A “draconian” measure allowing Housing Authority officials to search any private property is set to meet “forceful” opposition from the Nationalist Party.

Government officials will be given the right to arbitrarily enter and inspect any private home as part of the new rent law reforms being pushed through Parliament.

The provision in the draft law has already met stiff opposition by the Chamber of Commerce and Notarial Council. Questioned about the PN’s stance on the property search provision, a spokeswoman for Opposition leader Adrian Delia said the “draconian and anti-constitutional” measure shall be “forcefully opposed”.

Parliamentary Secretary for Social Accommodation Roderick Galdes, who is steering the new law through Parliament, has played down concerns about the provision.

Mr Galdes said during a recent parliamentary committee meeting that the provision would strengthen the Housing Authority’s ability to crack down on the abuse of vulnerable people in a timely manner.

Although the government is insisting that the provision will only apply to rented properties, the provision in the proposed law says Housing Authority officials will have the right to enter “any private premises”.

Right to privacy

Former European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello told Times of Malta that privacy of the home is a fundamental human right protected by both the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The new draft law authorises the Housing Authority to enter any private premises “to inspect any tenement or verify whether the tenement is being occupied by any person or to take photographs”.

“None of these reasons are allowed by the Constitution or by the Convention as an exception to rule that the privacy of the home is inviolate.

“The Convention only authorises entry into a home for these reasons: national security, public safety, the economic wellbeing of the country, the prevention of disorder and crime, the protection of health or morals and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

“Any other reason is inadmissible and a violation of fundamental human rights,” Judge Bonello said.

He said entering into a private home to inspect it or to confirm who is living there obviously does not fall anywhere near the public interest limitations established by the Convention and the Constitution. 

Judge Bonello said the European Court of Human Rights has always insisted that for the power of entry into a private home to be legal, it must be based on a judicial warrant, not the order of an administrative officer.

“I have not come across any case law that an order, other than by the courts, would be accepted as sufficient to limit the fundamental human right of the privacy of the home,” Judge Bonello said.

Notaries also opposed

A position paper published by the Notarial Council this summer took a similarly dim view of the provision. 

It said the powers given to the Housing Authority under the proposed law go way beyond the right of entry and search given to the police, without any safeguards of due process and right to privacy and enjoyment of private property.

The Chamber of Commerce has had similar words of criticism for the “obscene” clause.

Chamber President David Xuereb had described the clause as “very worrying” during a press conference about the proposed rent laws.

‘Law burdens responsibilities on landlords’

The “draconian” search of private property is not the only measure that has the PN concerned. A party spokeswoman said that, as a general comment, the new rent law seeks to burden responsibilities on landlords in an attempt to fix government failures.

The PN spokeswoman said the government has created a national problem due to a lack of planning, as it had failed to find durable solutions to help those unable to enter the property market and find affordable housing.

Furthermore, the spokeswoman said the PN has been opposing the retroactive disposition in the law, the inequality of arms when it comes to the agreed terms and “unfair” dispositions imposed on defaulting tenants.

The full implications of the law were explained to landlords last week during a meeting organised by the Malta Developers Association. These reforms will introduce a one-year minimum contract for home rentals, and a requirement to offer three months’ notice before terminating a contract.

Property owner Raymond Briffa dubbed the government interference in rental contracts as a breach of human rights.

“I have always cooperated with the authorities and cultivated good relationships with my tenants, and I find it arrogant that my role has been interpreted as one of aggression,” he told Times of Malta last week.

“Some of us are ready to close up our rentals and sell everything off. It will burden the housing situation further, but I for one will have no remorse,” Mr Briffa said.

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