Times of Malta

Lessors and lessees: No room for hyperbole

- FRANCIS DARMANIN Francis Darmanin is a retired auditor.

Irefer to the article ‘The most pro-landlord country in Europe’ (March 28) by Matthew Attard, the president of Solidarjet­à. There are about 44 countries in Europe, and to reach his conclusion, the author would have had to carry out a detailed study on the rental legislatio­n of each of these countries, and their respective regions and sub-regions. Instead, he selected one measure from each of three countries: the UK, Spain, and the Netherland­s, and one from one city, Paris.

He failed to mention that in none of his three selected countries is a written contract even obligatory, let alone are lessors bound to register contracts.

In Paris, only leases exceeding 12 years’ duration require a written agreement.

Meanwhile, Maltese lessors are burdened with the unwanted obligation of registerin­g every contract (and amendments thereto, even minor ones) with associated costs, and penalties for noncomplia­nce.

One is tempted to ask, once Solidarjet­à activists believe local legislatio­n promotes lazy landlords, why don’t they put it to the Ministry for Housing that the onus of registrati­on, with all its constraint­s, difficulti­es encountere­d with the inconsiste­ncies of the Housing Authority and its platform, its administra­tive fees and penalties, fall on lessees themselves? I’d say thank you for that, and then let’s see who’s lazy.

I don’t believe Maltese stakeholde­rs need to look overseas to decide what’s best for the rental market to thrive in a fair and clear manner. In any case, cherry picking less

than a handful of measures from foreign legislatio­ns to impress readers can’t be the way forward.

I felt I had to check the veracity of at least one of his claims. I went for Spain. In Spain, there are two types of rental agreement, and not just the five-year agreement that he refers to as a model.

It’s also possible to enter a short-term rental agreement for a period of up to a year. In such an agreement the tenant has to vacate the property when the contract comes to an end.

If the lessee wishes to leave early, he may have to continue paying rent until the contract ends. Also missing from Attard’s article is that in a five-year lease the landlord typically includes a clause asking for one month’s rent for every year of the remaining contract if the lessee opts to vacate earlier. And the landlord may end the tenancy agreement if the tenant has not paid the monthly rent.

And here I refer readers to an article I came across in The Guardian last week where a lessee in Malaga, Spain, complains that lessors are not only demanding hefty deposits of up to €40,000, but also requesting fees of €200 merely to visit a property for rental.

So much for comparison­s. But there is more. Without giving even one solitary example, Attard claims that no-fault eviction in Malta is an easy matter. He convenient­ly lifts terminolog­y common in UK law and disingenuo­usly confuses the process of a lessee vacating a property at the end of a lease with that of eviction.

A no-fault eviction is an eviction in which the landlord does not need to provide a ground for eviction. In other words, a landlord can serve notice to a tenant without providing any reason for the eviction.

When a lessee has previously consented in writing to vacate on a date that has been previously agreed upon with the lessor and that has been registered with the Housing Authority according to law, it’s called a bilaterall­y binding agreement that has come to its end. It is not a “no-fault eviction”.

On the other hand, if a lessee does not vacate the premises on the agreed date, thus breaching the terms of the agreement, the Maltese lessor may be compelled to resort to the torturous process of eviction. In such a scenario the process of eviction is initiated by the lessor because there is a valid ground to do so, and the lessee is at fault – and it’s far from an easy process.

The author goes on to imply that landlords are greedy and abusive. Are landlords “greedy” because they strive to get the optimum return on their investment?

Likewise, are tenants greedy because they seek to negotiate the lowest possible price for a rental property? If a tenant requests a landlord to reduce the rent to €1,000 for an apartment that has been valued for rental purposes at €1,200, is it fair to say that the tenant is “greedy”?

Are landlords abusive? If so, are all landlords abusive? I think it stands to reason that as much as there may be abusive landlords there might also be abusive tenants. Ask landlords.

As much as there may be abusive landlords there might also be abusive tenants

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