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Housing evictions in Brussels: how many, who and where?

Les expulsions de logement à Bruxelles : combien, qui et où ?
Uithuiszettingen in Brussel: hoeveel, wie en waar?
Pernelle Godart, Eva Swyngedouw, Mathieu Van Criekingen et Bas van Heur
Traduction de Jane Corrigan
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les expulsions de logement à Bruxelles : combien, qui et où ? [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Uithuiszettingen in Brussel: hoeveel, wie en waar?  [nl]

Résumés

Combien de ménages sont-ils expulsés de leur logement chaque année à Bruxelles ? Que sait-on du profil des locataires expulsés et des bailleurs ayant requis une expulsion ? Certaines parties de la ville sont-elles plus touchées que d’autres ? Alors qu’elles constituent un cas extrême de privation du droit au logement, les expulsions de logement à Bruxelles y sont encore très peu documentées. Cet article vise à pallier ce manque de connaissances en fournissant une photographie complète des expulsions judiciaires sur une année (2018) pour l’ensemble de la Région bruxelloise. Les résultats obtenus soulignent l’importance de questionner l’absence de production institutionnelle de données sur les expulsions de logement, dans une ville où la production et l’allocation des logements est largement dominée par des mécanismes de marché.

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Notes de la rédaction

In order to see the figures in a better resolution, go to the article online and click on “Original” below it.

Notes de l’auteur

This article is based on research conducted within the framework of the Bru-Home project - The prevalence and consequences of evictions for the housing precariat in Brussels, financed by Innoviris (Anticipate programme, 2019-2023), carried out by IGEAT (ULB) and Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research (VUB).

Texte intégral

Introduction 

1Along with situations of insalubrity, overcrowding and excessive rental charges, housing evictions are an important dimension of inadequate housing in contemporary cities. They have a major impact, above all at an individual level. In a recent survey on the consequences of eviction in France, the Abbé Pierre Foundation showed that one to three years after an eviction, one household in three still had no roof over their head and was still living in a precarious or temporary form of housing (with a third party, in a hotel, in a mobile home, at a campsite, in a squat) or on the street. The survey also showed that, following an eviction, 29 % of people were unable to continue working, 43 % of households with children faced difficulties in school, and 71 % of households suffered health or psychological problems [Portefaix and Rothhahn, 2022]. Evictions are also very costly for the community, in terms of mobilising the judicial and social welfare systems as well as in economic terms. In this regard, eviction prevention pilot projects in Austria and Germany have shown that € 1 spent on housing maintenance saves € 7 in emergency shelter and social integration costs [Kenna et al., 2016].

2However, very little is known about the reality of housing evictions, in terms of numbers and spatial distribution as well as in terms of the profiles and paths of the people concerned. Already at the beginning of the 2000s, two researchers referred to eviction as a “hidden housing problem” [Hartman and Robinson, 2003]. Although the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 drew a lot of media, political and academic attention to this issue on an international scale, there have been few publications regarding the situation in Belgium. For example, in 2015, two researchers noted the very limited knowledge available on the issue of housing evictions in Flanders, and pointed out that this lack of knowledge was even greater in the two other regions of the country [Verstraete and De Decker, 2015].

  • 1 For the Walloon region, the Institut wallon de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la statistique (...)
  • 2 Very recently, the Brussels government adopted a draft order introducing a winter moratorium on evi (...)

3It was not until 2019 that a report from the Observatoire de la Santé et du Social de Bruxelles-Capitale was published, providing an initial idea of the number of housing evictions in Brussels [Amerijckx et al., 2019]. However, this report shows above all the lack of official, reliable and centralised statistics and the difficulty to overcome it1. This lack of data questions the importance given to this issue in the public debate and contributes to the invisibility of housing evictions in Brussels2. However, inadequate housing is endemic in Brussels, particularly due to a growing gap between the available income of households and the cost of accessing or maintaining housing: the average rent on the private rental market increased by more than 80 % (excluding inflation) between the mid-1980s and the early 2020s [Périlleux and Marissal, 2021]. Similarly, the number of households which have applied for social housing continues to grow year after year, to the point where nearly 11 % of the population of the Region (i.e. nearly 51 000 households or 133 000 people) is now on the waiting list.

4This article is a response to this lack of knowledge on evictions in Brussels, and aims to contribute to a greater visibility of this issue among researchers as well as institutional and civil society stakeholders. In order to do this, we propose a well-thought-out, quantified and spatialised inventory of housing evictions in the Brussels-Capital Region. In the first section, we present the data collection strategy implemented for this purpose as well as our methodological choices. The second section presents and analyses the results obtained, in an attempt to answer several questions: How many evictions? Are some parts of the city more affected than others? What is known about the profile of evicted tenants and landlords who have called for an eviction?

