NGOs say proposed rent law amendments will ‘remove minimal safeguards’ for tenants

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 March, 2024 at 1:49 pm by Andre Camilleri

Several organisations have presented a list of proposed changes to a Bill which they said “seeks to remove the minimal existing safeguards” for tenants within the Private Residential Leases Act.

The joint document was sent to the Minister for Social and Affordable Accommodation, Roderick Galdes, and the Shadow Minister, Ivan Bartolo, ahead of the Parliamentary Consideration of Bills Committee meeting that will discuss Bill No. 87, on Wednesday 13 March at 2pm.

The counterproposals were authored by Solidarjetà, Moviment Graffitti and Malta Tenant Support, and have been endorsed by several organisations working within the social field.

The organisations said they are alarmed by proposed amendments that seek to weaken “the already vulnerable position of tenants in order to strengthen the power and quick profits of landlords. In this context, two of the four organisations’ proposals are: 1) The amendment seeking to extend the rent contracts’ registration period from ten days to 51 days (30 days for registration, and a further 21 days for rectification) be changed so that this period is shortened to 20 days. The amendment, as written down in the Bill, would leave many tenants unprotected for an excessively long period of time. Moreover, stronger measures are needed against those landlords who do not respect the very basic requirement of registering a contract. 2) The amendment to extend the di fermo period to the entire length of the rental contract should be scrapped. This would mean that the tenant will lose their deposit and be liable for the landlord’s loss of rental income if they were to exit the contract earlier – even during the last six months. This proposed amendment would effectively trap many tenants in rental contracts even when their relationship with the landlord has broken down or their circumstances have changed so that they could not afford the rent. The exemptions listed in the proposed amendments can never be exhaustive because life is unpredictable and cannot be pre prescribed. This is one of the few features of the current version of the Residential Leases Act that provides a small measure of flexibility and provides them with a means to withdraw from precarious contracts before the end of the contractual period.”

“If the Government’s anti-tenant amendments go through, these will exacerbate an already dire situation for the most vulnerable in society.”

Malta’s current rent law is one of the most anti-tenant laws in the European Union, they said. “For example, in Spain, rent contracts have a minimum duration of five years, with a six-month di fermo period. This means that, in Spain, tenants have a right to stay in the rented property for five years and can withdraw from the lease without penalty after six months. In Malta, the minimum lease duration is of a mere one year.”

With the proposed amendments, they said, “in addition to the precarity enforced by such short-term contracts, tenants would also be forced to stay for the duration of the whole period, losing the opportunity to find better properties or escaping abusive landlords. Most tenants cannot afford to lose their deposit or be held liable for the loss of the landlord’s rental income. In any case the state of Malta’s rental market is very much a landlord market and there is no shortage of tenants looking for a rental property.”

“The Government’s repeated succumbing to pressures from the developers’ and landlords’ lobby has led to an unregulated, unaffordable and highly abusive property market, something that is widening social inequalities and inflicting much suffering. Should the amendments in Bill No. 87 go through, this would once again show that Government’s loyalty lies with the profits of the few rather than with the common good. It is not too late to change direction.”

The counterproposals are endorsed by: Moviment Graffitti; Solidarjetà – Workers’ and tenants’ union; Malta Tenant Support; YMCA; OASI; Anti Poverty Forum – Malta; St Jeanne Antide Foundation; Żgħażagħ Ħaddiema Nsara (ŻĦN); Kunsill Nazzjonali taż-Żgħażagħ (KNZ); Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU); Żminijietna – Voice of the Left; Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar; Migrant Women Association Malta; Spark 15; African Media Association Malta; Dance Beyond Borders; University Students of Performing Arts (USPA); Association of Students of Commercial Studies (ASCS); Earth Systems Association; Malta Biochemistry Students’ Association (MBSA); Betapsi; Kollettiv Żgħażagħ EkoXellugin.

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