Tough deal for landlords

A MALAYSIAN of Chinese and Indian descent recently looked for a place to rent and ended up being discriminated because he was deemed not Chinese enough by the landlords.

A Malay couple was declined an appointment by a landlord because they didn’t look Chinese in a picture sent by the real estate agent.

I’ve rented to people who looked good and supposedly owned a restaurant. They ended up not paying the rent.

Character is hard to judge and many landlords resort to short cuts by profiling tenants based on race, age, sex, etc. Perhaps time is money to many, and there is not much of it to waste to discover if one’s tenant can pay the rent. Race: check; age: check; occupation: check; large deposit cashed: check; okay, it’s a deal.

The truth is, being a landlord is a tough deal. Evicting tenants is a highly stressful experience. You worry if the person will retaliate by destroying your property. You worry if he will resort to violence. You feel bad for forcing him to pay while his child looks at you like you’re a villain.

So yes, some landlords are racists but the stakes are high, where the risk is having a non-paying tenant who is impossible to evict. I know, I evicted one. From the outside, the guy ticked all the boxes: Caucasian, well-spoken, friendly, and exhibited signs of being open to cultures. He ended up trashing the place and not paying rent for three months. We had to settle the case at the local Rental Board where he was finally evicted (this was back when I was living in Montreal).

A small percentage of people doesn’t represent the entire group. Take tourists from China, for example. I’ve been to places where Chinese tourists invade your space, have no regard for queuing up, and don’t respect seating arrangements despite multiple attempts by attendants to coax them to give up their seats.

In fact, the attitude is so bad that recently the Chinese government had to impose jail terms on citizens who refuse to give up seats not assigned to them on trains. One lady was sentenced to jail for five years.

But when I looked at all my friends from China from my student days, I realised how friendly and helpful they were. There was none of the rowdiness we see so often with tourists from China nowadays. So I think that while cultural background may be a factor, it all boils down to numbers.

I recently started handling a large class of students. And the number of issues I dealt with increased immensely compared to last semester when my class size was only a fraction of what it is now. I also realised that 15 out of 150 who misbehave is only 10% of the class. Before this, I had four who misbehaved out of 20, which was about 20%. So while the percentage of bad behaviour halved, the number of misbehaving students actually almost quadrupled.

While the proportion of issues is actually lower in a big class compared to the smaller one, when it comes to experience, you feel like the problem is worse because you’re dealing with 15 students instead of four.

You can extend that to the experience of driving around town. If you drive around town one afternoon and encounter a total of 50 cars that day and three drivers overtook you without indicating, that’s only 6% of the total number of cars you encountered.

If you drove out to buy groceries at the corner shop and encountered 10 cars, and one overtook your car without signalling, that’s already 10% of the cars you encountered that day.

Six per cent sounds like less but three rowdy drivers to deal with is not exactly a more pleasant experience than one rowdy driver. You’re tempted to think the second experience is better than the first, but statistics-wise, the first scenario had a lower proportion of misbehaving drivers.

Perhaps, contrary to popular belief, it’s not that Malaysians or Asians are bad drivers. Maybe we just have too many cars in Asia. Large cities, high population density and lack of town planning don’t exactly help either.

In a similar manner, Chinese tourists may not be rowdier than visitors from other countries, but there’s just too large of a population in China that however many you encounter, no matter how small of a percentage of the country’s 1.3 billion people, it’s still significant in total figures.

Perhaps the same argument holds for tenants: there’s just too many out there that you’re bound to encounter some bad ones.

While strategies exist for landlords to weed out potential problems later on, perhaps it’s wiser to leave race out of the equation and focus on actual facts and numbers such as profession, credentials, recommendations and, where possible, credit report ratings.

At least that should be the case as we progress to a more developed status where open-mindedness and acceptance become values to be celebrated.



Letters , People , discrimination