Real estate agents largely agree with a limit on the number of persons who may live in a rental property, announced by Housing Minister Roderick Galdes on Friday.
The new rule follows multiple reports of properties hosting 10 people or more as landlords seek to maximise their income by adding beds to their property and renting the place out on a per-bed basis. The six-person limit also brings rental law in line with current planning legislation.
The Housing Authority will also now be empowered to issue fines up to €2,329 to landlords who fail to comply with its rules.
CEO of Alliance Real Estate Michael Bonello says he “agrees very much” with the new rules: “There’s been far too much abuse,” he says. “Everyone got a bunch of beds, or even bunk beds, to stuff as many people as possible into their property, each paying some €250 per month. So this change was needed – I agree all the way. It simply makes sense.”
However, Mr Bonello continues, the practice, albeit abusive, reflects a lacuna in the local rental market. He argues that current planning policies stipulating that no more than 20 per cent of a building can be allocated to one-bedroom properties means that there is a severe shortage of such apartments.
This limit is waived for certain areas, like Msida, deemed to have potential for student housing, but the veteran property consultant questions why others who want to live by themselves, including many professionals, should be forced to go and live with students.
“We need to think ahead and allow more one-bedroom properties to be built. They should be smaller too – 35sqm is enough for a comfortable living space, especially if it’s a studio apartment.”
He continues: “What we must acknowledge is that the current market puts one-bedroom properties, and thus the potential for a single person to live on their own, out of reach for most people. They simply don’t afford to pay €700 to €900 on their own. But that price is a result of planning and zoning policies, not greed.”
Duncan Caruana, a real estate agent working with BenEstates, believes that the six-person limit may lead rental prices to increase, as those previously staying at properties hosting a large number of tenants will be forced to move out and seek alternative accommodation.
“As with any other reform, there’s the good and the bad. Overall, I think that having certain restrictions is a sensible move. Certainly, some abuse will remain – but at least, it will decrease.”
Branch manager at Dhalia Marsaskala Konrad Sultana similarly believes that the implementation of such regulation “has been overdue for quite some time.”
“It was high time to rein in this chaos,” he says. “While flat owners were raking in substantial profits, it was becoming a source of numerous issues for homeowners residing in the same blocks and neighbourhoods.”
Saying that “the regulations should be in line with the PA policies according to the square meterage and number of bedrooms,” Mr Sultana asks how 10 or even 12 people could be accommodated in a two-bedroom apartment which, by law, must be at least 95sqm.”
Steve Mercieca, co-founder and CEO of QLZH, however, offers a contrasting view, saying the six-person limit “makes no sense” given the existence of large properties that could very well house more individuals.
“What happens to the large co-living villas?” he asks. “What about apartments with four or even five bedrooms?”
While acknowledging that these types of properties are relatively rare, Mr Mercieca believes that any rules must take into account the entirety of the market to avoid grey areas or, even worse, making honest landlords run afoul of the law due to an arbitrary limit.
“It should depend on the square meterage. Putting a studio flat and a property over 300sqm in the same bucket does not make any sense.”
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