1. Methodology

1.1. Defining evictions

  • 3 The term “occupant” here refers to households living in a dwelling without a lease agreement. It in (...)

5For the purposes of this study, we define an eviction as the process whereby a tenant or occupant household3 leaves their home under duress as a result of a decision made against them. This definition therefore excludes loss of housing due to an accident (e.g. a fire or a flood) as well as seizures of owner-occupied property for unpaid mortgages. It also emphasises the fact that an eviction is a process which includes a series of steps, marked by various procedures and involving various institutional stakeholders.

6In this sense, there are two main types of eviction, distinguished by the authority issuing the eviction order: an administrative eviction, which involves the decision of a mayor, and a judicial eviction, which involves the decision of a justice of the peace. Any eviction which takes place outside these procedures is illegal under Belgian law. These are also referred to as informal evictions, and are in essence very difficult to perceive and quantify.

7On the one hand, administrative eviction concerns housing whose condition threatens the safety of the occupants or public health. It follows an order of uninhabitability issued by a municipality or a decision of the Direction de l'Inspection régionale du Logement (DIRL). In both cases, the mayor is responsible for carrying out the eviction.

8On the other hand, judicial eviction concerns cases where a landlord has his property vacated by a tenant household which has failed to meet its contractual obligations (unpaid rent, deterioration of the property, failure to leave at the end of the lease, etc.) or by an occupant household which occupies the property outside a regulatory lease. It follows a judgment of eviction issued by the justice of the peace of the judicial district in which the dwelling in question is located.

9The remainder of this article focuses on the analysis of judicial evictions, whose numbers are much higher than those of administrative evictions (see below).

  • 4 The legal framework in this area is complex, as it intertwines federal and regional legislation: th (...)

10The judicial eviction procedure4 consists of several stages, four of which can be counted: the request to the justice of the peace (stage 1), the judgment authorising the eviction (stage 2), the notification of the judgment by a bailiff (stage 3) and the execution of the eviction (stage 4) (figure 1).

Figure 1. Diagram of the stages in the judicial eviction procedure

Figure 1. Diagram of the stages in the judicial eviction procedure

Note: this procedure varies slightly depending on the status of the occupation of the dwelling (traditional lease, precarious occupation agreement or unauthorised occupation) and the legal route taken (conciliation or judgment).

  • 5 The term “summons” is used instead of “request” in cases where the landlord has mandated a bailiff (...)
  • 6 An appeal against an eviction order may be lodged with the court of first instance, but in principl (...)

11In summary, a landlord wishing to evict a tenant (or an occupant) must first file a request with the competent justice of the peace (this is the legal claim for eviction, stage 1)5. The justice of the peace then calls the parties (tenant or occupant and landlord) to a hearing where they can defend their arguments. If the case is complex, the judge may schedule a second hearing in order to allow both parties to present new evidence. The final decision made by the judge is set out in a judgment which is sent to the parties by post (this is the eviction order, stage 2). In the event that the tenant does not leave the dwelling “of his own accord” following an eviction order, the landlord may enforce the order by appointing a bailiff. The latter must then notify the tenant that the eviction is going to take place, i.e. present the tenant with a notification of the judgment (stage 3), and then organise the eviction, i.e. set a date with the police, a locksmith, a removal company, agents from the municipal depot and, sometimes, agents from the CPAS. If the tenant leaves the dwelling and returns the keys to the bailiff before this date, the execution of the eviction is cancelled. Otherwise, the eviction is carried out by force (stage 4): at the scheduled date and time, the team put together by the bailiff goes to the dwelling to force the tenant to leave. If the tenant is present, he/she can provide the movers with a place to transport his/her belongings (pavement, municipal depot or other). If the tenant is absent, the dwelling is emptied, the lock is changed and the tenant's belongings are taken to the municipal depot6.

1.2. Counting the number of evictions

12No official public statistics on housing evictions exist in Brussels or in the two other regions of the country, either for the administrative or the judicial procedure. The multiple stakeholders involved at each stage of these procedures makes the production and centralisation of uniform data difficult and thus contributes to the invisibility of this issue.

13The Observatoire de la Santé et du Social de Bruxelles-Capitale [Amerijckx et al., 2019] estimates that in all likelihood, administrative evictions are very rare in Brussels. After a survey of the Brussels municipalities (only 6 responded to the survey), the Observatoire only recorded one administrative eviction during the period from 2013 to 2017. It is likely that this number is higher, yet the absence of a register of administrative evictions makes it impossible to confirm this.

  • 7 This report also notes that, with regard to the execution of evictions, the counts carried out by t (...)

