceeding three years.

By law, the landlord cannot end this contract before the contractual end date.

The tenant can end the contract prematurely, but

  1. has to give 3 months’ notice (i.e. officially notifying your landlord of your intention to leave) AND,
  2. pay an early termination fee depending on when the contract is terminated:
    1. 1,5 months' rent if the rental contract ends during the first year, or
    2. 1 month rent during the second year, or
    3. 0,5 month’s rent during the third year. 

TOP TIP: Contrary to popular belief, even a short term contract doesn’t end automatically! If tenant nor landlord gives notice 3 months before the contractual end of the lease, it will be regarded as a lease of nine years. So mark that date in your agenda already when starting a lease – it’s easily forgotten.

The 9 year contract is a bit more flexible within certain parameters of course.  A tenant can always terminate the lease agreement, but again has to give 3 months’ notice.  Here also an indemnity has to be paid and once again the amount depends on when notice is given.  The indemnity is:

  1. 3 months’ rent when ending the contract in the first year, or
  2. 2 months’ rent when in the second year, or
  3. 1 month rent when in the third year

In the years afterwards no indemnity is due. The landlord can end the contract after 3, 6 or 9 years (and a few other well defined reasons) hence its common name “a 3-6-9 contract”

The model contract used by De Huurdersbond (the tenants’ association) is a good reference point as to what should and shouldn’t be in a rental contract. Model contracts are only available in Dutch, but machine translations work pretty well too (we used DeepL for the documents below):

  1. Model contract short-term (max 3 years) in Dutch and a machine translation in English
  2. Model contract long-term (3-6-9 years) in Dutch and a machine translation in English

Cost of Living

Some cost of living indicators for the Leuven region, although we would strongly advise to budget higher for things like rent and cost of utilities, especially since recent price increases have been rather steep.

More helpful info:

 

Good luck house-hunting!

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