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Malaysians Share Horrible Stories Of How They Struggled To Rent A Place Due To Racism

"They allowed me to stay because I didn't look like a 'typical Indian', whatever that meant."

Cover image via Roomly & iBilik

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Disclaimer: Some names have been changed for privacy purposes.

Racism is a b*tch

Despite being a multi-cultural country, racism is still very much prevalent today, especially when it comes to renting or buying a home / bedroom.

It's pretty common to find landlords accepting only a specific race, and some have even gone as far as to state "No Malay/Chinese/Indian/etc" on their house or bedroom listing. It also doesn't help that some rental property websites encourage this by providing the 'preferred race' category.

Sure, there will always be 'bad apples' in the lot — no matter what race. But making sweeping generalisations about an entire ethnicity is when it can turn into racism.

Here are experiences of several Malaysians who shared their encounters with racism when looking for a place to stay:

"He gave me a '???' when I said I'm Malaysian and not a specific race"

"In the details requested by an agent (NRIC/name/age, etc), I filled in 'Malaysian' under the Nationality/Race category. The agent then replied to me with '???' for that section.

"I explained that I'm Malaysian and that there's no need to say what race I am because I'm looking for a room to rent for myself and I had already provided all of the necessary details. He didn't reply after that." — Fatin

"I was told that the owner would prefer locals with a 'nice profile', preferably Chinese or Malay, so Malaysian-Indians were already out by default"

"After asking about my race and learning I'm an Indian from India, the agent said straight up, 'Oh, the owner said he doesn't mind a local Indian, but Indians from outside of Malaysia are very dirty and they cook oily food, so he wasn't keen'.

"What made it even more frustrating was that right before this, I was told that the owner would prefer locals with a 'nice profile', preferably Chinese or Malay, so Malaysian-Indians were already out by default.

"Some, who were okay, insisted that I sign a document saying that I won't cook at home. Most would just straight away decline as soon as I mentioned I'm Indian.

"I've heard this from over two dozen agents/home owners in October last year when I was looking for a house." – Sads, who has been working for a Malaysian company for 10 years and considers himself a Malaysian.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Deva Darshan/Unsplash

"As soon as they find out I'm a male, mixed Malaysian, they stop replying"

"After they saw my race under the details, the agents didn't contact me back. It's been a struggle to find any place to rent in KL as a male and mixed Malaysian, as soon as they know I have some Malaysian-Indian blood." — Lim

"They allowed me to stay because I didn't look like a 'typical Indian', whatever that meant. Lol."

"I've always had issues finding a place to rent. Back in uni, the only rooms that were available for rent to brown people were the ones that were extremely shabby, and in areas that weren't exactly safe for girls.

"I always had to highlight that I was half-Indian, and then only some real estate agents would layan me. Some. For the most part of uni, my Chinese friend had to have her name on the tenancy agreement because I was deemed 'not trustworthy enough'. Even when the landlords met us for the first time, I will never forget the incredulous stares that they gave me, but they couldn't do anything because the tenancy agreement was already signed and my Chinese friend vouched for my character.

"After uni, I moved over to a different area, and I dreaded looking for a place to stay, because I knew I had to go through all the rejections again. I would contact many agents through a property platform, and all of them would ghost me after finding out that I wasn't Malay or Chinese.

"I had to ask my fiancé (non-Indian) at the time to contact them on my behalf. Sure enough, he got more replies than I did, and one agent asked if they could have a picture of me. I obliged, and when I went over for the room viewing, I asked her why she needed my photo. She said that the real estate management company has a WhatsApp group where they would 'decide' who to rent out the rooms to based on how they looked. She showed me the chat, and it was full of pictures of other Indians and foreigners. They allowed me to stay because I didn't look like a 'typical Indian', whatever that meant. Lol.

"Once I paid the deposit and got the room (I was renting the master unit), the agent said to me that there was another agent who regretted ghosting me because the master room is the most expensive room in the house, so agents would get a bigger commission cut if they managed to find a tenant. Too bad." — Laura

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Isaac Martin/Unsplash

"I could only rent a room through a Chinese colleague's recommendation"

"It took me many months to find a room to rent because every time I wanted to rent one, the landlord or agent would say that they preferred someone who is Chinese (I'm a mixed Malaysian). In the end, I could only rent a place through a Chinese colleague's recommendation after she told her family member (landlord) that I was 'safe'." — Brenda

"Some wrote 'Preferred ethnicity: Malay/Chinese/Indian', but when I texted them, they're like 'Sorry this is not a Muslim-friendly house'" — Ida

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Property Hunter

"She said we are looking for a Muslim family only....we don't want babi and all"

"These were the exact words of the agent when I was looking for a place to rent for my friend. She said the owners, who were my neighbours for years, said that they only want to rent to Muslims. I asked why and she said Chinese will eat pork and all, so they don't want that lah cause Muslim cannot have babi and all." — Sam

"The landlord did some background investigation"

"I experienced racism when I was looking for house to rent in Klang. Eventually, a Chinese landlord agreed for us to stay after doing some CID job by checking my husband and my backgrounds." — Theja

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via iProperty

"The agent told another agent that we look like Indians and that we will not have the money to rent"

When we decided to rent a house, we got in touch with the agent to view the unit. After viewing the unit, we had another appointment in the same area for a different unit. 30 minutes before our appointment, the agent cancelled our appointment and said that the owner does not want to rent it to us because we are Indian.

Despite my husband explaining to them that we are not Indians but Eurasians, they were still adamant to not even let us view the unit. A few hours later, we found out from another agent that the agent who brought us to view the first unit spoke openly and told them that we look like Indians and that we will not have the money to rent." — Mira

Racism leaves no room for unity. Let's avoid being racist when renting out properties:

Read about other instances where racism occurred in Malaysia: