Wednesday 28 June 2017

landlord

Tourists are welcome (long term residents, not so much)

I always smile when I see those hand-made signs outside band clubs in Maltese villages, which read “Tourist are welcome”. I have to struggle to stop myself from going into grammar Nazi mode, whipping out a biro and adding an “s” lest some German family takes it literally and thinks only one of them will be allowed in.

It is these quaint touches of reaching out to visitors which still make me fondly affectionate towards my home country. There they sit, the red-faced-because-they forgot-their-sun-block tourists, unprepared for our sweltering summers, with their white socks and Birkenstocks, enjoying a pint in the shade while a rotund, jovial barman chats with them and makes them feel welcome.

Sometimes these tourists fall so utterly in love with our charming island (as so many do) that they suddenly decide in a semi-stupor of sun and booze that they have had enough of the grey, miserable weather back home because friendly, laid-back Malta seems such a great place in which they can check out from the rat race, even if only for a few years. They might even chuck it all in, sell everything and retire here.

But fast forward to the reality of ex-pats living here on a permanent basis and it’s like the whole country has gone into Jekyll and Hyde mode. Nowhere is this split personality more apparent than when it comes to renting property on a long-term basis. Suddenly little ‘ole friendly Malta doesn’t seem quite so friendly any more.

I have been following the ARMS saga vis-à-vis non-Maltese EU nationals who are renting property for quite a while now. Every time a hurdle seems to have been overcome, another one rears its ugly head and it has literally got to the point where the hapless tenants are facing off against what seems like the combined forces of landlords, estate agents and ARMS bureaucracy in a snarling us-and-them situation.

Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi has been backing the tenants all the way and there was a small victory last year when it was finally agreed that tenants could qualify for the residential rate on production of an ‘A’ ID card, passport or a new e-resident card.  But as this account of this week’s meeting attended by Up in Arms representative Patricia Graham reveals, there is still a long way to go.

This is where the landlords come in – if a landlord refuses to sign Form H (change in the number of consumers) then the rate will continue to be the exorbitant domestic one reserved for second homes. I have heard accounts of landlords who have turned violent, threatening their tenants who refuse to pay the more expensive rate. There are people who have had a garnishee order placed on their bank accounts for refusing to pay the domestic rate, and have been dragged to court as a result. All of this, by the way, is completely illegal as far as EU legislation and freedom of movement goes – you simply CANNOT treat non-Maltese EU nationals differently with this two-tier utilities rate.

A long-term tenant should be paying a residential rate because it is his/her primary residence and it is appalling that ex-pats even have to fight for what is, frankly, their right not to be discriminated against.

To circumvent uncooperative landlords, Minister Mizzi believes that ARMS should accept a lease as proof of residency for tenants to qualify for the residential rate, but ARMS is digging their heels in, leading some to rightly question: who exactly is in charge?

Meanwhile new ex-pats arrive in Malta every week, setting up home here and eagerly looking forward to their new lives in the Mediterranean sun, but completely unaware that they are probably being charged a more expensive rate for utilities.  As for some (not all) real estate agents, they should really be ashamed of themselves for being silently complicit in all this, washing their hands of the whole thing and pretending not to know what is going on.

Put bluntly, a rental property on a long term lease should automatically be on a residential rate and it should not be the tenants who have to get into disputes with landlords in what is obviously a tax-evading racket.

Anything else is downright fleecing of unsuspecting foreigners and very, very far removed from the friendly hospitality we try to project when we embark on our high profile tourism marketing campaigns.

Because frankly, what is the use of promoting Malta when this ARMS vs ex-pats battle is giving the entire country a truly horrible reputation as a nation of scoundrels and con artists who only welcome visitors as long as they can rip them off?

 

 

 

 

  • Fiona Eyre

    Well Said

  • Patricia Graham

    “Change” is something that is either welcomed or avoided. I believe many changes towards regulating the whole rental system are in order and would be welcomed by the law abiding citizen, that I still believe, though my faith is rocked many times a day, are in the majority.
    Such regulations could well be seen as a ‘vote loser’ I don’t agree. If people won’t be honest through their own volition, then they have to be brought into line, to the benefit of all citizens and residents, through regulatory bodies with the power of enforcement.

  • Ioannis Anagnostopoulos

    I think you got it kinda wrong. It is not ARMS it is not double standards or double tariffs. It is the deep corruption and tax evasion of the Maltese society. The only reason that landlords refuse to alter their tariff is because they are afraid that inland revenue will cross reference the data and find out that they are renting out a property that is declared empty or partially used. Those who change the tariff are either legal and few, and usually will do it at once, or they most usually have someone on ARMS to hide the fact form the Inland Revenue.