14The Observatoire de la Santé et du Social has also counted the number of legal claims for eviction, based on figures collected from the Brussels CPAS. Due to the lack of a uniform and systematic approach to the encoding of these claims by the latter, this source does not allow a thorough count. However, it did allow rough estimates for 2017 of 5 000 legal claims for eviction (stage 1) and 1 200 organised evictions (stage 3). In addition, based on estimates made by the Chambre des huissiers (Chamber of Bailiffs), the Observatoire estimated the number of evictions carried out (stage 4) in the same year at about 600 [Amerijckx et al., 2019]7. Depending on the stage chosen for the count, the figure for evictions therefore varies very significantly, following a “funnel effect” pattern [Deprez et al., 2016].

15Our count focuses on an intermediate but crucial stage of the judicial eviction process, namely that of the judgment authorising the eviction (stage 2). This is the decisive stage in the procedure, as the eviction is no longer a virtual threat from this moment, but becomes a legally enforceable reality. For the tenants concerned, the countdown has now begun: if they do not find a solution for rehousing within the time limit set by the judgment, they will be evicted, willingly or not, along with their belongings. Thus, in all cases, the delivery of an eviction order implies a forced departure even if, in the end, the judgment is not carried out by a bailiff with the help of the forces of law and order. Moreover, most of the negative consequences mentioned in the introduction are already in effect: receiving an eviction order is a source of intense stress for the tenants concerned and, in the short term, there is a strong risk that they will find themselves in a temporary housing situation (emergency accommodation, staying with relatives or friends, etc) or in inadequate housing (squalid, too small, too expensive, etc), which exposes them to new risks of eviction and has an impact on the other aspects of their lives (work, school, health, etc). We therefore consider that an eviction order must in fact already be considered as an eviction, even if the circumstances of the latter are more dramatic in cases where the procedure goes as far as forced execution.

16In Brussels, eviction orders have never been counted systematically. It must be said that this work is particularly time-consuming, as these orders are only available at the registry of the justice of the peace in each judicial district (of which there are 19), in paper format and without a specific directory. For this study, we carried out a comprehensive inventory of eviction orders issued during an entire year (2018, with collection beginning in 2019), after obtaining permission from each justice of the peace to access archived records. The information contained in these orders (address of the dwelling, age and place of birth of the evictees, address of the landlord and terms of the eviction) was systematically collected, anonymised, cleaned (deletion of eviction orders concerning a garage, for example) and encoded in a database. These data collection and encoding tasks required nearly 1 000 hours of work.

2. How many, where, who and at whose request?

17This section presents the results obtained by processing our comprehensive list of eviction orders issued in Brussels in 2018. We explore four questions, with regard to the scale of the eviction issue in Brussels (how many?), the spatial distribution of evictions (where?), the profile of evicted tenants (who?) and the profile of landlords who have obtained an eviction order (at whose request?).

2.1. Every day in Brussels, 11 households receive an eviction order

  • 8 This rate is calculated on the basis of the number of occupied rented dwellings as indicated in the (...)
  • 9 These rates were calculated based on the number of court decisions ordering evictions in 2019 (data (...)

18In 2018, 3 908 judgments authorising an eviction were delivered by a justice of the peace in the Brussels-Capital Region. Relative to the number of dwellings available for rent, this number corresponds to an eviction rate of 13 ‰8. This means that for every 1 000 tenant households in Brussels, 13 received an eviction order in the course of 2018, which represents an average of almost 11 eviction orders issued every day of the year. For comparison, this rate is slightly higher than that calculated for the district of Lille (12 ‰) and significantly higher than that calculated for the city of Paris (8 ‰)9.

  • 10 However, according to the Observatoire de la santé et du social, this number of requests may be und (...)

19If we refer to the estimate of the Observatoire de la Santé et du Social of 5 000 claims for eviction brought annually to the justice of the peace [Amerijckx et al., 2019]10, we can conclude that nearly 80 % of these claims (stage 1) result in an eviction order (stage 2). Similarly, still based on the estimates of the Observatoire, we deduce that the number of eviction orders each year in Brussels results in an eviction executed by law enforcement officials (stage 4) in 15% of cases (3 908 compared to approximately 600). Considering only the evictions carried out by law enforcement officials greatly underestimates the extent of the problem, as the eviction order (or the announcement of its forthcoming execution, stage 3) is very often enough to force tenants to leave.

20In more than 8 out of 10 cases, the eviction orders issued by the justice of the peace are due to rent arrears, whose average amount is € 2 900 (Figure 2). A quarter of eviction orders are due to unpaid rent of less than € 2 000. Among the other reasons for eviction, the most recurrent is the failure to leave at the end (early or full term) of a lease or temporary occupation agreement (7 % of orders). The other reasons for eviction are marginal (neighbourhood disturbance, disturbance affecting use and enjoyment, damage, subletting, etc).

