Court declares it has no jurisdiction to decide on rent due

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale held that the court was not competent at law to decide whether the lessee owed rent in an ongoing lease. 

This was decided on 9 March, 2015 in Joseph Tanti and Christine Mifsud v Perit Colin Zammit and Perit Christopher Grech.

The plaintiffs asked the court to order the architects to pay €4,586.48 for unpaid rents for a premises in Mosta in terms of a lease agreement signed on 14 November, 1995.

Architects Zammit and Grech defended the action by filing a plea of lack of competence to hear the case in terms of Article 1525 of the Civil Code which states that the Rent Regulation Board has exclusive jurisdiction of all matters relating to rents. Zammit and Grech also argued that they had agreed with the father of the plaintiffs that the next increase in rent would take place on 1 July, 2016.

The magistrates’ court held that its judgement would deal only with the first plea of competence. In fact Magistrate Depasquale examined the facts of the case where the late father of the plaintiffs had entered into a lease agreement with the defendants for five years. The rent was to be increased according to the inflation rate at the beginning of the five years renewed period. The plaintiffs are asking for the difference of rent paid and the increase in rent from 14 November, 2010 to the date the case was filed. The defendants claim that there was a written agreement with the plaintiffs’ father that the increase in rent was to commence from 2016.

On the issue of competence of the court the judgement quoted a previous Court of Appeal judgement in Enriketta Bonnici and Gordon Borg of 4 December, 2013 which stated that the law does not make a distinction between an ongoing lease and a terminated lease. However, the intention of the legislator was to give jurisdiction to the Rent Regulation Board of leases when the contract was still in vigore. Art 16 of the Reletting of Urban Property (Regulation) Ordinance indicates that after termination of the lease the ordinary courts, and not the Rent Regulation Board, have jurisdiction. Therefore the ordinary courts may deal with issues for example when compensation is sought for abusive occupation following the termination of a lease. Magistrate Depasquale drew the conclusion that it is the Rent Regulation Board that must hear cases when the lease contract is still valid

The court then examined the status of the lease and whether it was terminated or ongoing. From the initial application of the plaintiffs, they are asking the court to order the defendants to pay the difference of the rent already paid and the rent according to the 1995 lease agreement. The defendants are disputing this, by saying that the higher rent is to commence in 2016. Therefore, from these two positions it is clear that the lease is ongoing. Furthermore, from the lease agreement, the lease automatically extended for five-year periods and when the action was filed the lease was to expire in November 2015.

Magistrate Depasquale accepted the defendants’ plea and declared that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

Malcolm Mifsud, Partner, 

Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates

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