The Constitutional Court has overturned a judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court and awarded a property owner €5,000 by way of moral damages for violation of the right to enjoyment of property.

The judgment was delivered by Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano, Mr Justice Joseph D. Camilleri and Mr Justice Joseph A. Filletti in a constitutional case filed by Strickland Ltd, represented by Charles Adrian Strickland, against the Prime Minister, the Minister for Social Housing and the Director of Social Housing.

The company had told the first court that it owned 10 apartments on the top floor of the complex known as Marshall Court, Gżira. The apartments had been requisitioned in 1969. The total rent received by the company for all the 10 apartments was €2,430 per annum, which was the rent established by law.

However, the company had to carry out essential repairs to the roofs of some of the apartments and had spent €12,465 on the job. It also resulted that other works, valued at €87,230, had to be carried out to the roofs in the near future. The company added that in terms of law it would only be able to recoup 10 per cent of the cost of the repairs from the occupants. The company therefore claimed that its right to freedom of enjoyment of its own property was being violated and it requested a remedy.

The First Hall of the Civil Court dismissed the company's claim and Strickland Ltd lodged an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court declared that it had found it difficult to establish on what basis the first court had dismissed the company's claim. It appeared that the first court had decided that the greater part of the expenses mentioned by the company had not yet been carried out. The first court had remarked that the situation had arisen as a result of the requisition of the 10 apartments but that the company was not attacking the requisition order. Nor had the company challenged the constitutionality of the law in terms of which the requisition had taken place or the law regulating the relationship between landlord and tenant.

The Constitutional Court declared that it totally disagreed with the reasoning of the first court. Although the facts as listed by the first court were correct, there could still be a violation of human rights if the right was being threatened. The court added that there could also be a violation of human rights by the application, to concrete cases, of laws which, if applied to different cases would lead to no violation of such rights.

This case revolved around the issue of the restriction imposed upon the landlord to increase the rent so as to make good for repairs carried out to tenants' property. Such a restriction could constitute a violation of the right to use of property as protected by both the European Convention and the Constitution.

The law stipulated that when a landlord carried out repairs to leased premises that were not decontrolled, then the rent due to the landlord could only increase by 10 per cent of the value of the repairs. It was obvious, the Constitutional Court said, that the vital point here was the rent payable before the repairs took place.

The court pointed out that the company had spent €12,232 to repair the roof of two apartments in this complex. Each of these two apartments paid the company rent of Lm83 per annum. Consequently, over the next 10-year period, the company would only be able to recoup €7,735 of the expenses it had paid. Even if one only considered these repairs and not the estimated expense of over €86,210 to repair the other roofs, it was obvious that there was a considerable imbalance between the interests of the landlord and those of society as a whole.

Quoting extensively from judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the Constitutional Court ruled that in this case the authorities had imposed a disproportionate and excessive burden on the landlord which could not be justified by any legitimate interests of society in general.

The court added that it was not stating that the law itself was in violation of the company's human rights. On the contrary, it was the application of the law to the facts of this particular case which had violated the company's right to enjoyment of its property.

In conclusion, the court found in favour of the company and revoked the first court's judgment. The company was awarded €5,000 in moral damages and the court reserved the company's right to seek material damages in the future.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us