Figure 2. Eviction orders according to rent arrears for the Brussels Region in 2018

Figure 2. Eviction orders according to rent arrears for the Brussels Region in 2018

21Nevertheless, we must point out the fact that these results are limited due to the data source. The transcripts of eviction orders issued by a justice of the peace are usually not very detailed, merely providing a legal version of reality. However, as rent arrears are enough to justify an eviction, any other reasons which lead to an eviction order do not need to be taken into account. In addition, rent arrears may be the result of issues other than strictly financial ones. For example, an eviction for non-payment of rent may conceal the fact that the tenant voluntarily withheld a portion of the rent in order to get the landlord to carry out certain works on the property. But this strategy provides legal grounds for eviction. There will therefore be an eviction order as in any other case of rent arrears.

  • 11 Especially given that in the absence of the tenant at trial, the judge must grant all of the landlo (...)

22This is probably not a marginal situation as, in 60% of cases, the decision to evict is made despite the absence of the tenant (or a person representing him or her) at the hearing. This percentage raises the question as to the fairness of the judicial eviction process as, in the majority of cases, eviction orders are issued without taking the tenant's version of events into account11. In addition, tenants are represented by a lawyer only one time out of 10, while landlords are represented nearly 7 times out of 10. As it currently stands, the judicial eviction process thus reinforces the power imbalance inherent in the landlord/tenant relationship.

2.2. Housing evictions are not only a problem in working-class neighbourhoods

23Figure 3 shows the rate of housing evictions for the neighbourhoods in the Brussels-Capital Region. The size of the circles is proportional to the number of eviction orders issued for dwellings in each neighbourhood.

Figure 3. Number and rate of evictions according to neighbourhood

Figure 3. Number and rate of evictions according to neighbourhood

Number of judgments authorising an eviction in 2018 as a ratio of the number of dwellings available for rent in 2011.

Author: P. Godart, project Bru-Home (ULB & VUB), 2022.
Sources: eviction orders collected from the justices of the peace for 2018, Census 2011; IGN 2020, URBIS

24The map highlights a significant spatial disparity of evictions in Brussels, marked by a contrast between the eastern and south-eastern neighbourhoods of the city, with eviction rates below the regional average (1,3 %), and neighbourhoods located mainly in the west or north of the city where eviction rates exceed this average very regularly. Moreover, in some municipalities, the eviction rate varies significantly from one neighbourhood to another, notably in Uccle, Anderlecht and Schaerbeek.

25However, this geography does not strictly follow the socio-economic geography of the city. While the wealthy neighbourhoods in the south and east have the lowest eviction rates, the central working-class neighbourhoods have eviction rates which are sometimes higher (in Cureghem, Forest and Laeken, in particular) and sometimes lower (in Molenbeek, in particular) than the regional average.

26This result is confirmed by the existence of statistically significant (at a 95% confidence level) but nonetheless limited correlations between the eviction rate according to neighbourhood and several socio-economic indicators, including the proportion of job seekers, average taxable income per capita and the proportion of single mothers with children (Table 1).

Table 1. Correlation coefficients between the eviction rate and various socio-economic variables at neighbourhood level in the Brussels-Capital Region

Indicators according to neighbourhood

(source: IBSA)

Correlation coefficient with eviction rate

Proportion of job seekers in the population aged 18-64 (%) 2018

0,52

Proportion of North African population (%) 2018

0,48

Proportion of single mothers aged 20-49 with children (%) 2018

0,41

Proportion of people aged 0-17 in total population (%) 2018

0,37

Proportion of Sub-Saharan African population (%) 2018

0,30

Average monthly rent per dwelling (€) 2018

-0,37

Average living area per capita (m²) 2001

-0,43

Proportion of dwellings with basic comfort (%) 2001

-0,44

Average taxable income per capita (€) 2015

-0,49

  • 12 In order to verify this hypothesis, we need to know the number of requests submitted (stage 1 of th (...)

27In other words, the geography of housing evictions in Brussels overlaps with the social division of urban space in an imperfect manner, suggesting the influence of other factors. The eviction rates therefore appear to be slightly lower than the regional average in certain working-class neighbourhoods, particularly in the centre of Molenbeek and in the north district. Several hypotheses may be put forth here, including a possible effect related to the limits of the judicial districts, as the justices of the peace have a certain amount of room for manoeuvre in their practice (for example, when taking into account the condition of the rented housing and its compliance with the Brussels housing code)12. Another hypothesis concerns illegal evictions: they may be more frequent in certain parts of the city, resulting in less recourse to the judicial procedure for the same number of actual evictions.

28In addition, several neighbourhoods in the outer ring, in the south, west and north of the region, have higher than average eviction rates. It is interesting to note that these neighbourhoods are also destinations for households leaving central working-class neighbourhoods [Van Hamme et al., 2016]. This spatial concordance leads us to formulate another hypothesis: part of the evictions affect (relatively) precarious households which – by moving out of the central working-class neighbourhoods to less dense neighbourhoods in the outer ring, in the west or north of the Region – have put themselves in difficulty by renting better quality housing with high rental costs.

