The Court of Appeal presided by Judge Lawrence Mintoff delivered an important judgement on the 16th February 2022 relating to leases predating 1995 in the names of Alfred Testa pro et noe -vs- Nicholas sive Niki Casolani et.
The plaintiffs owned a Sliema property which had been granted on emphytheusis (cens) to the defendant’s father. This emphyteusis had been eventually and in terms of law converted into a lease and the defendant became the new tenant, thus stepping into the shoes of his predecessor. A constitutional lawsuit had been filed and adjudged in favour of the owners where it was decided that their fundamental rights to property had been violated. A lawsuit in the Rent Regulation Board followed where the plaintiffs requested amongst others to either order the eviction of the tenant or in the event that he is found to satisfy the Means Test, to revaluate the rent due and this in terms of amendments brought about in 2018.
The defendant declared in the Rent Regulation Board that he did not satisfy the means test criteria and therefore could not avail himself from the protection of law. This effectively implied that the tenant was to be evicted within a period of five years at double the rent per annum but the two parties had opposing views as to the date when the said period would be deemed to have commenced to run: on the one hand, the plaintiffs argued that the statutory five-year period would commence from the date when the lawsuit before the Board was originally filed (2018) whilst the defendant argued that the applicable date was the date when the eventual judgement was to be delivered by the Board (2021).
The Rent Regulation Board provided that the defendant was right in arguing that the five-year term was not to run from the date when the lawsuit had been instituted. The Board, indeed, substantiated its reasoning by endorsing the defendant’s arguments who had highlighted that this was the position which emerged from a reading of the applicable law and the parliamentary debates which had preceded the 2018 amendments. However, the Board decided that the five-year term was not to run from the date of its judgement (2021) but from the date of the tenant’s declaration that he did not satisfy the means test criteria (2020).
The plaintiffs appealed this judgement and substantiated their argument by making reference to the maxim of ius superveniens in the light of new legislative amendments which were in the pipeline (these amendments were indeed promulgated a few days after the appeal had been filed). Their position was that the new law was to apply to that case, meaning that the defendant had to vacate the tenant within a period of two years (not five) from the date that the lawsuit was filed (2018 not 2020) at a higher rent in terms of the new law (as opposed to double the preceding rent per annum). The defendant from his end contested this appeal and counteracted by filing a cross-appeal (an appealed party’s right to file another appeal from the judgement) – the main argument of the cross-appeal was that although the judgement of the Rent Regulation Board was in principle correct, the five-year term should have applied from the date of the judgement and not from any other date since the wording of the law was clear.
The Court of Appeal, whilst rejecting the appeal of the plaintiffs in its totality, upheld the cross-appeal filed by the defendant and all his arguments, meaning that it reformed the Board’s decision in a manner that the defendant was allowed a period of five years from the date of the Board’s decision (2021) to vacate the premises. This meant that the defendant was allowed to vacate the premises in 2026 by paying double the preceding rent per annum as opposed to the position of the plaintiffs who had argued that eviction was to take place in 2020 with much higher rent payments. In its judgement, the Court of Appeal stated that the law as applicable to this case was very clear and in no uncertain terms highlighted that the period for eviction could only be calculated as from the date of the judgement of the Rent Regulation Board. The ius superveniens argument raised by the plaintiff was rejected by the Court.
This judgement therefore definitely confirms that where it results that a tenant is not protected in terms of law since he would not satisfy the means test criteria vis-à-vis pre-1995 leases in terms of Chapters 69 and 158 of the Laws of Malta, the period for the eviction of the said tenant shall only run from the date of the final decision of the Rent Regulation Board. Additionally, it also reiterated that the laws which should regulate the rights and obligations of the parties involved in a lawsuit should be those laws applicable at the time of the proceedings and not ones which supervene the said disputes.
Lawyers Antoine Naudi and Tyrone Grech from this Firm represented the defendant.
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