Thu, 28 Sep 2023


For many, race remains a hurdle to renting a home
Published on: Sunday, August 27, 2023
By: Samuel Chua, FMT
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A proposed Residential Tenancy Act is in the works which will prohibit racial discrimination and, hopefully, level the playing field for tenants.
PETALING JAYA: It took over a year before Anthon Tanabalasingam and Shalini Yeap found a place to rent.

While identifying a suitable home was relatively easy for the newly married couple, finding an owner who was willing to accept them as tenants was much more daunting.

The one issue affecting Tanabalasingam and Yeap’s application was their race.

Tanabalasingam said while he had heard of others being discriminated against when house hunting, experiencing it first-hand was quite a “surprise”.

“Quite a number of people didn’t want to rent out to Indians for some reason. So that’s the hurdle, and it took us about a year-and-a-half to find a suitable place,” the 32-year-old content creator told FMT.

Tanabalasingam said they were willing to fork out RM4,000 to rent a place, but even then, they struggled to secure one.

“They were worried that Indians can’t afford rent, so it was very interesting,” he said.

But the complications that Tanabalasingam – who eventually managed to rent a landed property earlier this year – had to deal with are not new, with reports of “racist” homeowners cropping up every now and again.

In 2019, a survey reported by the New Straits Times found that 62% of more than 1,000 Malaysians looking for a place to rent had come across advertisements requiring prospective tenants to be of a particular race.

The daily also reported that a “quick search” on property rental websites to identify listings limiting potential tenants to a particular ethnicity or specifying the landlords’ preference pulled up “thousands of posts in locations across the country”.

Ryan Chua of Pusat Komas, an NGO that advocates against racism, said existing legislation in Malaysia was of no help to renters facing discrimination, leaving individuals to pursue legal recourse on their own.

“But court proceedings tend to be prolonged and the expenses involved in resolving such matters through these means are significantly higher than reclaiming your deposit,” he said.

Chua hopes a proposed Residential Tenancy Act, which prohibits racial discrimination, would help level the playing field for tenants. It is expected to be tabled in Parliament next year.

“When you have the Residential Tenancy Act, elements of non-discrimination are also in there (the Act), and it allows people to also have conversations to resolve such issues,” he said.

Yeap, however, does not believe that legal measures can fully address the issue.

“I don’t see how the law can fix this problem as people will still have their prejudices. It does not fix the core issue. (It’s just important) to not judge people by their skin colour,” the freelance writer said.


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