29It can also be noted that the eviction rate is correlated significantly with the average monthly rent per dwelling, but negatively. This statistical relationship at neighbourhood level suggests that households outside the most expensive segments of the rental market, which are inaccessible to households with limited incomes, are more at risk of eviction. Correlations with indicators of average surface area of housing per capita and of the proportion of housing with basic amenities confirm that evictions are more common in neighbourhoods with a high amount of low-quality housing. The review of eviction orders also shows that a rental dispute caused or aggravated by the poor condition of housing can lead to eviction.

30These analyses would benefit from further refinement, but the limited availability of data at neighbourhood level on housing conditions, costs and transactions in Brussels represents a heavy constraint.

2.3. Children and foreign-born persons appear to be numerous among those evicted

31The information available on households affected by an eviction order is fragmentary and the coverage of the data varies from one judicial district to another, reflecting diverse encoding (or non-encoding) practices throughout the Brussels-Capital Region. The main limitation is that this information relates to the person who signed the lease agreement, rather than to the individuals who actually occupy the dwelling. Therefore, in particular, the possible presence of children is omitted in eviction orders. Similarly, the slight overrepresentation of men (56 %) among those listed on eviction orders does not mean that there are proportionately more men than women who are evicted, as it is possible that this small difference is due to an overrepresentation of men among leaseholders. Note that this observation does not coincide with research in the United States, which indicates an overrepresentation of women among people who are evicted [Desmond, 2016; Hepburn et al., 2020].

32The eviction orders provide the year of birth of the tenants in almost three quarters (74 %) of the cases. These data indicate that nearly 60 % of those affected by an eviction order in 2018 were born between 1970 and 1989 (Figure 4). This means that they were between the ages of 28 and 49 at the time of the court hearing, i.e. in age groups where the likelihood of having dependent children is highest. Furthermore, the table of statistical correlations calculated at neighbourhood level (Tableau 1) shows a positive variation between the eviction rate and the proportion of 0-17 year-olds in the total population. The presence of many children among the evicted households is therefore highly likely. This observation is consistent with findings from the American studies showing that households with children are more affected by evictions [Desmond et al., 2013; Desmond, 2016].

Figure 4. Distribution of evicted persons according to year of birth
for the Brussels Region in 2018

Figure 4. Distribution of evicted persons according to year of birth for the Brussels Region in 2018

Notes: % calculated based on eviction orders from districts where the date of birth of the evicted tenant is known in more than 90 % of cases (i.e. 11 out of 19 districts, for a total of 3 007 evicted tenants).

  • 13 Source: Statbel. It would be more relevant to compare these figures with the proportion of foreign- (...)

33Eviction orders provide information on the country of birth of the tenants in less than half of cases (41 %), and this information is mentioned in more than 90 % of the eviction orders in only two judicial districts (Ixelles and Saint-Gilles). On the basis of these incomplete data, we note that approximately 70 % of the tenants affected by an eviction order were born abroad, 20 % of whom were born in a country in the European Union, 40 % in an African country and 10 % elsewhere. Foreign-born people are therefore clearly over-represented among those evicted, given that they represent 45 % of the total number of Brussels residents13. The existence of positive correlations at neighbourhood level between the eviction rate and the proportion of the population from North Africa (0,48) and Sub-Saharan Africa (0,30) further reinforces this finding (Table 1). Similarly, these findings are consistent with American observations, which show a greater frequency of evictions for ethnic minorities [Desmond, 2016; Hepburn et al., 2020].

34Finally, the civil status and occupation of the evicted tenants are only provided in an extremely small number of eviction orders (9 % and 7 %, respectively), thus preventing an analysis.

2.4. Evictions not only at the request of private landlords

35Finally, the eviction orders make it possible to determine the profile of the landlords who make claims to the justice of the peace. In 2018, more than 8 out of 10 housing evictions were at the request of private landlords, 67% of whom were individuals, and 14%, private companies (Table 2). The issue of housing evictions in Brussels is therefore above all a question of exclusion through market mechanisms.

Table 2. Number and rate of evictions according to type of landlord in the Brussels-Capital Region, figures for 2018

Landlords requesting eviction

Eviction orders

Eviction rate

(α/β)

Data used in the denominator for the calculation of the eviction rate (sources: Bruxelles-Logement, Perspective, Census 2011) (β)

Number (α)

%

natural person

2626

67%

1,3%

TOTAL - (A+B+C+D)

company

541

14%

AIS

123

3%

2,6%

AIS housing 2018 = A

SISP

433

11%

1,1%

social housing on 1/4/19 = B

property management agency (Region and municipalities)

85

2%

1,3%

regional housing on 1/1/17 + municipal housing on 31/12/18 = C

CPAS

93

2%

6,7%

CPAS housing 2018 = D

Total

3908

100%

1,3%

housing available for rent 2011 = TOTAL

36Nevertheless, sometimes (in 18 % of the cases), eviction orders are issued at the request of the Agence Immobilière Sociale (AIS) or public organisations, Société Immobilière de Service Public (SISP), Centre Public d’Action Sociale (CPAS) or the property management agency of the region or municipality. Among these, the SISP has a lower than average eviction rate, even though it houses only low-income populations, but the rent charged is significantly lower than in the private sector. On the other hand, both the AIS and the CPAS have higher eviction rates than the regional average, by a factor of 2 and 5 respectively.

