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More protection needed for vulnerable tenants in private market, govt told

Unlike tenants in government housing, those from the low-income group who rent homes in the private market have not received pandemic aid.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
An aerial view of Kuala Lumpur, where rental can be especially high in the private market.
An aerial view of Kuala Lumpur, where rental can be especially high in the private market.

A researcher has urged the government to consider providing more protection for vulnerable renters in the private market, pointing to similar assistance provided to those in public housing throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

In March last year, for example, some 40,000 residents of People’s Housing Projects (PPRs) and public housing under the Kuala Lumpur City Hall were exempted from rental payments.

In September, meanwhile, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that the moratorium on rental payments for PPR residents under the purview of the housing and local government ministry would be extended until the end of 2022 in a move expected to benefit some 10,000 households.

But while those in the B40 or lower income bracket have received assistance under the various aid packages announced by the government throughout the pandemic, those renting property in the private market have a different story to tell.

This is despite many landlords being offered the benefit of a bulk moratorium on mortgage payments.

Other available facilities such as loan restructuring, overnight policy rate, and mediation through the Covid-19 Mediation Centre bring no direct benefit to tenants, either.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Ainoriza Mohd Aini of Universiti Malaya said the pandemic had caused uncertainty and confusion among tenants regarding the possible risks and the response on their part.

Ainoriza, who has conducted a study on vulnerable tenants in the private housing market around the Klang Valley, said her findings showed that 13.8% allocate more than 30% of their income for rental.

Some 19.2% meanwhile have begun using their savings to pay their rent while 24.4% have been forced to ask for help from their friends and family.

“Nearly half of the tenants in this study had met with their landlords to discuss rental,” she said.

“The majority of landlords still ask for payment in full and only a handful of tenants have been able to negotiate a reduction or deferment of rental payments.”

Others are afraid to approach their landlords for fear of being evicted or ignored in the event that repairs need to be made, she said.

About 24.4% are experiencing low levels of pressure to pay their rent while 49.6% are experiencing medium pressure and 26.6% are under high pressure.

“A third of the respondents have no formal rental agreement with their landlords, and some only have an oral agreement.

“These circumstances make tenants uneasy about asking for their rent to be reduced,” she said, adding that some have been evicted, although not many.

She suggested a set of guidelines on negotiations to provide a win-win situation for both tenants and landlords and to ensure stability in the housing market.

In the event of another health crisis such as Covid-19, she said, the government could introduce rental assistance for this group through the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA).

The RTA, scheduled for debate next year, will be enacted to protect the interests of both landlords and tenants.

Real estate lawyer Ahmad Ziadi Zaidon said several provisions of the current law can be used to protect tenants from being evicted, including the Contract Act 1950, Special Assistance Act 1950 and Distress Act 1951.

“I am more inclined to believe that the RTA should be more comprehensive in nature,” he said, adding that many are unaware of the law governing rental agreements. For others, the cost is too high and not worth the trouble of continuing mediation in the tribunal, he added.

Under the RTA, tenants can request that terms which protect their interests be included in their rental agreement.

“The landlord has the right not to include terms which would cause him or her losses,” Ziadi said.

Other problems include the cost of getting a good deal, or deals not meeting the legal requirements.

“The RTA is needed to fill this vacuum,” he said.

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