Authority cannot notify non-existent company

The Lands Department was correct to notify the person occupying a property, since the company which was the tenant, was struck off

The Lands Department was correct to notify the person occupying a property, since the company which was the tenant, was struck off. This was held in a judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal on 22 November 2023 in Joseph Brown vs Lands Authority. The Court was presided over by Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff.

Joseph Brown, the Appellant, appealed from a decision of the Administrative Review Tribunal delivered on 11 May 2023, where the Tribunal agreed with the Lands Authority.

The Court analysed the facts of the case, where in July 2022, Brown received a judicial letter where he was occupying a commercial premises in Valletta, illegally. Brown appealed to the Tribunal saying that the property was rented to a company, and he was merely a director of that company. The Lands Authority held that the property was originally rented to Brown personally. Furthermore, the company does not exist anymore and therefore, he does not have any title anymore.

The Tribunal in its decision held that the Lands Authority acted in terms of Article 9(1)(a) of the Government Lands Act. Brown held that he was not the correct party, since the property was rented out to a company, and he was occupying the property as a director of the company.

From the evidence produced it resulted that in January 2013, the Commissioner of Lands rented the property to Joe Brown Limited. The property was in compensation for another property Brown was occupying and which was needed for social accommodation. The judicial letter was sent in September 2019 for him and the company to be evicted. In April 2020, the company’s lawyer wrote asking the Land’s Authority to recognise Brown personally. In June 2020, the company was struck off.

A number of persons testified, and Brown explained that another property he used was taken from him and the present property was rented instead. The Authority’s lawyer testified stating that this was not the case and that the company was struck off.

The Tribunal pointed out that the lease was terminated in September 2019, by means of a letter addressed to Brown personally and to the company. The Tribunal also pointed out that Brown’s evidence concentrated on whether the property he had was expropriated and given an alternative site. However, the issue at hand was with regard to a request to evict him from the property.

The Tribunal held that the company no longer exists. If the company does not exist, then Brown is neither a director nor a shareholder. Brown had started procedures for the company to be revived, but the action is still pending and therefore, in the same status.

The Tribunal then moved to reject Brown’s request. Consequently, Brown appealed the decision. He argued that the Tribunal should not have judicial cognizance of the judicial letter which was sent by the Lands Authority. This was not presented as evidence. Furthermore, the Lands Authority accepted the payment of rent after the letter was sent and therefore, the extension of the lease was accepted.

The Lands Authority replied that the fact that the company does not exist, changes the whole scenario.

The Court of Appeal held that these proceedings started after the Appellant received the judicial letter asking him to vacate the property. This is the letter the Tribunal should have concentrated its efforts on. The Lands Authority had an executive title for the tenants to vacate the property and it could have acted upon it without issuing another judicial letter. Joe Brown Limited is not a party to these proceedings. Therefore, the Tribunal did not need to take into account the existence of the company. The Tribunal was set up to analyse administrative decisions. Considerations on the notification of the company is of no importance.

The Court of Appeal also stated that whether Joe Brown Limited was truck off was of no relevance. The Lands Authority could not have filed a judicial letter against somebody who does not exist. The judicial letter had to be sent to Brown personally because he is occupying the property. Therefore, the administrative decision to notify the Appellant was correct.

The Court of Appeal moved to reject the appeal.