Following a constitutional judgement declaring that the owner’s property rights have been infringed, a tenant may be evicted if he solely rests upon the articles of the law to prove his title. This was stated in Rebecca Hyzler Et. Vs Anthony Vella u Maria Rita sive Maria Vella decided by the Rent Regulation Board on the 22nd May 2023. The Board was presided over by Magistrate Dr Joseph Gatt.
The plaintiffs together with their predecessors had filed a case in front of the First Hall Civil Court in its Constitutional Jurisdiction declaring that the conversion of title from temporary emphyteusis to that of lease in accordance with Article 12(2) of Chapter 158, infringed their property rights. The Court declared that the defendants could not rest on Article 12(2) of the Housing (Decontrol) Ordinance, Chapter 158 of the Laws of Malta to keep residing in the property in question. This decision was appealed, whereby the Constitutional Court revoked the part of the sentence indicating Article 12(2) as null and without effect and instead declared Article 12(2) to be null and without effect limitedly between the parties only when it is inconsistent with Article 37 of the Constitution of Malta and Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention, since it violates the fundamental rights of the plaintiff.
Despite this judgment, the plaintiffs could not evict the defendants from the property because of Article 12B(11) of Chapter 158 which was in force at the time. This sub-article had stated that it was mandatory for the owner, obtaining a Constitutional Judgement declaring violations of his property rights, to make use of the means test in front of the Rent Regulation Board to evict the tenants from the property. Therefore, they filed an application before the European Courts requesting a declaration that Article 12B(11) violates their fundamental rights, but the European Courts declared that this was a matter to be decided by the Maltese courts.
Subsequently, Chapter 158 of the laws of Malta was amended by Act XXIV of 2021 and Article 12B(11) was removed. There was no longer any legal impediment refraining the Constitutional Judgment from becoming effective. The plaintiffs proceeded to file an application before the Rent Regulation Board requesting the Board to declare that the defendants cannot continue benefitting from the protection of the special rent laws and that therefore, they have no legal and valid title to continue occupying the said property.
In its judgment, the Rent Regulation Board outlined that the main question was whether following the judgments from both the Constitutional Court and the European Court declaring that the defendants cannot rely on Article 12(2) to prove their title, the plaintiffs could have proceeded to request for eviction or whether they had to follow the means test outlined in Article 12B of Chapter 158.
It stated that the Constitutional Court was unequivocal in its decision. If the only title of the defendants was emanating from Article 12(2) of Chapter 158, they were occupying the property in question unconstitutionally.
The defendants could not expect the Court to disregard the plaintiff’s rights and revive a legislative amended that was subsequently removed from the law.
After all, the defendants were not able to prove that they were occupying the property with some other title, apart from that of the past.
Therefore, the Board could not accept the defendants’ arguments where they argued that Article 12B of Chapter 158 should be construed as drawing up a new title of lease in this case.
On the contrary, the article has given the opportunity to the owner to institute an action to proceed with the assessment of the rent, or eventually the eviction of the tenants from the property with a higher rent for the remaining period in accordance with the law. The Board concluded by acceding to the plaintiffs’ requests and stated that the time-limit given to the defendants to evict the property should not be too short, considering the circumstances. However, a balance should be reached because the plaintiffs have already fallen victims of their fundamental rights.
Av. Jodie Darmanin
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