When a tenant fails to perform maintenance, which leads to serious damage to the rented property, then the tenant may be evicted from that property. This was held by Magistrate Josette Demicoli, who presided the Rent Regulation Board sitting in Joseph and Frances Barbara -v- Maria Concetta Mifsud. The judgement was delivered on 15 September, 2017.
The Barbara family filed an application before the Rent Regulation Board, asking to take possession back of a rural entrance (remissa). They explained that in January 1994, they rented to Mifsud two premises in Zejtun for Lm5 a year each. Number 84 was a residence, while 86 was the rural entrance, but there was no regular maintenance and it was full of waste. Now the Barbaras need number 86.
Mifsud failed to present a statement of defence and did not make any submissions.
Magistrate Demicoli analysed the lease agreement where Mifsud was bound to pay Lm10 for both properties. The lease was renewable yearly and she was also bound not to keep animals on the roof. The board made reference to a previous judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal on 1 December, 2014, Frances Cassar et -v- B&M Supplies Limited. Then the Court held that the tenant, according to Article 1554 of the Civil Court, is bound to use the rented thing as though he was a good father and should carry out maintenance. According to Article 1561 of the Civil Court, the tenant is to answer for any damages caused during his/her possession, when the tenant does not prove that the damage caused is no fault of his.
The tenant is also obliged to return the property rented in a good state at the end of the lease. Article 1126(1) of the Civil Code in fact reads:
“(1) The obligation to give a thing carries with it the obligation to deliver the thing, and to preserve it until the delivery.”
This article combined with Article 1561 of the same code puts the burden of proof on the tenant.
The board pointed out that when the damage is of a serious nature and irreparable or compromises its conservation, then the thing rented may be returned to the owner. This is also repeated in Article 9(c) of the Reletting of Urban Property (Regulation) Ordinance. However, not any type of damage is adequate to evict a tenant. The lack of maintenance must cause substantial damage. The damage must be of a certain entity and not of little importance. The Courts may order the tenant to carry out works and not apply eviction.
In this particular case the board took on board a technical report of experts it appointed. From this report and the evidence produced, the damage found in the rural entrance is not of a small nature. The lack of maintenance rendered this property in an extremely bad state and hindered its enjoyment.
The technical expert went on site in Joseph Barbara’s presence. They observed that there was a wall which was demolished. The court appointed expert concluded that the property in question is abandoned and maintenance was not carried out for many years. The expert gave a list of works that should be carried out to remedy the damages.
The applicants testified by means of an affidavit that they need the property for their tools and since it is abandoned they would like it back.
The Rent Regulation Board acceded to Barbara’s claims and gave Mifsud one month to vacate.
Av Malcolm Mifsud
Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates
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