NGOs hail ‘first step forward’ in rental reform

While welcoming several provisions of the residential rent reform Bill, NGOs propose amendments in contract registration, price-capping and utility bills

Photo: Micaela Parente/Unsplash
Photo: Micaela Parente/Unsplash

The Residential Leases Bill tabled in Parliament at the end of June, has been welcomed as the ‘first step forward’ by a coalition of NGOs active in the social field. 

“This Bill introduces a much-needed framework with basic rights and obligations on tenants and landlords, and is clearly the result of serious research work and a broad consultation process,” the NGOs stated. 

Despite hailing several provisions of the Bill, the NGOs said the bill still fails to address issues surrounding short-term contracts and increasing rent prices. 

The government tabled a bill in June, as it hopes to move closer towards regulating the rental housing market.

“The sudden and continuing hike in rent prices is pushing thousands of persons into precariousness, hitting hardest those on low and medium wages and pensions, as well as persons in vulnerable situations such as women experiencing domestic violence,” their statement read. 

The obligation on landlords to register contracts including inventory and money deposited, coupled with measures which tackle renting of property without a valid contract was seen favourably by the NGOs. 

The responsibility shouldered by the Housing Authority in taking under its wing private residential leases, related enforcement and a panel which would be deciding minor disputes was also acknowledged by the coalition. 

“We positively note that tenants will have the right to access utility bills, and that landlords will have to inform the tenant three months before contract expiry whether they intend to renew the lease or otherwise,” the NGOs added. 

The NGOs noted that while annual rent-price increases by pegging then to the Property Price Index will be capped at 5%, this regulation will only apply to contracts that are longer than one year. 

“Unreasonable rent increases, with no limit whatsoever, would still be allowed following the end of the contract period,” the NGOs said. 

The NGOs had proposed that the monthly rent to be paid in any new contract, irrespective of whether it is with the same or a different tenant, should not be higher than 10% of the last monthly rent paid under the previous contract.

Unreasonable increase in rent-prices following the expiry of contracts would therefore be prevented according to the NGOs.

The government has been coy on intervening on rent prices at the start of a contract, insisting it wanted to see how the market would respond to the new rules.

A Rent Value Index had been proposed by the NGOs in 2018, where the rent value in different areas and classes of property would be set, with a rule stating the initial price should not exceed 10% of the set price. 

The NGOs have also proposed amendments to certain articles in the regulation framework. 

The Bill allows for the obligatory one-year minimum contract to be exempted if proof is presented attesting that the lessee is a non-resident worker or student whose stay will not exceed six months, a resident who needs to rent an alternative primary residence for a period of less than six months and in the case of room rentals. 

The NGOs have suggested that the latter should be removed. 

“Tenants renting rooms should be afforded the same protection as those renting a whole unit,” the NGOs said. 

The second proposed amendment is that surrounding a thirty-day deadline for landlords to register the contract from commencement of the lease. 

The law doesn’t spell out that a contract should be in place for the first day, therefore when caught leasing without a contract, it would be very difficult for the authorities to dismantle claims that thirty days from the commencement of lease have not yet passed. 

“The Bill gives the right to the tenant to access their utility bills. The Bill should go further and establish a mechanism whereby the tenant has automatic access to their water and electricity bills,” the NGOs said. 

The NGOs will be presenting their reactions and proposals during the Bill’s discussion in the Parliamentary Committee prior to its enactment. 

“The coalition of NGOs will continue to push for a rent regulation framework that enhances stability and peace of mind for tenants and landlords, eliminates discrimination and which avoids situations of precariousness, always bearing in mind that adequate housing is a fundamental human right,” the NGOs stated. 

The coalition of NGOs includes: Alleanza Kontra il-Faqar, Aditus Foundation, African Media Association Malta, Forum Komunita’ Bormliża, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Koperattiva Kummerċ Ġust, Malta Gay Rights Movement, Malta Humanists Association, Malta Tenant Support, Mid-Dlam għad-Dawl, Moviment Graffitti, Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM), SOS Malta, Spark 15, The Critica Institute, The Millennium Chapel, Third World Group Malta, Women’s Rights Foundation, Żminijietna – Voice of the Left.

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