  • 14 These figures come from a classification of Brussels households according to socio-economic deciles (...)
  • 15 See, in particular, the 16 October 2000 and 21 February 2018 circulars regarding the winter respite (...)
  • 16 Within the regional legal framework. The AIS has some room for manoeuvre and may decide on its own (...)

37The comparison of eviction rates by type of landlord should be qualified, however, as the populations of tenants concerned are not uniform. For example, the proportion of low-income tenants is 30 % for tenants in private housing, while it is 51 % for tenants in public or social housing14. On the other hand, the difference between the SISP, the AIS and the CPAS, which house people with relatively similar profiles and at rents which are significantly lower than market prices, is more striking. This can be explained in part by the composition of rental housing (more temporary housing for the CPAS) as well as by different rental management models. While the SISP has additional protection mechanisms against eviction (mediation in case of non-payment, obligation to rehouse in case of works, ban on physical evictions between 1 December and 15 March, etc)15, the AIS has none of these obligations16, although its model can lead to lease terminations and therefore forced departures in the case of repossession of property by its owner. A social housing rental through the SISP therefore appears to be the most protective situation as regards the risk of eviction. In addition, compared to other types of public or private landlord, eviction orders for SISP tenants are much more often accompanied by a suspension clause (36 % of cases compared to 15 % on average or 22 % for the AIS), i.e. the eviction can only be enforced if the payment plan for rent arrears established at the time of the order is not respected. Ultimately, these figures call into question the fairness of treatment between social and “social-like” tenants, and thereby challenge the idea that AIS housing is an equivalent substitute for social housing.

38Finally, with regard to evictions requested by private landlords (individuals or companies), it is interesting to note that 13 % of them live at the same address as the evicted tenant and 19 %, in the same municipality. Nearly one third of evictions are therefore obtained by landlords who live (very) close to the home of the evicted tenant. In contrast, more than a third (36 %) of evictions are obtained by landlords who do not live in Brussels. In geographical terms, the proximity between the evicting landlord and the evicted tenant is greater in the central neighbourhoods of the city, whereas evictions in neighbourhoods on the outskirts are more often requested by landlords who are more distant, i.e. who live in another municipality of Brussels or outside Brussels (Figure 5).

39By comparing these maps with the map showing the geography of eviction rates (Figure 3), we can see relatively low rates in central neighbourhoods where there is a high proportion of landlords who live near the place of eviction. This result leads us to hypothesise that the proximity between landlords and tenants might encourage forms of “amicable” settlement, thus avoiding evictions, or the use of alternative strategies by the landlord to force the tenant to leave without going to court. Being a landlord who lives in the rental property implies a less affluent profile and therefore perhaps a greater willingness to find solutions which avoid the costs of legal proceedings. Unfortunately, the lack of available official data on property in Brussels prevents us from bringing these results into perspective.

Figure 5. Spatial distribution of evictions according to the place of residence of the landlord who requested the eviction, Brussels-Capital Region, 2018

Figure 5. Spatial distribution of evictions according to the place of residence of the landlord who requested the eviction, Brussels-Capital Region, 2018

These maps only include evictions requested by private landlords (individuals and private companies). In the case of multiple landlords, the closest one has been chosen.

Author: P. Godart, project Bru-Home (ULB & VUB), 2022
Sources: eviction orders collected from the justices of the peace for 2018, IGN (2020), URBIS

Conclusions

  • 17 In the United States, the Milwaukee Area Renters Study estimated that for every one eviction carrie (...)

40Housing evictions are far from being anecdotal events in Brussels: approximately 13 out of every 1 000 tenant households received an eviction order in 2018, the year used for the count which this analysis was based on, in the first study of its kind in the Brussels-Capital Region. This rate equates to an average of 11 eviction orders being issued each day of the year. However, this represents only one part of the evictions, to which must be added administrative evictions (which are few in number but for which no official count is available) and informal evictions, which are by nature very difficult to quantify17.