    This is the point that I kinda disagree with the argument of Up in Arms, although I wish them best of luck. Higher tariffs exist in a lot of place of the world for properties that are hardly used. If for example you are not going to consume more than X amount KWh per year why should anybody gives you a discount. Some with ARMS, they give higher tariffs to landlord that declare their property vacant (or tourist dwellings).

    So, if the state does not actively tackles tax evasion by change the law that will enable ANYBODY with a lease agreement to take ownership of the ARMS bill without asking the landlord, this story will be around for ever.

    I spend one year in Malta hoping for all the things the article described and left running for my money and my sanity promising never to try again dealing with any kind of Mediterranean Mafia for longer than 15 days of holidays in a hotel.

  • Johanna MacRae

    As a returned migrant, I am utterly shocked by this scam implicating the involvement of the sole utility company in Malta, most estate agents and landlords. This is brazen institutionalized theft and no one who should, and could, do something about it does anything.

    Scratch that; there are indications that Konrad Mizzi may have a conscience. Time will soon tell, I suppose.

    ARMS is overcharging the two main groups of tenants: non Maltese nationals who may be here only for a short while and Maltese nationals who may not be able to afford their own home.

    And it is as if ARMS has deliberately contrived a billing system that makes the tenant invisible, in this way denying them access to the most basic of consumer rights: the right to fair and and equal utility tariffs.

    It is not as if it costs more money to generate electricity and distribute water for a tenant compared to a homeowner.

    So how does ARMS justify this? Even more incredibly, ARMS argues that it is within its rights to continue to do this to protect landlords from absconding tenants. And, apparently, there are laws that sanction this theft and discrimination.

    So, I have to overpay by 3 000 euro compared to a homeowner just in case I do a runner? And exactly who are these landlords? Are they upright citizens of Malta? Indications are that most are not, and are evading tax on rental income. So, in effect, ARMS is protecting criminals (because tax evasion is a crime) just in case a tenant commits a crime but then again may not.

    And you know what, no matter how many lawyers ARMS employ to defend this behaviour, no one can ever defend the indefensible.

    And ultimately, if you really want to spout legalese to cover up this moral abhorrence what do the ARMS lawyers have to say about Article 45, Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Malta: “….no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.”

  • Marie Benoit

    I was born and breed here and am thoroughly Maltese but I have to say that on the whole, we are a land of church-going SCHISTERS. The more they sit in the front pews the more we must distrust them. There is a large majority who let nothing come between them and their money – and no matter how it is earned. It is hard enough for us Maltese to understand the Byzantine world of politics, society and social mores in which we live. But it must be a nightmare for someone coming to live here who was not brought up with a 6th sense in their DNA to understand more or less how it works and to protect oneself against these schisters. This whole business of the utilities bills is dreadful. It should have never been introduced to start off with. There must be some way of getting round it in the near future for the benefit of both tenant and property owner. But yes, it is well known that so many property owners only want the rent paid in cash.
    I must also add that there are good honest people, workmen included, who do not push up their prices if you come from Sliema or carry a foreign surname. We simply recommend the good ones to each other in my family but also tell each other to lookout for the dishonest ones.

  • Joe

    A British friend who lives here, has a Maltese ID card and can vote in local council elections told me that the telephone company asked him for a very large deposit if he wanted a residential telephone line installed. He refused and now uses a prepaid card to use his landline. I can understand the rationale of the telephone company – what if he leaves Malta for good with a huge and unpaid telephone bill? But that argument can be appled to any Maltese citizen who is free to leave Malta and settle elsewhere.

  • Rich

    Well again…I can witness to the fact that when I stood up to the bully tactics and asked to change this rate to residents rate. It wasn’t fruitful, we moved out..again false smiles< and sorry-ta … i didn't know it was more expensive…No written inventory…and lo and behold…I get a policeman at my door…as the landlords daddy …yes daddy…had reported us for theft…As the policeman quite rightly said..I don't have time for this…So not only does the son not declare residents (I have contacted the tax dept for him as I am a helpful citizen)…his daddy accuses us of theft…and the police accept this complaint…This is where the problem lies…anyone can go into a police station and start accusing anyone of whatever they think…with no proof, no investigation…the daddy even tried to black ball me with my top management…that is how low it can get.

    • these kind of stories anger me because they are giving all of us Maltese a bad name …
      I am so sorry you had to go through all this.

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