‘Anti-tenant’ rent rules reward abusive landlords, say NGOs

NGOs say rental law amendments are win for landlords and developers to raise rents without terminating rental lease

Amendments to Malta’s rental laws that intend limiting abusive overcrowding, could end up weakening the already precarious position of tenants and strengthen powerful landlords, 17 organisations have said.

The NGOs, which include Moviment Graffitti, tenants’ union Solidarjetà, aditus Foundation and Caritas Malta, said they were very concerned with amendments to the Private Residential Leases Act put forward by Government.

The organisations appealed for what they said were ‘anti-tenant proposals’ to be withdrawn and to instead move towards a more stable, regulated and just renting model.

“The 2020 law was a small step forward in regulating a rental market characterised by greed and abuse. However, while this legislation introduced very basic rules concerning contracts and their registration, it stopped short of mandating longer-term contracts and prohibiting abusive rent prices. Thus the rent market is still characterised by widespread precarity for tenants, most of whom are forced to renew contracts from one year to the next without any limits on price increases,” the organisations said.

The NGOs say the proposed amendments now will further weaken tenants’ position by prohibiting them from leaving the leased property during the last six months of their rent contract.

Currently, tenants can leave a property with a one-month notice period – during the last six months of a one-year contract – without suffering any damages. This gives tenants a modicum of flexibility in a situation where landlords hold the almost absolute power to decide the terms of the lease. For example, it allows tenants to find another property if they are unsure whether the contract will be renewed with a price they afford, as well as offers the possibility to leave properties with substandard conditions and abusive landlords.

But if the proposed amendments go through, tenants who leave the property at any point during the contract – even in the last six months - will lose their deposit and make themselves liable to legal action from the landlord for loss of income.

“This will completely tip the scales against the tenants and create a situation where – while landlords can practically do whatever they want – the minimal flexibility afforded to tenants is eliminated,” the NGOs said.

The proposed amendments include other provisions of concern such as one that will allow landlords to increase the rent price even when they forget to legally terminate a lease.

“We recognise that the social accommodation ministry has taken steps to improve the highly socially unjust situation characterising the property market, and has also been genuinely open to dialogue with an array of organisations. However, we are disappointed that the ministry has caved in to the strong pressures from the developers’ and landlords’ lobby, prioritising the maximisation of profits rather than social justice and wellbeing,” the NGOs said.