Tribunal rules it is competent to decide on claims deriving from leases

A Small Claims Tribunal presided by Dr Censu Galea, in Anthony and Mary Dolores Montebello -v- Falk Lindner and Jaynell Lindner, held on 17 February that it was competent to decide on claims derived from lease agreements after the lease was terminated.

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Malcolm Mifsud
27 February 2015, 8:00am
Applicants Montebello held that the defendants, Lindner, owed €2,303 which represented rent and the consumption of water and electricity of a residence in Birkirkara. The Lindners were called upon to pay various times, but failed to do so.

The defendants replied by saying among other pleas, that the Tribunal lacked competence in that according to Article 1525 of the Civil Code, it is the Rent Regulation Board that has exclusive jurisdiction to hear these type of cases.

Dr Galea examined the background of the case where the defendants rented a property in Birkirkara, where together with the rent every month, they also paid various amounts for water and electricity. In January 2014, the defendants rang the applicants informing them of a leak in the roof and asked them to fix it. The problem was not solved and therefore, the Lindners left the premises. After they vacated the property they did not pay the rent, since they had paid up till 10 February 2014. The landlords refused to accept the keys.

The Tribunal then considered the plea of competence, which could have been raised by the Tribunal itself. Article 1525(1) of the Civil Code reads:

(1)    A contract of letting and hiring, whether of things or of work and labour, may be made either verbally or in writing, provided that a contract of letting and hiring of urban property and of a residence and of a commercial tenement entered into after the 1st January, 2010 shall be in writing.

The Rent Regulation Board, (hereinafter referred to as the “Rent Board”), established under the Reletting of Urban Property (Regulation) Ordinance 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 Contol Board appointed according to the provisions of the Agricultural Leases (Reletting) Act.

Dr Galea then quoted from a Court of Appeal judgement, PL J Privitera noe -v- Josephine Camilleri, which on 16 July, 2012, held that all issues concerning rent should be dealt with exclusively by the Rent Regulation Board and this plea may be raised by the court even though none of the parties raised the issue of competence.

The same judgement held that a special law gives exclusive competence concerning the Rent Regulation Board and as a consequence those cases which were heard by the ordinary courts, after the amendments of 2009 were to be heard by the Board. Therefore, Article 3 of the Small Claims Tribunal concerning money claims does not apply and the Tribunal is not competent to hear them.

Following the 2009 amendments to the rent laws, Article 16(4) of the Reletting of Urban Property (Regulation) Ordinance now 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.”

 

However, in Article 39(5) of the amendments found in Act X of 2009 states that the cases of contract of lease that on 1 January 2010 were still pending before the Courts and Tribunals are to be heard by the same Courts and Tribunals. The implication according to the Small Claims Tribunal is that every issue concerning a contract of lease was under the competence of the Rent Regulation Board.

In a previous judgement, Massih Massihnia -v- Stivala Properties Limited, decided by the First Hall of the Civil Courts on 2 July, 2013 it was held that the Rent Regulation Board is a special tribunal and therefore, its jurisdiction should be interpreted narrowly and the jurisdiction of the ordinary court should prevail where the Board’s jurisdiction is not clear.

Therefore, any claim that arises after the termination of the lease cannot be heard by the Rent Regulation Board. This was also held in another judgment Enriketta Bonnici -v- Gordon Borg decided by the Rent Regulation Board on 28 June, 2012, where a distinction was made between ongoing leases and terminated leases. The Board was competent to hear cases in the former instance, while the courts are competent to heard cases concerning leases which have been terminated.

Dr Galea held that from the evidence produced the lease was terminated and the applicants are claiming payment according to the lease agreement. The Tribunal then held that it was competent to hear and decide this particular case.

Malcolm Mifsud, Partner, Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates

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Malcolm Mifsud is a partner at Mifsud & Associates.