Coalition urges landlords to waive rent for the poor, moots govt subsidy as reimbursement

Ida Lim
People watching and listening to the prime minister’s live telecast in Kuala Lumpur on April 06, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 — Property landlords who can afford to should consider temporarily not collecting rent from low-income tenants or who have lost their job due to Covid-19, a coalition of groups helping the poor cope with the pandemic said today.

The coalition called Marginalised Community Support Group also suggested that the government help subsidise the waiver by providing some compensation to landlords who chose not to collect housing rent temporarily from their tenants.

It highlighted that one of the many difficulties that those who are in the low-income category or earn daily wages — but now have no income as they have to stay home during the government’s movement control order to curb Covid-19 — is being assured of having a roof over their heads.

The coalition said there was a need to provide home rent relief for communities that earn daily wages or get paid by day for their day’s work, as their ability to pay rental is now “compromised”.

“The distress faced by disadvantaged communities is at many levels. One critical issue is ensuring that there is a place to ‘stay home’ as most daily wage communities live in a rented accommodation,” the coalition said in a statement today via Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA) Malaysia’s social protection director Maalini Ramalo.

The coalition said housing was a minimum requirement, noting that there are already other challenges such as housing conditions with small and cramped spaces especially those occupied by multiple occupants sometimes from extended family structures.

“Domestic violence has worsened during the shutdown. The community’s mental and emotional health is also in jeopardy. At the very least, housing must be available,” it said.

When coming to solutions on housing rental, the coalition however acknowledged that it is not always clear whether it is the homeowner or the tenant who is now placed in a tougher spot, noting that there may be landlords who may rely on rental for income.

“Homeowners have the advantage of the ongoing initiative to defer bank repayments for next 6 months. An obvious solution is for homeowners to waive rental.

“However, there is a need to strike a balance between the needs of the homeowner who is reliant on rental as a basic income and being asked to defer rental, and the renter who will lose a home safe from the wide reach of Covid-19,” the coalition said.

While noting that the government’s recent Prihatin economic stimulus package waives rental for the next six months for tenants at 9,185 People’s Housing Project (PPR) as a commendable effort, the coalition however pointed out that there are low-wage earners and the B40 group who live in other areas where they are not given support or where their difficulties are not recognised.

The coalition also noted that some private retailers and kind homeowners in Malaysia have already risen to the occasion by providing waivers or discounts to affected tenants on rentals and the necessary goods and services.

The coalition noted global examples such as India where landlords cannot demand rent from poor workers and migrant labourers for one month and who will face action if they force their tenants out, and an order by the state of Arizona in the US for a 120-day stay on eviction orders against anybody who were quarantined or are experiencing hardship because of Covid-19.

The coalition raised the question of striking a balanced approach, asking: “How do we ensure compensation to the homeowner whilst offering renters a solution?”

“We on behalf of CovidCareMY seek consideration from landlords/homeowners who are able, to waive rental payment for three to  six months and the government to consider and provide for landlords to be compensated at a percentage and most importantly to introduce a policy to enable fair negotiations between the landlord and tenant,” the coalition suggested.

DHRRA is the secretariat for the coalition, which has been running the CovidCareMY initiative to provide emergency relief support for marginalised and vulnerable communities in Malaysia amid Covid-19.

The coalition — composed of 20 grassroots civil society organisations and in partnership with HSBC — had launched the CovidCareMY initiative on March 23, where emergency support was provided in the form of careline support, food and grocery aid, replenishing prescribed medicines to vulnerable communities in Malaysia.

Those needing help can contact #CovidCareMY through these hotlines 0177803054, 0123465212, 0102732981 and 01128927518, where requests for assistance will only be approved after verification.

Aiming to benefit 25,000 individuals, the CovidCareMY initiative has as of today benefitted 14,150 individuals, while its target was to raise funds of RM650,000 and the current status is that RM151,962 has been received while RM168,950 has been spent with a deficit of RM16,988.

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