Why Do Local Landlords Reject African Tenants?

Is it fair to let race and nationality affect so many aspects of our lives?

Cover image via Rage

Have you ever come across this when looking for places to rent in Malaysia?

Image via iBilik

One look at it and everything seems pretty normal with all the details listed down, but if you look closer, you'll see that some of the landlords have also included their racial preference

Image via iBilik

With Malaysia ever-ready and eager to be a first world nation with world class facilities and infrastructure, more people are pouring in from various parts of the world, mainly for studies and work purposes

Not only are we receiving a great deal of blue and white collar workers, our intake of international students have also increased a great deal, thanks to the sudden boom of private universities in Malaysia.

Public universities, including the country's top institutions like the University of Malaya, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) have also increased their quota for international students.

Local universities, both public and private are peppered with a diverse group of students of late, with a great deal of international students coming from the Middle Eastern and the African continent.

If you think it is difficult to be a Malaysian and find a decent place to rent in Malaysia, try being a foreigner, or better yet, an African.

We usually see it in the movies, the rejections and derogatory remarks thrown at anyone with even a hint of African ancestry but in Malaysia it is quickly becoming a reality.

Many African nationals come to Malaysia with education as their main goal, so looking for a good place to stay at is crucial.

Unfortunately, a lot of Africans have complained about how they are treated differently and rejected due to their nationality.

In 2013, a condominium in Bandar Sri Subang slapped a ban against their African tenants, giving them only three months to vacate the premises for being a "nuisance"

“African” tenants at a Bandar Sri Subang condominium here have three months to vacate their units after the building’s management slapped an unprecedented occupancy ban on them last week.

The decision came after the majority of Ridzuan Condominium residents voted in an annual general meeting (AGM) held on July 6 against renting their units to foreigners from the continent, whom they allege to have “caused a lot of nuisance”.

The Malay Mail Online sighted a copy of the memo circulated to Ridzuan residents explaining the ban, which has also been making the rounds online through Facebook.

According to the memo, the presence of Africans has created “a lot of nuisance and problems to the community”, which in turn has driven down the property value of units there.

It further asserts that owners have found it difficult to rent out or sell their units to other prospective customers due to the alleged situation.

To better understand the real situation with the local renting scene, we had a little chat with a couple of foreign nationals that have been living in Malaysia for almost a decade:

Names in this story have been changed for privacy reasons.

A 26-year-old Motswana shared with us her experiences on renting from local homeowners, highlighting the fact that her nationality was a major game-changer on whether she gets a place to rent or not

"The first question I always get when I call a potential landlord is; 'Where are you from?' and when I tell them I am from any part of the African continent, they usually hang up and never call back," lamented *Jane, who has been living here for eight years.

Image via letaroom

"I have seen several adverts saying "No Africans" or "No foreigners" or even the ones that specify the races that they are looking for.

It used to bother me when I first arrived in Malaysia, but after being here for so long they don't bother me at all. So, I'll just keep looking until I find someone who'll consider an African national for a tenant," added *Jane.

Jane explained that she understands why some people are particular about their choice of flatmates, but she could never understand why landlords refuse to rent out houses based on a person's nationality

"I personally do not have a problem staying with people from other countries. I've shared an apartment with some girls from Pakistan and also from China.

I do understand why some people would be picky about who they share a place with, so I don't really hold it against them.

However, it bothers me when they refuse to rent out a whole apartment to someone because of their nationality," said Jane.

A report by The Rage last year, revealed that Africans are mostly at a disadvantage when renting places locally, with some of them having to wait for at least a year before finding a place to stay at, here

Image via Rage

Their (The Rage) interview with students of African ethnicity, Mwamba Chisanga, 22 from Swaziland and Dipo Emmanuel, 24, from Nigeria revealed the ugly truth behind the renting process for Africans in Malaysia.

"It took me almost a year before I was able to get an apartment. I went through countless houses but as soon as the homeowner heard that I was African, vacancies would magically fill themselves up," lamented Dipo.

Sometimes the rejections come much later. Swazi national Mwamba, who speaks flawless English says he usually gets rejected even after meeting the house owners and agents. What starts like a promising rental option usually ends with unanswered calls by the agents.

A Sri Lankan student noted that most international students of color usually face some form of discrimination when looking for places to rent locally, with Africans always receiving the short end of the stick.

