Malta’s old rent laws were slammed by the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered the state to compensate landlords more than €350,000 for six separate cases.

The cases – all decided in the past week – established a breach in the owners’ fundamental right to the enjoyment of their properties without hindrance. The ECHR also said that the Maltese constitutional court did not offer sufficient relief to the property owners.

The cases concerned properties where the owners were forced into a unilateral lease relationship for an indeterminate time without reflecting a fair and adequate rent, resulting from the 1979 rent laws.

Malta has repeatedly been reprimanded for breaching the European Convention of Human Rights through its old rent laws. It said that “a disproportionate and excessive burden” was imposed on the applicants and that the Maltese state “failed to strike the requisite fair balance between the general interests of the community and the protection of the applicant’s right of property”.

Owners should have received over €1.1 million in rent since 1987 but the amount actually received was approximately €2,450

In the case instituted by Francesca Bonnici, Anthony and Joseph Vassallo over a property inherited in Gżira, the court found that, as established by the local courts, the applicants were made to bear a disproportionate burden. They were also made to retain victim status because the redress provided by the Maltese courts “did not offer sufficient relief”. It therefore awarded €12,000 in respect of pecuniary damage and an additional €5,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable on that amount, in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

In the case filed by Simone Galea and Dorothy Borg over the property in Nicolò Isouard Street, Sliema, the European Court noted that the €20,000 compensation awarded by the Maltese court was not adequate when considering that the owners were receiving just over €1,000 a year for a property with a rental value of over €14,000. It therefore increased the awarded damages to €81,000.

In another case, the European Court did not only find a breach of the landlords’ property right over the rental of a residence in Dingli Street, Sliema, but also found that the Maltese Constitutional Courts had been ineffective in addressing the predicament they faced. It ruled that the landlords, the Grima and Parnis England families had also suffered a breach of their right to an effective remedy, for which they were awarded €35,000 in compensation.

Another case the ECHR dealt with was over the rental of a property in Naxxar used as the headquarters of the Naxxar Lions Football Club. Since 1945, the property was leased for just €66, increasing slightly in 2014 and again in 2019 when the annual rent was €108. From 2015, the owners were also entitled to five per cent on the profits made by the tenants on the economic activity pursued by the club, which in the present case amounted to around €550 per year. The European Court heard a court-appointed expert declare that the owners should have received over €1.1 million in rent since 1987 but the amount actually received was approximately €2,450.

The Maltese courts awarded the landlords €256,000 in compensation and the applicants instituted eviction proceedings before the Rent Regulation Board, which ordered the eviction of the tenants in June 2021. The tenants initially failed to comply with the order, but an executive warrant of eviction was finally executed in January last year and the applicants, Lillian Martinelli and others, regained possession of the property. It awarded the landlords an additional €200,000 in compensation.

In another case filed by the Abela family over breaches of their property rights over a residence in Cospicua, the court doubled the €10,000 awarded by the Maltese courts in compensation after it found that not only were property rights breached but the state failed to provide the landlords with an effective remedy. It also added €1,000 in non-pecuniary damages.  Lawyers Cedric Mifsud and Michael Camilleri represented the Abela family.  

The final case was one filed by J&C Properties Limited over a property in St Joseph High Street, Ħamrun. The European Court added €7,000 to the €15,000 awarded by the Maltese courts after it found a breach of the company’s right to the enjoyment of its property. Lawyers Michael Camilleri, Karl Micallef and Edward Debono represented the applicants while State Advocate Chris Soler represented the state.

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