Second residents in Belgium : how many are we actually with?

As far as we know, nobody knows the number of second homes in Belgium. For the Flemish Region, the Study Service of the Flemish Government mapped out the number of second homes in the Flemish Region for the last time in 2016. The study distinguishes between second homes in private camping sites and holiday parks, and second homes in open residential zones (houses and apartments).

The authors of the study counted for the first category (second stays in campsites, etc.) in the whole of Flanders 53.262 second stays or (at that time) or 1.7% of all residences. The highest number of second homes in residential parks was of course found on the coast and more specifically in Middelkerke, De Haan and Bredene, where between 6.000 and 7.000 second homes of this type were counted. This was followed by Koksijde with more than 2.000 of these second residences. Nieuwpoort, Knokke-Heist and De Panne followed with between 700 and 735. Eight non-coastal municipalities also had between 700 and 1.000 second homes on holiday parks, namely Kasterlee, Lille, Berlare, Herselt and Lanaken, Bocholt, Stekene and Maaseik.

For the second category – second residences in ordinary buildings, i.e. houses and apartments – the authors counted (after numerous corrections, e.g. to exclude student rooms)161.647 second residences in absolute figures for the entire Flemish Region. At 18.000, Knokke-Heist had the highest number of second homes in ordinary buildings, i.e. houses or apartments. Also in Koksijde and Middelkerke the 2016 study counted about 12.000 “ordinary” second homes, in Ostend more than 10,000. In the other coastal municipalities their number fluctuated between 5.700 and 7.600. At that time Bredene was just out of the top fifteen with 1.056 second homes in ordinary buildings. In addition to the coast, the authors also discovered large absolute numbers of second homes in a few cities: Antwerp came top with almost 18.000; Ghent, Bruges, Kortrijk, Hasselt and Mechelen followed with between 2.400 and 6.000 second residences. The fact that these cities are on this list is partly due to the fact that people living in Antwerp or other Flemish cities register their domicile in Knokke-Heist or another coastal municipality (e.g. incited by the favourable local tax regime for “official” permanent residents).

For the complete study (in Dutch): click here. We do not know whether a similar study has ever been carried out for the Walloon or Brussels Capital Region.

Access to second homes in Germany during the corona lock-down

The measures taken in Germany to combat the coronavirus were not, from the outset, aimed at a general ban on access to second homes. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were different rules for second homes depending on the Land. There were recommendations, and in some regions citizens who did not have their main residence in the Land of their second home were initially prohibited from crossing the Land border and visiting their second home.

This changed rapidly after the administrative courts in some Länder lifted or suspended the ban on the use of second homes. The courts found the ban on travelling to the second residence to be disproportionate and thus illegal. The governments of the Länder concerned responded by amending their regulations without delay.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Berlin/Brandenburg: following a decision of the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg in March, a spokesman for the Brandenburg Ministry of the Interior clearly stated: “Anyone who owns a holiday home or apartment in Brandenburg may, of course, use it themselves”.
  • Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a very touristy Land on the German Baltic Sea coast: after a ruling of the High Court of Greifswald on 9 April 2020, which lifted the travel ban for the local population, the state government decided on 17 April 2020 that anyone living in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania may visit any place there, including a second home on the coast and on the Baltic Sea islands.
  • Some Länder in Germany, such as Bavaria, also a Land with very attractive and popular tourist regions, as well as Saxony-Anhalt and North Rhine-Westphalia, have at no time forbidden the private use of second homes.

Conclusion: In Germany, during the corona crisis, second-home owners were not ultimately prevented from using their property, even if it was in another Land.

Lock-down and second stays in France: a different approach from the very strict ban in Belgium

In the afternoon of Tuesday 17 March, France, like most other countries in Europe around the same period, went into lock-down. Only a few movements were allowed and only on the basis of a certificate. In the absence of proof, our French neighbours risked a fine of 135 euros. Contrary to what we saw in Belgium, spending the lock-down in a second stay was not forbidden. People who were in their second residence on 17 March at noon were allowed to stay there.

However, it was absolutely forbidden to shuttle back and forth between the second residence and the main residence. As in Belgium, the presence of the owners in their second residence caused some commotion among part of the local population. In an interview with Paris-Match anthropologist Jean-Didier Urbain gave some interesting comments on what happened in France.

Click here to read the interview (in French).

How do I find a trustworthy syndic?

Many second homes, especially on the Belgian Coast, are apartments in apartment buildings. Owners of these apartments – permanent residents, non-permanent residents and landlords – are then in a relationship of forced co-ownership and together form an association of co-owners.

More than once, the co-owners complain about a lack of transparency on the part of the property manager (the “syndic”). The property management agency refuses to submit the invoices on which its accounts are based, the property management agency acts in concert with the building promoter, the property management agency sets up a commission for the appointment of contractors,…’. It’s just a few recurring complaints. Unfortunately, there are also stories of syndicates plundering the accounts of the co-owners. A recent example (reported by a Flemish newspaper) can be read here (in Dutch).

Unfortunately, there are no lists of ‘trustworthy’ syndics. One can of course turn to other associations of co-owners to find out about their experiences. Since 2018, associations of co-owners must register in theCrossroads Bank for Enterprises who they have appointed as syndic.

One of the objectives of TWERES is to facilitate this exchange of experience with property management agencies (e.g. by collecting quality assessments).