The perils of renting in Malta – Ryan Murdock

Roadwork is in the news again as excavators create round-the-clock havoc, sewage floods residential streets, and ‘sweepers’ do their best to generate their own blood rain.

But while jackhammers and heavy machinery get the most attention due to the cacophony they create, there’s another scourge much closer to home that plagues anyone who has attempted to rent a peaceful place on the island.

I’m referring to the Uncle Charlie School of Home Repair.

Semi-professional builders in Malta take a Battle of the Somme approach: long periods of silence followed by bursts of violent drilling which always commence at dawn. They invariably insist on showing up at 6 or 7am and work for half an hour before packing up and going home.

Buildings made of stone do not creak. Drop a euro coin in the parking garage and you will hear it in the penthouse and find yourself patting your pockets checking for holes. The clack of high heeled shoes two floors below at six in the morning pierces stone with a clarity the carrying power of which can only be exceeded by one other instrument: the early morning drill.

Expats hoping to rent a home on the island should know that new buildings are the worst. A rule of thumb to keep in mind is: The more grandiose the name, the shabbier the dwelling — which doesn’t say much for my decision to move into a building called “LUXE Mansions”.

It was under construction the entire two years I lived there. There was always some apartment being fixed up, or plumbing being installed, or holes being drilled in walls for electrical wiring. And it always happened at 6am.

It was like waking up inside an immense tooth as a determined dentist had a go. Drills vibrated through the walls like a tuning fork, until my head began to resonate, and finally my bones.

Each time we went out, we had to hopscotch over a Medusa’s hair of extension cords that the contractors ran from the apartment they were working on to the power plug in the electrical room. They were freeloading electricity from the building’s common area, and so we not only suffered from the noise, we had the privilege of splitting the bill for it, too.

Packaging materials, broken plaster, cardboard and dirt were strewn across the lobby and stairs. They simply dropped it on the ground and walked away as though they didn’t see it once they’d cast it aside.

These campaigns would last about a week, and then an uneasy silence would descend for a month. It took years to fix up a small shell apartment enough to move in.

Of course, nothing is ever truly “fixed”; it was just temporarily not broken.

We had no hot water in our kitchen because the heater had been installed incorrectly and the wiring burned out in the rain. The water pressure pump on the roof broke, too, leaving us without hot water for a week in winter.

The front door lock seized up and fell apart, and one sliding door to the terrace didn’t have a functioning lock the entire time we lived there. But shoddy workmanship wasn’t confined to issues of security: the baseboards under our dishwasher had been installed wrong too, and they regularly fell off with a clang that rattled spoons two blocks away.   

The lift was usually out of commission; it seemed to break down every other month and took at least three weeks for someone to repair it. Once I was trapped inside when the thing broke down between floors; I had to pry the door open and climb out because the emergency button was never connected and no one would answer my call.

Plumbing was especially problematic. The sink in our ensuite bathroom leaked because the drains were connected with cheap plastic accordion pipe. And a metal stovetop kettle rotted from the harsh tap water and began to ooze across the stove. We went through a lifetime of kettles: eight in six years.

Not to be outdone by water which was supposed to be there, precipitation soaked through the walls in large patches that eventually filled with black mould.

The cheap Chinese fuses blew every time it rained, both in the apartment and at the main breaker box in the lobby, which meant one of us had to trudge down to the utility room while the other stood next to the box in our flat, flipping switches and trying to isolate whichever plug was causing the problem.

I suspect this unstable electrical system was responsible for the trouble we had with appliances.

The air conditioner and the microwave broke, and the big screen Italian television emitted a high pitched squeal whenever we watched it. The refrigerator also broke, and we were without one for nearly three weeks, but it was winter and none of our food spoiled even after five days because it was so cold indoors.

The frenzy of shoddy construction is responsible for this; that and a complete lack of standards, enforcement and inspections. It’s much safer to rent an old house, with all their typical old house issues. If it’s been standing for a couple of hundred years, it’s a reasonably safe bet that it won’t fall down around you during your tenancy.

Nonstop construction became the reality in every village when Joseph Muscat sold out to Sandro Chetcuti and the Concrete Kings, and cheap blocks of flats like LUXE Mansions have spread across terraced fields like crusty limestone impetigo.

For as long as those cut-rate chicken coops remain standing, you’ll see excavators lifted onto rooftops that can’t possibly support their weight, and plasterers dangling from windows by one hand while coating a wall with the other. And you will be woken at 6am by drilling loud enough to shake the fillings out of your teeth as Uncle Charlie has a go.

It is the building that matters, not the finishing, and I wouldn’t count on it ending anytime soon.

                           
                               
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mick
mick
20 days ago

I never realised you had been in my flat Ryan, good news is the building above has stopped for the moment, he can’t get a permit as we are too near the airport footprint but forget about the lift ..it’s just a void in the building. I’m living in a new built slum. Never buy or rent here it’s asking for major headaches. Hope you’ve got a better pad.

Greed
Greed
20 days ago

The poor foreigners who buy off plan don’t know what they are letting themselves in for and the local miserable get what they deserve. Thank u JP and SD to name but a few of the numerous cowboys.

Teri Morrow
Teri Morrow
20 days ago

I am so sorry that this was your experience in Malta. We lived on Gozo for four years and loved every minute of it. First, our farmhouse was nicely rehabbed and gave us little problems. But the constant up and down the (inside) stairs became problematic, so we rented a flat. The single story was fantastic and had wonderful neighbors. We loved the villages, the long walks, and the views. But for the CoVid pandemic, we would still be there.

M.Galea
M.Galea
20 days ago
Reply to  Teri Morrow

You wont love it anymore. Same as Malta!

Maurice Caruana
Maurice Caruana
20 days ago

Spot on but fools keep coming and paying, rewarding shoddy work and poor service.

Jonathan Bianco
Jonathan Bianco
19 days ago

However the prices being charged for constructing these properties is not that shoddy?

Aggie
Aggie
19 days ago

On the other side of the coin, I have lived in the same apartment for 10 years, no issues, no problems and have an amazing landlord. Yes, we’ve had building work going on in the street for 9 of those ten years, can’t park in the same postcode but it’s Malta, the sun shines, the sky is blue and the neighbours are awesome.

Matt
Matt
18 days ago

Hell, and you have my my sympathies. I did a renovation project in the island and it was the worst experience of my life. I’ve left the island now as I can’t live in a place where everything is ‘that’ll do’ or ‘I don’t give a f**k’. Everything is harder than it should be if you actually care.

NinaB
NinaB
18 days ago

”Nothing is ever truly “fixed”; it was just temporarily not broken.”

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