Currently, student cities and higher education institutions have the autonomy to decide whether or not to introduce a student 'kotlabel' and to establish the specific conditions for this label. For instance, Leuven and Antwerp already have a student kotlabel, but it is not mandatory for all student accommodations.

This leads to a lack of uniformity in policy and does not ensure the transparency necessary for comparing student accommodations.

To address this issue, a decree has been proposed to establish a standardized kotlabel that all student cities can implement. However, municipalities still have the freedom to choose whether to adopt the 'kotlabel' or not. They are not obligated to do so, but if they decide to implement the 'kotlabel', they must enact an ordinance to that effect.

Kotlabel more uniform - Seeds of Law

1. Positioning

The primary aim of this decree is to introduce a uniform 'kotlabel' and enhance the quality of student accommodations from the outset.

For landlords, this entails adopting standardized quality standards for student housing, potentially leading to increased market transparency and easier comparison between different properties.

Moreover, the decree offers landlords the chance to target specific audiences within the regulated rental system. This targeted approach can result in a more efficient utilization of the rental market and attract suitable tenants.

2. Policies and objectives for student housing

The decree describes the main force lines of the 'kotlabel' as follows:

  1. A municipality may choose to award the Flemish 'kotlabel' to student housing, but this is not compulsory.

  2. The 'kotlabel' confirms compliance with the following standards:

    a. Housing quality standards, demonstrated by a compliance certificate, and any stricter standards imposed by the municipality, established by a certificate from the municipality.
    b. Fire safety standards, confirmed by a fire attestation or a certificate from a fire inspector appointed by the mayor.
    c. The number of licensed residential units according to the Flemish Zoning Code.

  3. Municipalities cannot impose additional requirements for the issuance or refusal of the kot label, as long as the standards in point 2 are met.

  4. A municipality may choose to make the 'kotlabel' compulsory on its territory.

  5. Apart from the Flemish 'kotlabel', a municipality may choose to check additional aspects, although these are not part of the 'kotlabel' itself. However, this can be done in an awareness-raising way.

The 'kotlabel', as outlined in the decree, aims to certify compliance with housing quality and fire safety standards, as well as other relevant regulations.

For landlords, this provides a clear framework for certifying their properties while meeting the expectations of potential tenants. In essence, thanks to the kot label, your property will automatically meet housing quality and fire safety standards, with the added assurance of licensed housing units.

Striving for uniformity and transparency benefits not only students but also landlords, as it fosters a level playing field. This helps prevent misunderstandings or disputes between landlords and tenants

3. The decree: the relevant articles

3.1 Making data publicly available

The Flemish Housing Code of 2021 already governs the public availability of (personal) data regarding housing quality monitoring procedures.

However, the Flemish 'kotlabel' has expanded upon this regulation in two key ways.

Firstly, the decree stipulates that certain data must be made publicly accessible: the location of the student accommodation, whether a 'kotlabel' has been awarded, and which criteria have been satisfied. For landlords, this translates to heightened transparency and increased visibility of their properties in the market. Prospective tenants can easily verify whether a specific kot possesses a 'kotlabel' and meets the requisite standards. Landlords in compliance will undoubtedly enjoy a competitive edge as a result.

Secondly, it authorizes the agency "Wonen in Vlaanderen" to share personal data with accredited inspection institutions. This empowers these institutions to effectively monitor the quality of their housing inspectors' work. For landlords, this means enhanced oversight and adherence to required standards. Additionally, it may contribute to an enhanced reputation for landlords who collaborate with reputable inspection bodies, potentially generating greater interest from prospective tenants in their properties.

3.2 The term "student housing" and the properties it refers to

The term 'student housing' is currently undefined in the Flemish Housing Code, but it is delineated in the Flemish Housing Code Decree. However, this definition is limited, as it solely pertains to a room rented to or made available for one or more students. Consequently, a student is defined as 'any person enrolled at an institution of higher education, attending classes there, and for whom that constitutes their main occupation.' Nevertheless, the verification of whether an individual attends classes is impractical.

Due to this limitation, an alternative simplified definition of 'student' is adopted: 'any person enrolled at an institution offering full-time education. Additionally, the definition of 'student accommodation' is broadened to encompass all types of housing, not just rooms. It now includes 'any accommodation rented out or made available for rent, or provided for the purpose of housing one or more students. Consequently, not only traditional student rooms but also student houses, studios, and flats are eligible for a 'kotlabel'.

Expanding the definition of 'student accommodation' to encompass all housing types presents new opportunities for landlords to cater to a broader range of tenants. The inclusion of student houses, studios, and flats under the 'kotlabel' scheme may consequently lead to increased demand for these housing options, alongside traditional room rentals.

Furthermore, there is a deliberate decision not to differentiate between large-scale residences of higher education institutions and other forms of student housing, in pursuit of uniformity.

3.3 'Kotlabel' and notification requirement?

The 'kotlabel' is not mandatory, but landlords of student accommodations are mandated to report their provision of such housing. The specifics of how and where this notification should be made are still being finalized by the Flemish government.

This reporting requirement is expected to enhance monitoring of the student housing supply, addressing the current lack of a comprehensive overview of demand and supply. It will enable landlords to better grasp demand dynamics and trends in the student housing market.

Furthermore, increased data sharing will facilitate the identification of properties designated as student accommodations and indicate whether information on the 'kotlabel' is available.

4. Can municipalities still introduce a similar system after the decree comes into force?

The decree explicitly states that municipalities will be prohibited from implementing a similar system once the uniform 'kotlabel' is enforced. Existing labels and operating licenses will remain valid, provided they were issued before the provisions related to the 'kotlabel' came into effect. However, municipalities will no longer be authorized to issue new labels thereafter. Any ordinances conflicting with the proposed scheme will be automatically repealed.

For landlords, this signifies long-term stability and consistent regulations, which can contribute to a more predictable rental market.

However, there is an exception for the city of Leuven, as it has already implemented the functionality of the 'kotlabel' in VLOK from 1 January 2024. 'Kotlabels' issued in Leuven between 1 January 2024 and the date of its regulation coming into force will be converted to a Flemish 'kotlabel'.

Please note that while certain articles of this decree will take effect on 19 April 2024, the implementation of the main articles has been indefinitely postponed. We will provide further updates on this matter

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Ulrike Beuselinck

Ulrike Beuselinck