The new rent law is a step forward, but the issue of exorbitant prices still has to be addressed, a group of 20 NGOs said on Thursday.

"This Bill introduces a much-needed framework with basic rights and obligations on tenants and landlords, and is clearly the result of serious research work and a broad consultation process. However, the Bill very marginally addresses the predominance of short-term contracts that lead to widespread instability, and it fails to tackle the most pressing issue of exorbitant rent prices," the NGOs said.

"The sudden and continuing hike in rent prices is pushing thousands of persons into precariousness, hitting hardest those on low and medium wages and pensions as well as persons in vulnerable situations such as women experiencing domestic violence. Thus, much more will have to be done if the government is to achieve its objective, as set out in the White Paper, of making rent a housing alternative."

The NGOs welcomed several provisions of the Bill including the obligation on landlords to register contracts that include an inventory and measures to discourage renting without a valid contract.

It was also positive that the Housing Authority would be responsible for private residential leases, related enforcement and an adjudicating panel would speedily decide on minor disputes.

The NGOs noted that the new law would establish a one-year minimum contract period for residential leases.

"One year is glaringly insufficient to guarantee a degree of stability to the tenant, leaving the current situation of short-term contracts more or less unchanged" the NGOs said.

They recalled that when they had reacted to the White Paper last year, they had proposed a three-year minimum in order to start addressing the issue of tenants living precarious lives. 

"Government plans to grant tax credits to landlords who offer contracts that are longer than one year are positive, but this will unfortunately have only a limited effect on incentivising longer-term contracts" the organisations added.

On the way how the rent law will limited rent increases to 5%, the NGOs said this regulation only applies to increases during contract duration, that is, to those cases where landlords provide contracts that are longer than one year. Unreasonable rent increases, with no limit whatsoever, would still be allowed following the end of the contract period.

They recalled that they had proposed that the monthly rent to be paid in any new contract, irrespective of whether it is with the same or a different tenant, should not be higher than 10% of the last monthly rent paid under the previous contract. This would prevent exorbitant increases in rent-prices following the expiry of contracts. 

They had also proposed the creation of a Rent Value Index that would enhance public knowledge on the private rental market and lead to a degree of rent-price stabilisation. The Rent Value Index would list rent-value in different areas and for different classes of property according to their size and quality. There would be a rule stating that an initial price should not exceed 10% of the price listed for that particular category within the Rent Value Index. This proposal has not been taken on board. 

The NGOs were the aditus Foundation, African Media Association Malta, Alleanza Kontra il-Faqar, Forum Komunita’ Bormliża, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Koperattiva Kummerċ Ġust, Malta Gay Rights Movement, Malta Humanists Association, Malta Tenant Support, Mid-Dlam għad-Dawl, Moviment Graffitti, Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM), SOS Malta, Spark, The Critical Institute, The Millennium Chapel, Third World Group Malta, Women’s Rights Foundation and  Voice of the Left