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Although it is the lessee’s responsibility to perform acts of maintenance in accordance with the law and the lease contract, this does not mean that if the tenant is in default he can be automatically evicted. Eviction is an act of last resort, as the law provides lessors with other legal remedies in order to enforce the performance of the necessary repairs by the lessee instead of terminating the contract. This was held by the Rent Regulation Board in the case of Maria Louise Borg et. vs Stanley Jones presided by Magistrate Dr Josette Demicoli.

The Board heard the pleas by the plaintiffs who are the co-owners of a tenement in Valletta, leased to the defendant for commercial purposes. They held that the property was in a state of considerable damage as a result of the lack of initiative on the part of the defendant to perform acts of maintenance. The plaintiffs presented a technical report by an architect who stated that the the floors above the second one were in a very damaged state, wherein most of the areas lacked normal maintenance as well as needing major structural works.

Attached to the report were photos showing water damage to the property, rusted beams and a timber structure at roof level which was in an advanced stage of collapse. The architect stated that he was of the opinion that the damage was a result of the lack of repairs and maintenance on the part of the defendant throughout the past ten years of the lease. They pleaded to the Court to order the re-possession of the building by the owners and to evict the tenant, whilst ordering him to pay the liquidated damages in relation to the to his irresponsible conduct.

The defendant rejected the claims by the plaintiffs and stated that the damage to the property had occurred due to the fact that the building was old. He also presented a report by another architect which confirmed this, although it was agreed that urgent acts of repair and maintenance should be performed. Nonetheless, the defendant held that acts of ordinary repair and maintenance were performed by him and that the damage did not affect the structure of the building, and that therefore he should not be evicted.  

The Board nominated two architects to perform an independent assessment of the state of the building as technical experts, in order to assess the state of the damage in the building and whether or not they could be attributed to the alleged negligence on the part of the defendant. The technical experts stated that they found the building to be in a generally good state and saw no structural defects except minor damage to the ceiling and some signs of rust. In his affidavit the defendant held that although they were not his responsibility, he had recently engaged the services of professionals to fix the structural damage.

The Board held that although it will consider the state of the building as it presently was in deciding on the eviction of the tenant, the lessors could not demand the eviction of the tenant, a remedy provided by Article 9 of the Reletting of Urban Property Ordinance (Cap. 69), simply because the tenant had not performed acts of maintenance. It was explained that the remedy in Article 9 was an extreme sanction contemplated by the law a last resort. It, therefore, could not order the eviction of a tenant if less extreme remedies existed wherein the lessors could force the tenant to perform the acts of repair and maintenance.

Quoting the case of Guza Camilleri vs Raymond Chircop (COA Inferior, 2002), the Board stated that in the case of a request for eviction by a lessor because of the delay on the part of the tenant to perform the acts of maintenance, this  could not be accepted unless the damage was considerable enough to merit the extreme remedy of eviction. In this case, the Board held that the damage did not meet this standard contemplated by law, and that the repairs could be done by the tenant without the termination of the lease contract.

It was concluded that the necessary works had been performed by the tenant in the duration of the proceedings and therefore the plea for his eviction was rejected. Nonetheless, the Board was convinced that the starting of proceedings on the part of the plaintiff were necessary to force the tenant to perform the necessary repairs to the tenement, and he was therefore ordered to pay all legal costs of the suit.

Av. Malcolm Mifsud


Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates

This article may also be accessed on Malta Today.

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