The student accommodation market in Belgium: opportunities, demand and the need for local knowledge

Written on 11 Mar 2016

Mainland Europe is recognised as an emerging market for the now well-established asset class of Student Accommodation. As we have discussed before, there are plenty of opportunities for those wishing to invest in it, but the devil is in the detail and local knowledge is essential. We set out some of that local knowledge below, with our focus on Belgium.

As a foreign investor, you probably won’t find much if you Google “student accommodation in Belgium”. Try “kot” instead. “Kot” is what Belgians call accommodation for students or young professionals.

Demand

The demand for kots is growing. In Brussels alone, around 90,000 students start or continue higher education every year. The ever-increasing requirement for quality and improved facilities in student accommodation means that existing stock is unlikely to satisfy that demand.

Belgium, in particular, attracts students that aspire to have an international career. Its location, easily accessible from many places, makes it an ideal conference and training venue for global companies whose clients and employees are based all over the world.

As elsewhere in Europe, demand is fuelled by economic conditions that encourage people to keep studying instead of entering the job market – and by the lifelong learning trend of recent years.

Current investment

Current investors in student accommodation projects in Belgium include, as an example, Belgian firm Quares Student Housing, which recently confirmed that it is seeking to increase the value of its unlisted student accommodation portfolio to 40 million EUR, through the development and letting of 500 units in Brussels.

Another example is the Belgian company Xior Student Housing, which has become one of the most important players in this market, with a real estate portfolio of 48 buildings (37 in Belgium and 11 in the Netherlands), with a value of 196 million EUR. The bulk of this value is attributable to the letting out of student accommodation for 12 month fixed terms.

Regulation

Foreign investors must take into account that in Belgium three tiers of regulation apply to these kinds of projects. Belgium is a federal country, with a legislative system in which the Federal state, regions and municipalities each have certain powers over the same locality.

Federal level; The Belgian Civil Code, the Regulation on Urban Waste Water Control and some other federal provisions concerning taxes are part of the common legislative framework that applies in every region and to every project.

Regional level; This is where the main differences can be found. There are three different Housing Codes, three different Acts on safety and sanitation and various tax regimes applicable to “cadastral income” figures (the notional annual rental figures assigned to every property in Belgium and used as a basis for regional property taxes). Which applies depends on where the project is located. We’ve set out a summary comparison of regulatory differences at regional level below.

Municipal level; In addition, towns have specific permit and tax requirements.

Summary comparison of
regional requirements for new build student accommodation

Flanders Brussels Wallonia
2 years town planning permit + 1 year extension, loses validity if: • Interruption of works > 2 years

• Non-completion of main structure within 3 years

• Interruption of works > 1 year • Non-completion of all works within 5 years
What rental licences are required? • Mandatory certificate of conformity with regulatory requirements (pre-condition of letting).
(valid for 10 years)

• Permit of exploitation (may be mandatory depending on town)

• Certificate of conformity with regulatory requirements (not mandatory but if obtained, can be helpful as evidence of compliance) (valid for 6 years) • Mandatory rental permit (valid for 5 years) – required unless the accommodation is also occupied by the landlord.

• Rental licence

Energy performance certificate (EPC) requirements • EPC in lease ads

• Provide EPC at lease signature

• EPC in lease ads

• Provide EPC at lease signature

• Mandatory EPC for works

• EPC in lease ads

• Provide EPC at lease signature and mention in the contract.

• Mandatory EPC required to obtain planning permit

• Separate report concerning compliance with requirements applicable to communal areas

Room requirements checklist • Not uninhabitable

• >12 sqm – unless kitchen or bath

• > 18 sqm studio apartments

• > 1 common area

• Kitchen > 6 sqm and >1,5 sqm per inhabitant – unless studio

• >1 toilet per 6 inhabitants

Inspections that may be carried out by or on behalf of regional or municipal authorities • Inspection to check compliance with regulatory requirements – may be required either following notification of an alleged breach or on random selection by the authority • Inspection to check whether the property complies with regulatory requirements – results in either a certificate of conformity with regulatory requirements, or notification of breach

• Monitoring by Regional Inspection Service

• Inspection to check compliance with regulatory requirements – may be required either following notification of an alleged breach or on random selection by the authority
Possible sanctions for breach of regulatory requirements • € 100 to € 10,000 fine

• EPC missing: € 500 to € 5,000 fine

• Order requiring compliance with the relevant regulatory requirement(s)

• € 3,000 to € 25,000 fine

• In case of breach discovered on inspection: prohibition on letting until Certificate of Conformity with all regulatory requirements obtained

• € 500 to € 50,000 fine

• 8 days to 1 year prison

• Administrative fine

• Rental licence withdrawal

• Mayor’s order prohibiting access

• Lease agreement void

Want to know more?

Please get in touch. If you are planning a project in
Belgium, we would be delighted to carry out a personalised assessment of legal
issues to consider for you.