The Consolidation of Bills committee in Parliament continued discussing the rent reform bill this afternoon.

The reform which Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described as "landmark" upon its launch was tabled in Parliament for its Second Reading by Parliamentary Secretary for Social Accommodation Roderick Galdes.

Muscat, when previously describing the bill, had said that it would introduce a minimum period of one year, minimum notice periods for both landlords and tenants, and obligatory contract registration are some of the points within what Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described as a landmark rent reform.

One person from Malta Tenant Support present from the public brought up a particular issue tenants face during the meeting. She said that the issue surrounds domestic and residential tariffs. She said that those on a residential tariff get allowances for cheaper water and electricity units per person.

“When we were tenants, we moved into a rental property and gave landlord €100 a month as per contract.  A year later we started to see bills and arrears were more than we paid.  Bill was in landlords name which was fine, but it read that the number of residents was zero. I asked landlord if it makes a difference if there are zero residents or five and he said no.” She said they continued paying and research she conducted showed different and that they overpaid by double the amount.

She said they took the landlord to court and won. “The landlord would have gotten away with not paying arrears. This situation creates murky legal loopholes where tax evading landlord can refuse to put you on the bill. It provides insecurity for tenants.”

PN MP Karl Gouder asked for this issue to be addressed.

Parliamentary Secretary Galdes said that the government went into it and discussed, in detail with ARMS and spoke of the importance of tenants having access to at least see their bills.

Some present highlighted that the proposed law creates certain issues, such as it will prohibit landlords from providing other services, like maids etc against separate payments.

The issue surrounded a clause which read: “Any of the following clauses which are inserted in a private residential lease contract, shall be deemed to be without effect...(d) clauses which impose the payment of additional considerations, other than the rent, the deposit, the insurance on the contents of the tenement and any contributions foreseen in accordance with the Condominium Act.”  Gouder picked up on this issue and said a compromise should be found. Galdes said that he doesn’t want a situation where tenants are made to rent the property and then separately also rent the furniture for example.

Another issue was brought up by MDA President Sandro Chetcuti, on a clause which states that the lessee may not withdraw from a long private residential lease before the lapse of: “(a) two  months in the case where the lease is for a period of less than two years; (b) four months in the case where the lease is for a period of two years or more but less than three years; or (c) six months in the case where the lease is for a period of three  years or more.” Galdes said that a compromise had been found whereby changes were made to the clause. Chetcuti highlighted that if someone signs a contract, they should abide by it as people actually renting might have not gone for a different tenant just because the tenant they accepted would have wanted a longer lease, yet would now exit much earlier than expected.

The issue of single room rentals was also discussed, and the proposed law deals with this. It reads that any room rental shall have a duration of six months. One issue was brought up however, that a separate contract with the same person could be sought by the landlord after those six months for the same room.

Read more: Rent reform continues making its way through Parliament