Who are the largest owners of rental accommodation in Brussels?

Hugo Perilleux is a researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In 2023 he published the findings from in-depth research on land ownership patterns in Brussels. He was prompted to start the research by the increasing proportions of household income going towards rent in the city, where poor households allocate from 40 up to 60% of their income towards rent. He wanted to paint a clearer picture of who is benefitting from this rent, in order to inform policies that regulate the private market more effectively. 

Unlike other European cities such as those in the Netherlands, in Brussels the private market is only lightly regulated, and a small proportion of the housing stock is defined as social housing (approximately 7% of the total housing stock). 

As with other initiatives to increase transparency on land ownership in cities, gaining access to reliable data in Brussels is a challenge. As Hugo puts it, “even though access to and conditions of housing are a major issue, there is no reliable way in which to determine the number and location of residences” (page 96, translated from French original). Hugo’s dataset was based on a snapshot of the property register from 2015. To focus on rented housing, he made the presumption that a property/ies was rented if the owner was different to the person living at the address, or if there were several dwellings at the same address: while using this strategy overlooked certain circumstances – for example adult children living in their parent’s homes – given the data availability it was the best option for gaining an insight into the distribution of ownership. 

The main surprise to emerge from the research was the low concentration of ownership, with approximately 75% of rented homes being owned by people who only own between one and five homes: and across the individual owners, a broad mix of income levels were represented. The proportion of large companies’ land ownership was lower than Hugo had expected: with under three percent of homes owned by companies that own more than 20 homes. 

The research identified the ten largest private owners of buildings in Brussels, which collectively own under 0.5% of the city’s buildings. This situation differs starkly from a city such as Berlin for example (see page 100), where the largest ten companies own approximately 15% of rented units.

[Table on the next page]

As the table shows, the largest owners are: 

On the basis of his findings, Hugo recommends that in Brussels, measures to increase regulation of rented buildings and rent taxation should be broad-based rather than narrowly targeted to the largest land-owners, and that there should be greater investment in social housing in the city – for which 50,000 people are still on the waiting list. 

Regarding access to the data, reliable sources that enable comparison over time are important. The research looked at the situation on one date, for which data were available. Hugo writes (page 132): “To better track the dynamics of ownership, it would be necessary to analyse the same statistics on several dates (for example each 5 – 10 years), in a recurring way: to establish an “Observatory of ownership of rented properties”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *