Malta Houses

Introducing alternative housing solutions, promoting landlord insurance and developing blacklists of abusive landlords and tenants are among a list of ideas that could be explored by Malta’s authorities to professionalise the property market.

This newsroom caught up with Brian Micallef, head of policy at the Housing Authority, to better understand what alternative housing solutions could be explored for Malta, what is it that industry stakeholders should take note of and what impact a changing demographic is having on housing access.

Sharing his personal views, he explained that there are lessons to be learnt from the experience of other counties.

“In the UK they have so-called ‘houses in multiple occupation’ (HMO). These properties typically require a a license to operate and to abide by health and safety regulations to ensure the safety of the tenants,” explained Dr Micallef.

The UK Government describes HMOs as properties rented out to several tenants who are not of the same family. When five or more tenants from more than one household occupy a property then a licence is needed, and the respective council has to conduct a risk assessment of the property.

“But more broadly, we must be aware that the demand for housing is changing and that the supply of housing must adapt as well.”

He explained that the rent reform undertaken in 2020 was crucial to introduce basic standards and professionalism in the market.

“Among the key features were the mandatory registration of contracts and an adjudicating panel to settle minor disputes between landlords and tenants in a swift manner,” added Dr Micallef.

One benefit of the register is that it provided the Housing Authority with data which it could use to analyse market trends.

In a post on LinkedIn, he had highlighted the growing share of third-country nationals in Malta, adding that not only they tended to co-share housing and stay in overcrowded accommodation, but they also faced discrimination.

He acknowledged that several studies conducted locally and internationally indicate that certain ethnic minorities face discrimination which could lead to segregation and over-crowing.

However, it was not the only relevant factor leading to co-sharing and over-crowing.

“We must keep in mind that these workers might have different preferences for work and leisure. Most of these individuals send remittances to help their families back home. To save for these remittances, they might be willing to reside in relatively overcrowded accommodation in order to lower their rental costs,” he explained.

Commenting further on the property market he said, “while St Paul’s Bay remains by far the most popular locality for the registration of rental contracts, in 2022 there were more than 10 other localities that were hosts to more than 1,000 registered contracts.”

“This is why it is important to ensure that some minimum level of standard is maintained. In this way, not only we will safeguard the well-being of these workers but also minimise the complaints from neighbours residing close by.”

As to what industry stakeholders should take note of in regard to the effect of changing demographics, he stated that, “this is a national issue and all stakeholders – from regulators, developers, estate agents, landlords and tenant associations – must do their part to make sure that the sector continues to thrive but also to eliminate abuses.”

In light of a changing demographic profile, he suggested that some estate agents might see a business’s opportunity in facilitating the matching between landlords and tenants at a room level.

“We can also adopt good practices from other countries. One example could be the use of reference letters. Landlords could also be encouraged to get a landlord insurance policy to safeguard their properties, rental income and any legal liabilities following accidents.”

He also gave the example of a blacklist that would list abusing landlords and tenants.

“In general, any measures to continue to professionalise the sector should be encouraged,” concluded Dr Micallef.

Note: views expressed by Brian Micallef should not be interpreted to reflect the views of the Housing Authority.

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