41The vast majority of these judicial evictions concern privately rented housing (81 %) and are justified by rent arrears (86 %) of a median amount of € 2 900. Although the profiles of the evicted households are not well known, it seems very likely that many children and foreign-born persons are among them. Moreover, the spatial distribution of these evicted households indicates an increased prevalence of the problem in the working-class neighbourhoods of the city centre – although an internal disparity exists, which remains difficult to interpret – as well as in many of the neighbourhoods of the outer ring which are neither working-class nor affluent. Affluent neighbourhoods in the south and east of the region have the lowest eviction rates.

42These observations lead us to underline the structural dimension of housing evictions in Brussels: for a large part of the population, the root cause of these evictions is not so much unpaid rent as unaffordable rent. On the one hand, the burden of rents which are too high in relation to available income suffocates many households financially, to the point of being evicted for unpaid rent. On the other hand, this same burden of high rents makes it difficult for households to leave their homes for other reasons, such as family or work, to the point where some have nowhere else to go given their situation. Excessive rents can thus be the source of evictions for non-departure at the end or termination of a lease.

43In this perspective, it seems essential to us to consider housing evictions not as an individual issue related to “bad tenants” or “unscrupulous landlords”, but as a deeply systemic and therefore political issue. According to American sociologist Matthew Desmond, author of a highly acclaimed study in Milwaukee [Desmond, 2016], housing evictions are intimately linked to the commodification of housing and the insecurity of the working classes. In other words, the system of housing production and allocation is at the root of inadequate housing, of which evictions are one of the most extreme outcomes on a personal level.

44In Brussels, this system is dominated by market logic with very little public regulation (except for the duration of a lease), thus leaving landlords with a great deal of leeway in setting prices. Landlords are thus encouraged to maximise their rental profits while many tenants are forced to pay high rents until they can no longer afford to pay. In this system, except in a minority of cases in which a landlord requests an eviction in order to occupy the property him/herself, eviction is the legal tool which guarantees the lucrative function of a property, allowing a landlord to get rid of a tenant legally when he/she is unable to pay the fixed rent.

45Moreover, households in difficulty on the Brussels housing market have very few possibilities to find housing elsewhere, due to the lack of social housing supply which meets their needs. In addition, temporary housing for evicted households is in very short supply in the Brussels-Capital Region (i.e. only 517 units; source: Bruxelles Logement) and must also meet the demands of other situations of inadequate housing (protection of abused people, reintegration of prisoners, etc). Without the possibility of non-market housing, these households are forced to occupy housing which is unsuitable for their family and financial situation, thus exposing themselves to new risks of eviction.

46The lack of regulation restricting the market logic which dominates the housing production and allocation system in Brussels is still reflected in the scarcity of data on housing evictions. The study which this article is based on is the first to have conducted a comprehensive count of the number of housing eviction orders in Brussels for a single year. A project for the development of a monitoring system on evictions is currently in the hands of the Brussels government. We feel that its implementation is essential in order to give more visibility to the issue of housing evictions in Brussels, have a better understanding of the different dimensions and allow it to be monitored over time. However welcome it may be, the quantitative monitoring of housing evictions does not erase the social destructiveness inherent in the eviction process. In order to reduce the number of evictions, it is necessary to intervene in the structures of housing production and allocation, and reduce the domination of a profit-making approach.

We would like to express our warm thanks to all of the people who collaborated on our study: Isaline Wertz, Julien Descamps, Chaïma Bakkali Tahiri, Larissa Pâques, Lina Achour, Pierre Marissal, all of the judges and clerks of the Brussels justices of the peace, as well as all of the people who shared their experiences regarding housing evictions with us.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1 For the Walloon region, the Institut wallon de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la statistique (IWEPS) established initial estimates in 2016 while also regretting the absence of official statistics [Deprez et al., 2016].

2 Very recently, the Brussels government adopted a draft order introducing a winter moratorium on evictions for the entire public and private housing stock, with a compensation mechanism for the landlords concerned. This moratorium is expected to be in effect from the winter of 2023-2024. The draft order also provides for the establishment of a monitoring system on judicial evictions managed by Bruxelles Logement.

3 The term “occupant” here refers to households living in a dwelling without a lease agreement. It includes households which remained in the dwelling after a termination of their lease, households with a precarious occupancy agreement and households occupying a dwelling without any prior contractual relationship.

4 The legal framework in this area is complex, as it intertwines federal and regional legislation: the eviction procedure is described mainly by the Federal Judicial Code (articles 1344bis to 1344septies), yet the Brussels Housing Code governs residential leases (and therefore the conditions for terminating them).

5 The term “summons” is used instead of “request” in cases where the landlord has mandated a bailiff to do so on his behalf.

6 An appeal against an eviction order may be lodged with the court of first instance, but in principle, this appeal does not suspend the execution of the order.

7 This report also notes that, with regard to the execution of evictions, the counts carried out by the CPAS, the police districts, the municipalities and the bailiffs rarely tally.

8 This rate is calculated on the basis of the number of occupied rented dwellings as indicated in the 2011 census. These are the most recent data available.

