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.
“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the tenant would have to instruct a lawyer to make a kwerela (complaint) at the police station where the report was originally made.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.