Fact-check: Are 500,000 foreigners renting properties in Malta? - Featured image

Fact-check Malta: Are 500,000 foreigners renting properties in Malta?

A Facebook post claiming that there are 500,000 foreigners currently renting properties in Malta quickly gained traction last week, being shared across social media.

The post was first published by the Home Owners Association, a local organisation that describes itself as advocating for the rights of homeowners, but soon made its way across several Facebook groups.

The post making the claim was widely shared throughout the day.

Many questioned the figure, pointing out in replies to the post that Malta’s entire population, both foreign and Maltese, is only slightly above the 500,000 mark.

Meanwhile, several people wrote to Times of Malta asking for the claim to be verified.

What does the 500,000 include?

The post did not explain the source of this figure, nor did it give any indication of whether it referred to just long-let accommodation or also included short-lets and rental agreements that went unregistered.

Times of Malta contacted the Home Owners Association to ask what this figure included and how it was reached.

The 500,000 figure, the Association said, only refers to legal, registered long-lets.

This means that it excludes tourists renting a property on a short-let (through AirBnB, for instance). It also excludes people renting properties that have not been registered and go under the radar.

How did the Home Owners Association reach this figure?

The Association says it is basing this estimate on an exercise carried out amongst their members.

The exercise consisted of two questions sent to their members (which, the Association says, total some 28,000 people) as well as the almost 9,000 members of the Federation of Estate Agents and other clients.

The exercise asked respondents to list how many properties they are renting out and how many of their tenants are foreigners.

The Association says it is then extrapolating the replies received to the rest of the rental market.

To give an example of how this works, if the replies they receive cover a tenth of the total number of rental properties in Malta, they multiply the number of foreigners in the responses by ten, under the assumption that their sample is representative of the market as a whole.

This, they say, is leading them to the figure of 500,000 foreigners renting property in Malta.

When asked by Times of Malta to verify their claim by providing evidence of the survey, its findings or the number of responses received, a spokesperson for the Home Owners Association declined. Questions over the methodological rigour of the exercise were also not addressed.

The spokesperson was unable to provide any other evidence to back up the 500,000 figure.

What do official figures show?

Official population and housing data suggests that the Home Owners Association’s claim is far from the truth.

For one thing, the most recent population figures put Malta’s foreign population at 136,000 by the end of 2022, far below the 500,000 claimed.

If we were to assume that Malta’s foreign population has continued to grow at a similar pace since 2022 (roughly at a rate of 21,000 foreign nationals each year), this would bring the number of foreigners in Malta to a little under 180,000 by the end of 2024.

Even if Malta’s foreign population grew at double the rate, rising to 220,000, this would still be far below the claimed figure.

Property data in the public domain also doesn’t tally with the Home Owners Association’s claim.

The Housing Authority’s most recent public records show that there were 60,339 registered rental contracts at the end of 2023, for a total of 128,246 tenants, roughly an average of two people in each property.

The Home Owners Association’s claim would suggest that there are, on average, over eight people living in each rental property.

While there’s no doubt that overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions are a harsh reality for some, as a Sliema apartment found to be housing 40 foreigners last year shows, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the norm across most rental properties.

Proposed changes to Malta’s rent laws hope to curb this abuse, with rental properties set to be restricted to a maximum of six tenants.

So how many foreigners are renting?

The Housing Authority says it doesn’t have an exact number, but it is clear that the vast majority of tenants are foreign nationals.

A 2021 study by the Authority shows that roughly 83% of tenants living under a registered rental property were foreign, compared to just 14% who were Maltese.

More recent studies place this figure even higher, estimating that close to nine out of every ten registered rental properties are leased to non-Maltese nationals.

This would suggest that out of the 128,246 tenants living in registered rental properties, over 115,000 of them are foreign.

What about unregistered rents?

Neither the Home Owners Association’s claim, nor the Housing Authority’s data take unregistered rental agreements into consideration, instead focusing on rental agreements that are registered and documented according to law.

However, the Housing Authority admits that some rental agreements fall through the cracks, with a spokesperson telling Times of Malta that “the prevalence of under-declarations is difficult to ascertain with precision,” despite the Authority’s attempts to investigate and clamp down on abuse.

But unregistered rental agreements are more likely to be prevalent amongst rental agreements involving Maltese (or, at least, EU) tenants, rather than third-country nationals, given that the latter are only awarded a working permit upon presentation of a valid rental contract.


The figure of 500,000 foreigners legally renting property is based on an undisclosed exercise carried out by the Home Owners Association amongst its members.

The Association declined to present Times of Malta with any evidence of the exercise or its methodological rigour when asked to back up its claim and would not say how many people had been surveyed.

The Association also failed to provide any other evidence to indicate that the 500,000 figure is correct.

Official data, including population data published by NSO and rental agreement data published by the Housing Authority suggests that this figure is off the mark.

There were some 136,000 foreign nationals living in Malta at the end of 2022, far fewer than the 500,000 claimed, according to NSO. Meanwhile, an analysis of the Housing Authority’s rental agreements show that there were a total of 128,000 tenants by the end of 2023.

Of these, as many as 90% are believed to be foreign nationals, suggesting that the number of foreigners renting could be roughly 115,000.

The claim is therefore baseless, as there is no evidence to show that it is true.

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Fact Check, Society

Author(s): Neville Borg

Originally published here.