News – Are you looking for a tenant? You can choose, but do not discriminate
In the capacity of landlord, you can choose from among the different prospective tenants who put themselves forward. But this must not be discriminatory. If you do discriminate, you risk criminal sanctions as well as other consequences.
As the owner, you have the choice over who rents your house or flat. In principle, if there are several applicants, you can choose from among them. You normally should not have to justify your choice.
You can base your choice on objective and relevant factors. Thus, you can take into account the financial capacity of the prospective tenants to pay the rent, for example. You can also refuse to let a private house to someone who wishes to undertake a commercial activity on the premises. However, your choices are not unlimited. Here are the criteria by which you cannot differentiate the applicants.
When is there discrimination? There is discrimination when certain applicants are considered less favourably than others while they are in the same circumstances, unless you have a justification for doing so. According to the law, discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, civil status, birth, wealth, religion or beliefs, political convictions, current or future state of health, a handicap, a physical or genetic characteristic, social background, nationality, so-called race, colour, national or ethnic ancestry or origin, language and sex is prohibited.
The fact that you cannot discriminate against applicants on these grounds in no way means that you are obliged to accept these applicants. All that you have to do is treat these applicants in the same way that you treat the others.
Some examples For example, there is discrimination when it is indicated in an advertisement concerning the letting of the property that you will not let the property to persons of foreign nationality. This also holds true if you refuse to show the property to someone who is handicapped, for example, or if you increase the quoted price when you realise that someone does not speak Flemish when he or she calls to ask you questions about the rental property. In a recent court ruling, an owner was convicted because he had required the applicants to have a permanent job and a net income of at least 2,000 euros per month. In fact, this was also discriminating against other applicants who were also able to pay the rent but did so, for example, by means of welfare payments.
However, this does not mean that you should never take into account the age, disability, etc. of an applicant. You can do so if it is objectively relevant for the property that you are letting. Thus, you can refuse to let to a younger person if your flat is located in a building where only elderly persons live.
Sanctions If you do discriminate against an applicant and, in the end, you do not sign a contract with that applicant, he or she can lodge a complaint about your questions. Moreover, you eventually incur a criminal sanction. This is also valid if, for example, you appeal to an estate agent to let your house and ask them to be discriminating in their search for a prospective tenant.
Can you take income into account? You are authorised to take into account the income of prospective tenants. Indeed, you need to know whether the applicant will be in a position to pay the monthly rent and fulfil their other obligations as a tenant. However, there can be discrimination in this area, particularly if you do not take into account that the income is tied to a job (and not to a sickness benefit or a benefit for a person with a handicap, for example) You can find more information on this subject in the following pamphlet: click here to download it in French. (Source: www.diversite.be)
Jan Roodhooft, lawyer (www.ra-advocaten.be)
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