22 June 2005

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AD’s rent campaign based on speculation - Housing Authority Chairperson

Michaela Muscat

Alternattiva Demokratika’s rent campaign came in for some heavy criticism yesterday by Housing Authority Chairperson Marisa Micallef, who described the statements made by the party’s chairperson as dishonest and misleading.
Harry Vassallo’s contention that repealing the 1939 rent laws will increase the supply of property in the market, produce properties at reasonable rents and even decrease the price of property is dishonest and misleading at best, alleged Marisa Micallef.
“Currently, housing for sale and post-1995 new housing for rent, is beyond low income families and only government subsidy can help here,” Micallef told The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday.
Micallef has repeatedly claimed there is no substantial correlation between the 1939 rent laws and the number of vacant buildings, a contention disputed by Green Party finance spokesperson Edward Fenech in an interview with this newspaper (see pages 10, 11).
Micallef says the vast majority of present empty properties can be rented out under the 1995 rent laws - which don’t offer any protection to the tenants. Yet landlords still refuse to rent.

The Housing Chairperson supports her view by recalling a MEPA survey. “Over 90% of landlords had said that they are scared to rent because of fear of requisition and not because of the rent laws. To boost the rental sector will require a multi pronged strategy including protection for landlords, such as including in the Constitution a proviso making it impossible for requisition to be reintroduced. Financial incentives to rent, including a reduced tax rate will also help stimulate the rental market. Since around 12 per cent of empty properties are in a very poor state, Government can also help with repairs.”
However, during last week’s public meeting organised by Alternattiva Demokratika to collect signatures for an abrogative referendum to change the rent laws, a recurring complaint was the abuse of the right of inheritance. By raising this issue way back in April, AD claim they spurred government to look into this matter. Vassallo’s call for a rent reform campaign coincides with the issue of the report commissioned by the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity. This report was due in June but a spokesperson of the Ministry only committed themselves to a vague deadline of a “few weeks’ time.”
Micallef finds the timing of AD’s campaign “very interesting” and assured The Malta Financial and Business Times that Cristina’s recommendations should be discussed with Cabinet soon.
An attendee at the public meeting for aggrieved landlords on Saturday, told sister newspaper Maltatoday, how she had overheard an acquaintance boast that she intended to inherit her grandfather’s lease and exploit the dirt cheap rent under the 1939 Rent Act. The woman later found out that she was the scion of the property in question.
Louis Apap Bologna, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, also present for the public meeting, said that liberalising the property market would result in a more realistic reflection of the current commercial and residential property environment.
Micallef concurs that private owners are rightly tired of subsidising the social sector. The right of inheritance must be abolished with some protection for the elderly and disabled, who are living in these old rents, she sustains.
Yet, she deems that the most significant factor is the dread of requisition orders. “The present government doesn’t requisition property anymore.” And with an obvious jab at the Malta Labour Party she concludes that landlords might have sufficient grounds to believe that the requisitioning policy could again be reintroduced if the party in government had to change.


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