The unfortunate thing is that, it isn't just some homeowners that treat African nationals with prejudice

A few other Africans that we spoke to, also revealed that they shared similar experiences, with not only local landlords and tenants but also the masses. Being stared at or having people walk away from them in Malaysia has become a common ordeal for them.

A 25-year-old Nigerian girl that we spoke to, talked about how she would be ignored by local cab drivers when waiting in line for a ride.

She further revealed that when she shops at kedai runcits (local grocers), a sales person would almost always tail her until she makes her purchases and leaves the shop.

However, after years of facing the brunt of prejudiced landlords, our friends from the African continent are just saddened by the fact this is quickly becoming a norm in Malaysia

"It saddens me that some Malaysians are not welcoming to foreigners as it really gives Malaysia a bad name in that sense, but for someone like me who has been here for so long, it has become a norm.

Which is sad, because discrimination should never become a norm. Even after all these years of living here, I still feel like a foreigner.

This has in a way affected my perception towards some Malaysians, but I am fully aware that not everyone is like that. It also comes down to the fact that these landlords and locals might have never been exposed to people of other nationalities which leads to their uncertainty with taking in Africans."

It is a common knowledge that in most parts of the world, a particular race is always associated with a certain stereotype, but the question remains as to whether is it fair to subject strangers to the same preconceived ideas

In Malaysia, most of us would have grown up hearing to a whole motley of assumptions made about the main races here; the Chinese are supposedly calculative, the Indians smelly and are most often involved in criminal activities and that the Malays are lazy.

But, the truth of the matter is that these stereotypes are hardly true. A person's behavior has very little to do with his or her race and as cliche as this may sound, it is psychologically proven that our behaviour and personality develops in our formative years, mostly based on the kind of environment we grow up in.

So, despite the fact that most people would argue that stereotypes exist for a reason, our personalities, likes and dislikes are more influenced by our surroundings than our race.

There's talk about embracing diversity all the time, with the world completely immersed in a melting pot of cultures, so why is it that some of us still insist on living with only people of a particular race?

The preference box on a local rental site

Image via iBilik

Malaysia used to take pride in being one of the very few countries in the world with a multicultural population.

However, over the years, thanks to the power of technology and the beauty of globalisation, the whole world is a multi-ethnic society.

With all the cultural assimilation and appropriation that comes with globalisation, we can easily assume that people would be more accepting towards differences, but the truth can often shock us.

Why does this this social stigma with taking in foreign nationals or in this case, African tenants, exist?

Image via City Pass Guide

The problem usually arises when homeowners start associating all African nationals with negative news they read about them, generalising that all of them would be involved in similar activities

While it is each homeowner's prerogative to decide on the specifics of their tenants, the question remains on whether they should apply racial stereotypes when looking for tenants.

We should also take into consideration that this racial preference that homeowners have with tenants might just have to do with them wanting to live with people that share the same culture and daily habits.

For example, it is more convenient for Muslim homeowners to rent out their houses or rooms to other Muslims as they share the same culture, especially when it comes to food restrictions.

As much as we would like to be angry about the unjust treatment that certain foreign nationals receive when looking for rooms in Malaysia, it is only fair to take a step back and perhaps analyse why homeowners choose to tick the racial preference box.

While the real reason behind the extreme discrimination against African nationals remains vague, all the disturbing news about online fraud scams and drug trafficking cases related to Africans certainly adds to the preconceived ideas

The news has been abuzz of late with many cases of African nationals being involved in drug trafficking cases and Internet scams. While it is wrong to assume that every single African you meet might be involved in a criminal activity, people are often very cautious about things like this.

Fear usually drives people to think twice before renting out their spaces to people, which could be the reason why many local landlords avoid African tenants.

While we may wonder why people give in to these fears and stereotypes, bear in mind that renting out a property that you own is a very serious business and it involves trusting an absolute stranger with your house.

"I've been in Malaysia for almost eight years and I've stayed in four different places all around Klang Valley and all the agents have treated me well so far.

I think it all goes back to the way you interact with them, if you pay your bills and rent on time, they will treat you fine."

What do you think about this tricky situation? Let us know in the comment section below!

While we are on the topic of African nationals, ever wondered why Asians, Arabs and Africans are most often called immigrants while the westerners are almost always referred to as "expats"?

As some of us choose to generalise and associate criminally inclined personalities with Africans, the fact remains that one of the world's most well-known, inspiring leader is, an African:

You may be interested in: