Law needed to lay out rights, responsibilities

PETALING JAYA: It is time to push for the tabling of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) to better clarify the responsibilities of landlords and tenants, say property agents.

Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents president Tan Kian Aun said the country needs more specific legislation on tenancy agreements, adding that the current situation often left landlords and tenants without a clear legal framework on their rights and responsibilities.

“The proposed RTA aims to regulate and standardise the relationship between landlords and tenants,” he said in an interview.

The Act, said Tan, would serve as a comprehensive guide, eliminating the need for individual tenancy agreements that often resulted in varied terms and conditions.

“Unlike the existing practice, the Act would set standardised rules, specifying legal and illegal activities for tenants and landlords.“This would address illegal activities, immoral behaviour and law violations within the rented premises,” he said.

On March 29, 2023, Deputy Local Government Development Minister Akmal Nasrullah Mohd Nasir told Parliament that the RTA, which is aimed at addressing rental property issues, would be tabled in Parliament next year.

The ministry, he said, is currently conducting a study on drafting the Act.

Tan said currently, there is also no specific legal provision for authorities like the police to intervene in cases of tenancy disputes, which would typically fall under civil jurisdiction, requiring the affected parties to pursue legal action for breach of contract.

The Act, he said, should also empower the relevant authorities to take appropriate action in cases of criminal activities.

Before the RTA comes into effect, Tan suggested landlords engage with tenants to first establish evidence that they are unaware of any illegal activity or “alternate uses” of their property.

“When tenants inquire about permission for activities such as gambling, landlords must refuse and retain evidence of their conversation. We often advise landlords to do this to protect their rights,” he said.

Property agents also play a crucial part by conducting thorough background checks on tenants, such as criminal records and solvency to ensure that they are not bankrupt, he added.

“We also verify employment status, request documentation such as visas and employment letters for foreigners, and scrutinise income details,” he said.

Lawyer Eric Choo advised landlords to protect themselves by ensuring that their tenancy agreements explicitly state the purpose of property use as well as the prohibition of illegal activities.

“These crucial clauses, typically included in tenancy agreements prepared by qualified lawyers, help safeguard landlords from being implicated in any criminal activities carried out on their premises,” he said.

Landlords, stressed legal counsel Marcus Tan, must lodge a police report upon discovering that tenants had been using their property for criminal activities.

“Failure to do so may result in the landlord being perceived as part of or even abetting the criminal activities.

“Without a formal tenancy or lease agreement, landlords may struggle to explain the situation to the police, potentially leading to suspicion and legal complications.

In Penang, state local government committee chairman Jason H’ng Mooi Lye said action could be taken against bad tenants under Section 70 (12) of the Road, Building and Drainage Act 1974.

“They need to be given 30 days to move out. If they fail to comply, they can be hauled up to court.”

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