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MALTATODAY 3 October 2021

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4 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 3 OCTOBER 2021 NEWS PUBLIC CONSULTATION Submit your opinion or suggestions on the published document proposing an investment of €971 million. COHESION FUND JUST TRANSITION FUND EUROPEAN REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT FUND 1. Fostering competitiveness and an innovative and smart economic transformation; 2. Promoting clean and fair energy transition, green and blue investment, the circular economy and sustainable urban mobility; 3. Enhancing transport connectivity; 4. A more social and inclusive society; 5. Fostering sustainable urban development in Gozo; 6. Facilitating a just transition. Consultation document may be downloaded from: Send your submissions to: by the 8th October, 2021. CF - JTF - ERDF for Malta 2021-2027 is a programme co-financed by the European Union Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvliupp Reġjonali 2014-2020 Rata ta' ko-finanzjament: 80% Fondi mill-Unjoni Ewropea; 20% Fondi Nazzjonali CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 "It seems that they are obliged to use this new venue to request the eviction of the occupier, which is time-consuming," the committee said. "Notably, via this new proce- dure, a tenant who qualifies un- der the 'means test' would con- tinue to reside in the property at a protected rent raised up to on- ly 2% of the market value of the property, and if the tenant did not satisfy the 'means test', they would nevertheless be allowed to live in the premises for five years at double the rent currently being paid," the committee said. Maltese tenants with pre-1979 leases enjoyed protection when these leases were converted to rents, which could only double in value every 20 years. While the law stays in force, a decision by the European Court of Human Rights ruled the 1979 Ordinance to be contrary to owners' right to enjoy their property. Malta's Constitutional Courts followed suit by according damages to plaintiffs, which are payable by the State. In a bid to seek a balance be- tween owners and tenants, the Maltese government will only facilitate the eviction of tenants who fail a means test, and then only after a number of years elapse from when owners file for action. But the committee says it is unclear how the interests of the owners are duly considered. "It is not clear whether this mecha- nism provides realistic possibil- ities for the owners to recover their properties or whether it en- sures a proper balance between the interests of the tenants and those of the owners." The committee said the means test protects tenants with no means to pay their rents, but so does it protect other tenants who would continue occupying the premises for five years despite not having qualified under the means test. "Even where the tenant does not meet the means test, he or she would have five years to va- cate the premises, during which time the rent would amount to only double the rent which would have been payable under the Or- dinance. "Overall, such a mechanism appears to be detrimental to the owners because, on the one hand, a gradual increase means that they will continue to bear most of the social and financial costs of providing housing to the individ- uals, as opposed to the State, and, on the other hand, the establish- ment of this rent and the capping to 2% of the market value seems rather dependent on the means of the tenant and not on the char- acteristics of the property or on the burden on the owners. "In addition, the Maltese au- thorities failed to submit relevant information on the impact of this mechanism so far, whether it has at least led to a significant re- duction of this type of tenancies, as, according to the authorities, there were approximatively 1,600 of those in 2018." The Council of Europe commit- tee is also considering that a draft resolution be passed on Malta's rental regime by the end of 2022. Role of Constitutional Court While the Maltese Constitu- tional Court has recognised that rent-controlled properties in Malta breach owners' right to private property, the same courts have not ordered the eviction of tenants or higher future rent, and instead only order some form of redress for damages. In cases where a civil court or- ders an eviction or establishes a future rent, these are usually revoked by the Constitutional Court on appeal, and even per- sistently reduced the compensa- tion awarded by the first-instance courts. "It is unclear from the Mal- tese authorities' submissions how these aspects have been ad- dressed, if at all," the committee said. "The few examples provided by the authorities are insufficient to support their submissions that the case-law of the Constitution- al Court evolved in a Conven- tion-compliant manner, given the hundreds of persons still af- fected by these regimes, and they do not disclose a clear positive trend in this respect, nor a long- term sustainable attitude of the judicial authorities towards fairly balancing the competing inter- ests at stake. "What is more worrying is that... it appears that the new procedure introduced in 2018 aimed at stul- tifying court pronouncements… as the applicants are obliged to undertake a new procedure be- fore proceeding to evict the ten- ants and, moreover, this mech- anism provides that even where the tenant does not meet the 'means test' he/she would have five years to vacate the premises, during which time the rent would amount to only double the rent which would have been previous- ly payable." The committee could urge the authorities to take resolute action in establishing a fair balance be- tween the interests of tenants and owners, with information to be provided by 30 June 2022. In the absence of tangible pro- gress, the committee could in- struct the Council of Europe's Secretariat to prepare a draft in- terim resolution on Malta's prop- erty regime by September 2022. Strasbourg decision In March 2021, a decision by the European Court of Human Rights declared that the 2018 changes to the Housing (Decontrol) Ordi- nance, which allowed tenants a five-year reprieve before evic- tion, interfered with landlords' right to property. The 2018 amendments for hous- es held under pre-1995 leases, allowed owners to revise con- trolled rents up to a maximum of 2% of the property's value and then only for tenants who satisfy a means test. However, tenants who do not satisfy the means test were still allowed a five- year reprieve before vacating the property, at double the rent payable at the time. The Strasbourg court said the amendments would "allow an unmeritorious tenant – namely one who is not in need of social protection because he or she has not fulfilled the relevant means test – to continue occupying the premises for five years." Means-test seen as delaying tactic on tussle over property In May 2021, social accommodation minister Roderick Galdes described the new rent law unanimously approved by Parliament as "historic"

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