Is it racist to specify race in rental ads?

Among the arguments for rental ads which specify the race of prospective tenants is that religious sensitivities must be taken into account.

PETALING JAYA: Many see the result of the May 9 polls as an indication that Malaysians have at last rejected race politics, but questions remain with regard to racism in other areas of life.

One issue that keeps popping up on social media is advertisements for rental of properties that specify the race of the potential tenants.

There are those who support such a requirement. Among the arguments is that the religious sensitivities of the landlord or the prospective tenant have to be taken into account. For example, a landlord may not want non-halal food to be cooked in his house or a tenant may reject a house in which dogs have been kept.

But property expert Ernest Cheong and Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching are against such advertisements, saying they paint a picture of Malaysians as racists. They said there was no need to specify race in the advertisements because the two parties could always discuss sensitivities face to face.

“The only consideration should be a person’s ability to pay the rent and his track record as a tenant,” said Cheong, a veteran of more than 40 years in the real estate business.

“If a Malay wants to rent my house, I will ask if it’s okay that I’ve been eating pork in the house or that I’ve kept a dog before,” he said. “If he’s okay with that, my next question is, ‘Can you meet the rent I’m asking for?’ It’s very simple.”

He said race, religion or sexual orientation should not be a basis for consideration, at least in the advertisements.

Teo, who is a member of DAP, described such advertisements as rude.

“Landlords can always mention in their advertisements that they have dogs in their houses or that their kitchens may not be halal-friendly,” she said.

“There are Muslims who feel it’s okay to touch dogs, so we shouldn’t assume too much.”

Another property agent, who gave his name as Harry, acknowledged that race was a requirement for many landlords registered with him, especially those renting out properties for RM3,000 and below.

He said he didn’t feel comfortable with such requirements and having to filter out potential tenants according to their race, but would do so to avoid wasting the landlords’ time.

“To agents, race isn’t important because everyone is a client,” he said. “If I have a client who doesn’t meet the race requirement of a landlord but I know this person would be a good tenant, I would propose him to the landlord once, but I wouldn’t push it.”

Harry said Indian tenants were discriminated against the most, not just by other races but by Indian landlords as well.

“One of the most common reasons given by landlords is that Indians can get emotional or that they won’t be good tenants because of the perception that Indians are poor.

“It’s not easy to chase out a tenant. So I think some owners resort to racial profiling to minimise their risk, but I don’t agree with it.”

Harry said good landlords would interview prospective tenants to get a better feel of their character and ability to pay the rent.

“But not every landlord will take the time to do this. So they just give us their race requirement.

“I don’t ask for race when I speak to prospective tenants on the phone because people will get offended, but I try to meet the landlords’ requirements and filter them based on their names and their accents.”