What do you do when your landlord suddenly increases the house rental at exorbitant rates?
In a recent Bernama report, civil lawyer Hizri Hasshan said that many people are still unaware of their rights as a tenant in Malaysia.
Citing a client that he has represented, Hizri revealed that Ahmad Kamil's (not his real name) landlord had suddenly raised the house rental by RM300 to RM1,700 a month. Ahmad retaliated by not paying the rent for several months.
Eventually, his landlord cut off the house's power supply and summoned an agent to intervene. What happened next is perhaps very upsetting for most if not all people.
The agent had entered the premise without Ahmad's knowledge, threw his belongings outside of the house without any care, and changed the door locks.
All this took place during Ahmad's absence.
Was what Ahmad's landlord did legal?
According to Hizri, under specific civil laws, tenants have rights too as do all individuals who enter into any agreement or contract.
"It's a wrongful act under the law. If the aggrieved party refers the matter to a lawyer, action can be taken against the landlord," he told Bernama.
On that note, Ahmad's landlord also did not have to resort to such drastic measures when dealing with difficult tenant as landlords have their own rights too.
"Both the landlord and tenant have their own rights under the law. Not knowing this, some landlords tend to resort to the self-help remedy which is not recognised by the laws of this country. A person has to get a court order in order to enter a house, even if it is his own," explained Hizri, adding that the house owner can institute legal action against the tenant under Section 28(4) of the Civil Law Act 1956 if the tenant defaulted on rent payments and refused to vacate the premise.
The public's lack of knowledge on these matters have caused them to become vulnerable to victimisation and injustice
This is a growing issue which has extended beyond landlord-tenant problems. Most people choose to ignore this, despite the fact that they're being affected by issues related to conveyancing (the legal process of transferring home ownership) or even problems with neighbours.
The crux of the matter is when people are unaware of their rights as enshrined in the law and proceed to using unlawful tactics to tackle a problem.
"This is especially true when it comes to house renovations. Many people don't know that legal action can be taken against them if any of their neighbours complain that they were adversely impacted by the renovations or they (renovations) were done without the approval of the local authority," Hizri said.
With the right information from the legit sources, these people could have approached such issues more tactfully to avoid getting into trouble legally.
Ahmad's story is just one of the many examples in which people remain ignorant about their rights. So, what can people do about it?
The public have been advised to seek legal counsel before entering into any agreement or contract to fully understand the implications involved.
Perhaps not everyone is keen on seeking professional help due to the steep fees charged by lawyers. Fortunately, there are a few entities in Malaysia that offer free legal advice and assistance and one of them is Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Litigation and Legal Aid Centre (PUBLIG), which has been running since 2011.
Formerly known as the Legal Aid Clinic, the centre currently has 40 lawyers, including Hizri, who offer their services pro bono (free of charge) on matters related to civil, criminal and syariah.
According to the head of PUBLIG, Associate Prof Dr Shahrul Mizan Ismail, the centre has played an integral role in linking up lawyers with the public to ensure that they are represented in court.
How do I get in touch with them?
PUBLIG's office is located on the third floor of Wisma UNIKEB in Bangi, Selangor.
The centre is open from Monday to Thursdays at 9am until 4pm. There is also a legal literacy programme that is conducted every Friday.
For more information, call +603-8921 4919 or visit PUBLIG's Facebook Page.
Besides PUBLIG, the public may also refer to the Malaysian Bar Council's self-funded Legal Aid Centres
These legal aid centres were set up by the Malaysian Bar all over Peninsular Malaysia, providing free legal aid to thousands of people every year.
There is also the National Legal Aid Foundation (YBGK), a joint initiative by the Bar Council and government. Anyone can get legal advice at YBGK regardless of their financial means, although it is noted that only those earning below RM36,000 annually will be eligible to get representation during trials.
A recent report by Malay Mail Online revealed that the scheme had benefitted 163,236 people in 2014 and 231,655 in 2015, before dropping to 181,993 in 2016 due to issues related to delayed payments.
Alternatively, the public can also refer to the Legal Aid Department to get advice on all legal matters. To be eligible for the free legal aid services here, the client must be earning less than RM25,000 annually. A person may contribute RM300 for the legal aid services if he or she is earning between RM25,000 and RM30,000 annually.