Malta Tenant Support sounds alarm about forced evictions carried out with impunity

As stories of forced evictions flood social media, support group explains how the law is skewed against the tenant

 

Following an incident in which a landlord was filmed violently kicking down the door of an apartment in Gżira after a disagreement with tenants earlier this month, the often strained relations between owners and tenants have come under the spotlight.

Facebook groups like Expats Malta and Malta Tenant Support have been inundated with posts from individuals who have found themselves in similar situations, some of which have previously hit the headlines.

The Malta Tenant Support group in particular has become a point of reference for aggrieved individuals locked in disputes with their landlords, with the main organiser also explaining how the justice system is skewed against tenants who seek redress over maltreatment from their landlords.

In a public post on the same Facebook group, the main organiser, Johanna Axisa MacRae, explained that the police force does not have the power to investigate forced evictions without a complaint filed directly by the affected individuals. Axisa MacRae also said the problem stretches back years, citing cases from at least four years ago.

According to Article 85 of the Criminal Code, which specifically refers to ‘the unlawful assumption by private persons of powers belonging to public authority,’ landlords found to have carried out actions amounting to forced evictions are potentially liable for a fine of €1,500 – €4,000 as well as imprisonment for one – three months.

However, forced evictions are not considered an ‘ex officio’ offence – in other words, the police force does not have the right to investigate such cases unless a complaint is filed directly by the affected individual.

Article 85 of the Criminal Code.

“When a landlord is in breach of Article 85 of the Criminal Code, the police can choose not to take any action, in which case the tenant would have to instruct a lawyer to make a kwerela (complaint) at the police station where the report was originally made. The police can apparently still refuse to take action in which case the tenant can challenge the Police Commissioner directly,” Axisa MacRae wrote.

In other words, even if the eviction is forced and manifestly illegal, the police force can still decline to intervene, meaning that in such a case the tenants would be forced to enter into a long, complicated legal process that would likely take years to even begin addressing the root of the dispute.

“This is the Maltese state refusing to protect residents and citizens of Malta when they are subjected to humiliating and traumatic criminal acts of aggression by persons in positions of power over them,” Axisa MacRae said in her post.

When reached for comment, the head of the tenants’ association spoke of the recurring nature of the issue, highlighting multiple cases in which tenants spoke of cruel and degrading treatment from landlords seeking to extract as much profit as possible with little regard for people’s basic needs.

Besides the shocking incident in Gżira in which a landlord kicked down the door of an apartment which was occupied by tenants who refused to pay for a washing machine technician, highlighted earlier this month by Lovin Malta, the same portal also previously published several other similar stories.

In February, another article highlighted an even graver situation in which the landlord, who was also the employer of the tenants living in his apartment in Mosta, was filmed physically assaulting the tenants following one resident’s decision to quit his job and leave the apartment.

Several members of the Malta Tenant Support Facebook group regularly air their grievances online in the hope of finding a way to resolve disputes with belligerent landlords.

In the past few months, multiple users have detailed incidents in which their landlords either threatened to cut off their water and electricity supply, or did so in an attempt to force them out of the property.

                           
                               
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James
James
1 day ago

What if tenant fails to pay rent for months on end. Where is the landlord’s protection? It can take many more months maybe years before the tenant is faced with an eviction notice.

Johanna MacRae
Johanna MacRae
1 day ago
Reply to  James

Actually, a study conducted by Dr Stefan Cutajar and Dr Kurt Xerri revealed yesterday at the Annual Residential Rental Study – Edition 2 that the time to eviction averages at 5.7 months.

James
James
23 hours ago
Reply to  Johanna MacRae

Obviously, I’m not condoning forced eviction but landlords have little protection when it comes to non-payment of rent. And, a six month eviction average means that there are landlords who have waited longer periods where the tenant is basically staying rent free. Once eviction is carried out, the landlord, more than likely, still ends up without payment as the tenant has no means or pretends to have no means. It’s time for background checks to be introduced.

Johanna MacRae
Johanna MacRae
19 hours ago
Reply to  James

It comes with the territory. You need to factor in periods of no rent or problematic tenants. No business is risk free. Illegal evictions are a criminal act. The police should do their job and prosecute every landlord who effects an illegal eviction. Is Malta a country which has rule of law? Or is it a matter of Might is Right?

You also seem to be assuming that the tenants being illegally evicted in the above article were in the wrong. When, in actual fact, prima facie it appears that the evictions were not warranted and a court of law would have refused the eviction. Washing machine repairs are the responsibility of the landlord, unless the damage was caused by the negligence of the tenant. Tenants are legally within their rights under Article 17 of the Residential Leases Act to refuse to pay for their consumption of water and electricity, unless provided with a proper Arms bill.

Something so basic. An eviction has to be the jurisdiction of a court of law. No one – not the police, not the landlord concerned – can be judge, jury and executioner.

Richard Slater
Richard Slater
15 hours ago
Reply to  James

That is business.. That is the rental business. You take a deposit to cover the non payment. there are clients that will try to abuse the contract. there are alot of others that don’t. Any business weeds out the bad to work with the good. it seems you weren’t prepared for the bad in you business venture?

Francis Said
Francis Said
1 day ago
Reply to  James

Brute force is never a solution. The Housing Authority, or better the Social Housing division should intervene and help the tenant solve the issue. Obviously if the tenant was in serious financial or health reasons.
It can help by subsidising the rent or find alternative accommodation for the tenant.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. NEVER.

Chris Stott
Chris Stott
23 hours ago
Reply to  James

Well they can also go to the rent agency and raise a dispute. Or they can raise a garnishee order. And okay, this will probably happen, BUT it’s the job of the landlord to swallow these risks.

What isn’t acceptable is the abuse and fragrantly breaking the law that they do here. It’s not acceptable to withhold the deposit because you spent it 2 years ago. It’s not acceptable to kick down someone’s door because you won’t pay for a washing machine repair. It’s not acceptable to cut the electricity because you feel like it. Or walk into the flat when you feel like it. Or to not rent to Muslims. Or foreigners.

The landlords will have insurance to cover these costs, meanwhile the person is having his basic human rights stripped away by a psychopath.

There are a reason laws exist. Otherwise what, I just rob a bank because it’s a good way of getting more money? I punch the slow and old people on the street because it’s a great way of relieving stress? Maybe I’ll drive at 220kph because who cares right?

You wouldn’t do any of these things, because it’s wrong. And will cause pain and suffering to the victim. So why should the landlord get away with it? They are no different..

Mark
Mark
1 day ago

go and check how many complaints those of the Housing Authority have against the Maltese landlords they never do anything, contracts not respected prices increased without any law and obviously they say that the contracts will be registered but this will almost never happen …
In Malta they are all corrupt and now all the truths are coming out …

John zerafa
John zerafa
32 minutes ago
Reply to  Mark

Please do not judge, not every landlord is the same just as every tenant is not an angel.

J. Azzopardi
J. Azzopardi
21 hours ago

What about the tenants who threaten the landlords, the latter who have rented their apt to 3 tenants but eventually finds that there are now 6 or more living in their apt turing their investment into a daily and nightly raucous with complaints from neighbours, upon inspection the landlord finds the apt looks more like a squatters place rather than the decent apt he rented out. Oh and by the by, if the landlord has already paid more than once for expenses on broken appliances, does this mean that they can continue doing so with total disregard? Because the landlord who complains at a police station is also met with blank faces.? We have to admit that certain people groups do not know how to live in houses let alone take decent care of their long let aptartments. And most of them have become as arrogant as…. because they know someone will pick up their ‘plight’ and portray them as victims, but in most cases it is the landlord who is the real victim of these abusers this is why they loose it in the end

Joseph Mifsud
Joseph Mifsud
21 hours ago

From one extreme to another, pre 1995 it was the tenant who was protected, now in new rents the landlord think he has the right to charge any rents he likes and evict tenants anytime he likes.

Johanna MacRae
Johanna MacRae
20 hours ago

Article 85 of the Criminal Code sanctions anyone taking the law into their own hands. The irony is that the Police and the Police Commissioner choosing to not even reprimand the landlord effecting an illegal eviction via a phone call or a visit to the property are themselves in breach of Article 85 of the Criminal Code. The implicit inference that can be drawn from this dereliction of their duty to uphold the law of the land is that the police are of the conviction that any illegal or forced eviction is warranted and that the tenant is always to blame. When I can see that prima facie, even if the landlord had to effect a legal eviction by applying to the courts, this would be refused. Washing machine faults, unless due to the negligence of the tenant, are down to the landlord. Tenants refusing to pay for their consumption of water and electricity because they are not provided with a proper Arms bill as per their legal right according to Article 17(4) of the Residential Leases Act, is down to the landlord. I find the attitude of the many police officers I have spoken to re illegal evictions to be of huge concern. A blanche carte for landlords to continue with this deeply traumatic and criminal behaviour. Why should these tenants pay their taxes? What service are they getting from the Police to make sure that their rights are protected?

The Residential Leases Act is an excellent piece of legislation but does not exist in a vacuum. The Police need to enforce the law. Enemalta, the Malta Resources Authority and Arms need to do something about submeters in residential long lets.

Do the powers that be understand what is at stake here? Do they see the whole picture? What message is this giving to the many foreign tenants who come to Malta to work? How many industries depend on the well being of the foreign tenant?

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