Deciphering the impact of domestic tenancy laws in resolving landlord-tenant disputes

Financial Express | 30th November, 2021

The jurisprudence regarding landlord-tenant dispute in the country is a reflection of the current social and economic conditions. After the partition, there was an influx of migrants, who became tenants in various residential / commercial properties. Given the situation then, there existed a liberal approach in favour of tenants. However, with the development of economic conditions, the law has also evolved. The tenancy in the country can be grouped in two parts, namely (i) Protected Tenancies under various Rent Control Statutes and (ii) other tenancies which are covered by the Transfer of Property Act (TPA).

In so far as the protected tenancies are concerned, the same are strictly governed by the Rent Control Laws and the tenants are grossly protected. For example, under the Delhi Rent Control Act, tenancies which are having a rent of less than Rs 3,500/- are covered by the said Act. The Act provides for specific forum i.e. a Rent Controller where the proceedings can be initiated by the landlord for seeking eviction of the tenant.

However, for seeking eviction of a protected tenant, the landlord is required to satisfy the conditions provided under the Act such as a bonafide necessity, alternate accommodation, default in payment of rent etc. The approach of the courts even for the protected tenants has also seen a paradigm shift in the recent past. The tenant cannot now dictate the terms to the landlord when it comes to the bonafide necessity of the landlord. There are precedents holding that it is for the landlord to choose as to in which accommodation he wants the tenant to stay.

The tenant cannot take a plea that apart from the tenanted premises, the landlord is having another accommodation available with it. Of course, these pleas & defences are to be tested in the courts within the settled contours of law. A landlord, who is not being paid the rent, also has the right to file a petition before the rent controller and seek appropriate relief as is provided under the Act, including the relief of a direction for payment of rent/deposit of rent in court, order of eviction.

The other categories of tenancies are the one that are governed by the TPA i.e. where is the rent is over Rs 3,500/-. Even for the tenancies which are governed by TPA, the endeavor of the courts has been to narrow down the scope of controversies to the extent where no one is prejudiced. In contrast with the earlier practices, where the landlord tenant disputes were time-consuming and often took ages to be adjudicated, now, the courts have started disposing of these matters in a faster and more pragmatic manner.

Normally, these tenancies are the ones which are entered into by parties by way of written lease deed for a longer period and more often is a registered document. It’s a written contract between the parties that govern such tenancies. It contains various clauses containing the rights of the landlord and the tenant, enhancement of rents, security deposit, dispute resolution process and other general liabilities during the tenancy for payment of taxes and other expenses. Any lease agreement which is over a period of 11 months is a compulsory registrable document failing which the legal position is that it will not be looked into by the courts, except for collateral purposes. The TPA also provides a landlord an upper hand and a right to issue a clear notice to the tenant seeking eviction of the premises.

The landlord, in cases where the tenant is not vacating the premises in accordance with the terms of the contract or even after the issuance of notice by the landlord in this regard, has a right to file a suit for possession and also claim arrears of rent /damages for the illegal occupation and use of the premises by the tenant. In such litigations in the first instance, the courts examine if the landlord-tenant relationship is admitted by the tenant; secondly, if the notice under Section 106 of the TPA has been served on the tenant and/or there are grounds for termination of tenancy under circumstances as contemplated under Section 111 of TPA. This approach allows the courts to examine the pleadings at the initial stage and if the pleadings so demonstrate, the law empowers the courts to straightaway pass a judgment on admissions under the provisions of Order 12 Rule 6 of Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

Having explained the situation of law till the stage a landlord succeeds in getting a court verdict in its favour, normally the ordeal of a landlord starts after succeeding from the courts. There is still a lot of scope & need in the development of law when it comes to the execution of such decrees of possession. Often it is seen that even after having lost, the tenant takes all sorts of objections and and uses the processes of legal remedies of appeals etc. to avoid handing over of the possession. It is expected that the legislature and the higher courts will come up with some solution for execution of judgements in a more smooth and swift manner.