Updated Thursday 8.40am with police inspection
Foreign workers are paying up to €250 a month each to share a single apartment in Sliema with around 40 other people in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
The tenants in the George Borg Olivier Street residence are sleeping up to nine in a room, share three bathrooms and wash and dry their clothes on a single outside balcony.
They want to leave but say they have no other option because “most people don’t rent to an Indian or someone from Bangladesh”.
“Everywhere we go, we get shown apartments that look like this… lots of places like Qormi and Buġibba, the situation is the same,” one tenant told Times of Malta.
Neighbours in the other five-bedroomed apartments in the block have complained about the noise and say the overcrowding is causing bad odours.
Sliema mayor John Pillow slammed the situation in an email to the Planning Authority, calling it a “blatant violation of the law” regulating residential dwellings.
He cited Subsidiary Legislation 552.15, which says that a dwelling may be only be occupied by either a family or "not more than six residents living together”.“
"It has begun to negatively affect the health and well-being of neighbouring residents who are exposed to excessive noise, unpleasant odours, and sound pollution constantly,” he said in the email and called for “swift and firm intervention” from the authority.
Landlord: 'we charge normal commercial rates'
The property is owned by Twanny Bugeja but is sublet to Peter Frendo, a real estate entrepreneur.
Frendo claims the Sliema residence "is actually subdivided into a number of apartments," even though the flat has only one front door and all rooms are accessible once inside.
He also claims that all the rental agreements for the property are registered with the Housing Authority and have been vetted and approved by the same agency.
"Various third parties also vet these rental agreements and Identity Malta registers residence cards to tenants," he continued.
"We have never had any issues with tenants and we charge at normal commercial rates," he said.
The owner of the property has distanced himself from Frendo’s activities, confirming that although Frendo’s contract allows him to sublet the apartment, the owners are not directly involved in the process and have had no contact with third-party tenants.
Residents unhappy, but fear eviction
After being alerted to the apartment by Pillow and concerned neighbours, Times of Malta visited the residence on Tuesday and spoke to tenants.
Residents called the living situation a “disaster”, complaining of bad odours and overcrowded living conditions.
“We’re not happy living here,” said one tenant, adding that since Pillow's visit on Monday, some beds had been removed and the communal areas had been cleaned.
None of the residents wished to be named, for fear of being evicted by authorities.
After initially paying €200 per month, one resident complained the landlord had raised the price to €250 after only one month.
Workers from countries outside the EU – known as third country nationals – are often employed in the lowest-paid jobs such as food couriers.
All the residents Times of Malta spoke to reported having contracts with the Housing Authority.
Tenants say around 40 of them share the apartment, meaning the landlord could be raking in around €8,000 per month in rent.
Frendo first listed the apartment around six months ago, according to a post on his personal Facebook page.
The listing includes photos showing 14 beds in the property, but Times of Malta counted 29 beds in the rooms it had access to.
One neighbour said that he had complained to the health authorities and were told the property would be investigated. Questions were sent to the Housing Authority on Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, sources said a police inspection was carried out on Thursday morning and confirmed that the apartment had eight bedrooms sleeping around 45 people.
The police established that all tenants were living and working in Malta legally.
It is up to the health and housing authorities, whose representatives were present for the Thursday inspection, to decide whether further action should be taken, the police sources said.