9 These rates were calculated based on the number of court decisions ordering evictions in 2019 (data provided by the Fondation Abbé Pierre).

10 However, according to the Observatoire de la santé et du social, this number of requests may be underestimated.

11 Especially given that in the absence of the tenant at trial, the judge must grant all of the landlord's claims, unless they are contrary to public policy (Potpourri I law, effective 2015). On the other hand, if the requesting party – the landlord in 98 % of cases – is not present, the case is not processed.

12 In order to verify this hypothesis, we need to know the number of requests submitted (stage 1 of the procedure) for each district, but this information is not available to us.

13 Source: Statbel. It would be more relevant to compare these figures with the proportion of foreign-born Brussels tenants, but this information is not available.

14 These figures come from a classification of Brussels households according to socio-economic deciles, established at Belgian level on the basis of an indicator incorporating income deciles, levels of education and housing assets for 2001. Source: DGSEI, ULB-IGEAT calculations.

15 See, in particular, the 16 October 2000 and 21 February 2018 circulars regarding the winter respite for public housing.

16 Within the regional legal framework. The AIS has some room for manoeuvre and may decide on its own to develop eviction prevention mechanisms.

17 In the United States, the Milwaukee Area Renters Study estimated that for every one eviction carried out through the court system, two more take place outside the court's jurisdiction, without a regular procedure [Desmond, 2016: 432].

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Diagram of the stages in the judicial eviction procedure
Légende Note: this procedure varies slightly depending on the status of the occupation of the dwelling (traditional lease, precarious occupation agreement or unauthorised occupation) and the legal route taken (conciliation or judgment).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/6513/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 46k
Titre Figure 2. Eviction orders according to rent arrears for the Brussels Region in 2018
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/6513/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 68k
Titre Figure 3. Number and rate of evictions according to neighbourhood
Légende Number of judgments authorising an eviction in 2018 as a ratio of the number of dwellings available for rent in 2011.
Crédits Author: P. Godart, project Bru-Home (ULB & VUB), 2022.Sources: eviction orders collected from the justices of the peace for 2018, Census 2011; IGN 2020, URBIS
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/6513/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 546k
Titre Figure 4. Distribution of evicted persons according to year of birth for the Brussels Region in 2018
Légende Notes: % calculated based on eviction orders from districts where the date of birth of the evicted tenant is known in more than 90 % of cases (i.e. 11 out of 19 districts, for a total of 3 007 evicted tenants).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/6513/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 28k
Titre Figure 5. Spatial distribution of evictions according to the place of residence of the landlord who requested the eviction, Brussels-Capital Region, 2018
Légende These maps only include evictions requested by private landlords (individuals and private companies). In the case of multiple landlords, the closest one has been chosen.
Crédits Author: P. Godart, project Bru-Home (ULB & VUB), 2022Sources: eviction orders collected from the justices of the peace for 2018, IGN (2020), URBIS
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/6513/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 850k
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Référence électronique

Pernelle Godart, Eva Swyngedouw, Mathieu Van Criekingen et Bas van Heur, « Housing evictions in Brussels: how many, who and where? »Brussels Studies [En ligne], Collection générale, n° 176, mis en ligne le 12 février 2023, consulté le 19 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/6513 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/brussels.6513

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Auteurs

Pernelle Godart

Pernelle Godart is a researcher in human geography at IGEAT-ULB. After working on the issues of shopkeepers and trade logistics, her work is now centred on housing and poverty issues in the Brussels Region. She has also worked on housing issues at CEHD (Centre d’Etudes en Habitat Durable, Wallonia).
pernelle.godart[at]ulb.be

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Eva Swyngedouw

Eva Swyngedouw is a postdoctoral researcher at Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and a visiting lecturer in urban sociology at Université Libre de Bruxelles. She conducts research and has published on the prevalence and consequences of housing evictions, the diversity of work in the creative and cultural industries, citizenship-making practices in newcomer reception offices, and hybrid identity formation among Congolese migrants in Brussels.
eva.swyngedouw[at]vub.be

Mathieu Van Criekingen

Mathieu Van Criekingen is a teacher/researcher in geography and urban studies at IGEAT - ULB. His research in the field of critical urban studies focuses on the spatial workings of social domination and the forms of resistance to them in working-class neighbourhoods. In this context, he is interested in particular in gentrification processes and policies.
mathieu.van.criekingen[at]ulb.be

Bas van Heur

Bas van Heur is a professor of urban studies at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, director of the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies and programme director of the Erasmus Mundus MSc 4Cities as well as the VUB-ULB MSc in urban studies. He is interested in collective forms of organisation and the capacity of civic stakeholders to develop public knowledge about the city. He conducts research and has published on the arts and cultural industries, arrival infrastructures and migration and urban theory.
bas.van.heur[at]vub.be

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