The First Hall of the Civil Court referred a case to the Rent Regulation Board after it decided that it was not competent to hear cases concerning rent issues even if the lease was terminated. This was a judgement delivered on 30 November 2017 by Madame Justice Lorraine Schembri Orland in Joseph Sammut v Liliana Jalil.
Joseph Sammut had filed an application before the First Hall of the Civil Courts claiming that the defendant was occupying his property without a title, since she failed to pay the rent and the water and electricity bills. He further explained that Jalil is refusing to vacate the premises notwithstanding that the lease agreement expired and asked the court to order that she vacate the premises.
Jalil was in default, since she failed to present a statement of defence.
The Court held that it had to first decide whether it was competent to hear and decide on the case, since it dealt with the breach of a lease agreement.
The Court heard the testimony of the plaintiff, Joseph Sammut, who confirmed what was mentioned in his application.
On the issue of the competence of the court, Madame Justice Schembri Orland said that there is sufficient case-law that determines this issue. In 2009 the competences of the Rent Regulation Board were widened. Article 1525(1) of the Civil Code outlines that the competence of the Board “shall have exclusive competence to decide on all matters relating to contracts of lease of urban property and of a residence and of commercial tenements. Other leases fall under the competence of the courts of civil jurisdiction while matters relating to agricultural leases shall fall under the competence of the Rural Leases Control Board appointed according to the provisions of the Agricultural Leases (Reletting) Act.”
Article 16(4) of the Reletting of Urban Property (Regulation) Ordinance reads:
“(4) Without prejudice to any other law the Board shall also decide all matters affecting the leases of urban property including residential as well as commercial property in terms of Title IX of Part II of Book Second of the Civil Code, Of Contracts of Letting and Hiring, including causes relating to the occupation of urban property where such leases have expired.”
These two articles of law were subject to a string of judgements such as Salvatore Bartolo et -v- Anthony Deguara et, decided by the Court of Appeal on 16 December 2015, held that the two articles of law are on equal footing and therefore, one does not depend on the other. The Board is not decided on issues “affecting the leases of urban property”, meaning that it is irrelevant whether the lease is running or terminated. According to Article 1525 the Board is to decide on all issues connected to the lease agreements.
In another judgment Catherine Darmanin et -v- Miriam Cutajar Fiorini et the Court of Appeal o 16 December 2015 held that the Board is competent to decide on any dispute derived from a lease. It makes not difference if the lease is running or terminated. In this particular case, the lease agreement had expired and therefore, was terminated. The plaintiff also alleged that the rent was not paid. Therefore, this case dealt with whether there was a breach of a lease contract and the fact that the lease agreement was terminated does not change the competency of the court.
The Court then ruled that it does not have the competency to hear the case and transferred it to the Rent Regulation Board.
Av Malcolm Mifsud
Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates
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