Friday, May 13, 2022

‘Jabbed or not?’ Rental questions in the age of the pandemic

While the usual concerns before the pandemic would include citizenship and details about applicants' jobs, Covid-19 has changed all of that.

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When Hafizatun’s housemate tested positive for Covid-19, she and the three others who shared the house panicked as they were still unvaccinated.

She hoped for the best but luck was not on her side: just a few days later, she tested positive for the virus as well and was sent to a Covid-19 treatment and quarantine centre in Selangor.

Seven months later, one of her housemates contracted the virus yet again.

At that point, Hafizatun decided not to return to her rented house in Puchong. Instead, she went to stay with her parents at their home in Sepang.

“I wasn’t just afraid of Covid-19,” the 26-year-old told MalaysiaNow. “I understand that the virus is very contagious and can infect anyone. That is why I thought of my colleagues at work and the people around me.

“It is better for me to avoid going back to a house that I share with four or five others. What if I brought the virus with me from there and infected people at work who have young children? That would cause so much more trouble.”

Screening prospective housemates is a familiar process for many, especially those who move from their homes to the city in order to find work.

Pre-pandemic, the usual concerns would include whether applicants smoke, have pets, mind cleaning and cooking, throw wild parties and play noisy music late into the night.

With Covid-19 on the loose, though, the questions are now very different.

Where would-be housemates might once be asked about their citizenship or jobs, the first question on the lips of housing agents and household heads is now: “Are you vaccinated?”

Cynthia Lim, who has been a housing agent for eight years now, said she had received a wide range of reactions to the question, whether asked face-to-face, through the phone or by text message.

Most of the time, she said, applicants are happy to send screenshots of their vaccination status.

“But some have also gotten angry and accused me of being nosy,” she said.

“Others say I’m invading their privacy, even though in the end, this is all for the safety of the other housemates.”

Most of the people who contact her looking for a place to stay are university students and singles who do not know each other prior to being placed in the same house.

She has run into difficulty with people who travel for work and who do not bother undergoing self-quarantine or even sanitising their hands upon their return.

With students, she said, there are far fewer problems. Most of them spend the majority of their time at home, attending classes and lectures online.

“They usually try to rent a house with their classmates,” she said. “When they don’t have class, they just stay at home and order food online. They don’t move around a lot.”

As of March 20, 97.5% of adults had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 while 98.7% had received at least one dose of vaccine. Just under 66% have received a booster dose.

Management increasingly strict

An employee at an apartment management office in Cyberjaya said the staff had been told to comply with the request from unit owners for tenants to continuously update their vaccination status.

“If we don’t keep a record and go through things with a fine-toothed comb, the owners come to the office and scold us,” he told MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity.

“They say we’re being irresponsible towards the other occupants and are running the risk of starting a Covid-19 cluster here.

“Like it or not, anyone who rents using an agent must submit proof of vaccination, and we have to keep it in our records.”

Those who disagree are free to take their business elsewhere, he added.

“But I think most of the managements are doing this now.”

While some are reacting to the pandemic by tightening the rules, though, others say the most important thing is still whether the rental payments are made on time each month.

An agent in Kuala Lumpur told MalaysiaNow that punctual payments take precedence for him, given the economic slowdown in the wake of the various movement control orders which saw many sectors forced to shut for months on end.

“Vaccinated or not, I have to find people to rent these rooms,” he said.

“If they have good jobs and they can pay, I take them in. I need to eat and they need a roof over their heads. It doesn’t need to be complicated.”

Amelia Tan, a second-year student at LimKokWing University, is afraid of running any risks when it comes to renting.

For now, she has chosen to stay alone in an apartment unit near the university campus. This is a huge financial commitment but she believes she has made the best decision for the time being.

MalaysiaNow understands that the cheapest rate for studio units in the area is RM900 a month, not including parking.

“After the Covid numbers go down a bit, I will look for flatmates from among my friends and classmates,” Tan, from Kuantan, told MalaysiaNow.

“But for now, I think living alone is easier and safer.”

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