It’s an age-old debate, but the R.AGE team might just have uncovered definitive proof – there is racial discrimination in the Malaysian property market.

Three R.AGE journalists, all of different races, called the same 30 property listings for their latest documentary, Racist Rentals.

Close to 50% of the agents or homeowners rejected them because they would only entertain tenants of certain races. And this was just a phone call to get a viewing, not to meet the owners, have an interview, or make an offer.

According to various real estate agents, it’s a widespread practice in Malaysia – landlords instruct agents to immediately reject people of certain races or nationalities, because based on experience, these groups tend to be bad tenants.

R.AGE released its findings in an online documentary, and the response was swift. A post on Facebook generated over 260 comments in less than 24 hours, many from renters who had faced similar discrimination.

“I was rejected by a landlord because apparently Indian cooking stinks,” commented one Facebook user Dhibeshiny K. Jaya Raman.

“Not a banana leaf lover, I guess. Another landlord said it’s okay even if I had a pet dog, but said no after meeting me, saying his other tenants wouldn’t want an Indian. Right to my face,” she said.

So essentially, that landlord is okay with pets, but not with certain races.

Several foreigners living in Malaysia chimed in as well, saying how surprised they were that racial filtering was practised so openly.

“As an Indonesian, I struggled when I first got here. I guess I could’ve just indulged the landlords and pretended to be Malay, but that would be wrong,” said another user Ari Vanuaranu.

The landlords’ perspective

Many landlords interviewed for the project insist that it has nothing to do with race – that they are simply trying to find suitable tenants based on their personal preferences, or that they’re simply protecting their investment.

Many also said they instruct agents to reject certain races to avoid conflict due to cultural differences.

“Stereotypes generally hold some weight,” said one landlord, on condition of anonymity. For example, he believes Indian nationals don’t take care of rented properties as well as other races because in India, they are used to having maids, whereas if they’re renting in Malaysia, hired help could be expensive.

Several others agreed, saying that they have had bad experiences with tenants of certain races, which led them to place blanket bans on those races.

Real estate agent Siva Shanker, former president of the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents, disagrees with the practice, but said agents have no choice but to accept landlords’ instructions.

Countries like the United States, Australia and Singapore have anti-discrimination laws that discourage landlords from doing it, something which Malaysia does not have.

“Sometimes the agents lie, because it breaks our heart to tell the potential tenant the truth, so we say, ‘oh, the unit has already been taken’,” said Siva.

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