In a major relief to tenants, the Bombay high court (HC) has held that once a person’s status as a tenant is established, the landlord has no right to deny tenancy claims in respect of the building, even after the old structure is redeveloped.
The court was hearing the application filed by Pius Fernandes, 74, against Manu Narang – deceased, who is being represented by hotelier Sanjay Narang -- seeking tenancy rights to a portion of the sixth floor on the rear side of Gordon House in Colaba.
In 1989, a portion of the building had collapsed following which the Mumbai Repairs and Reconstruction Board had taken steps for reconstruction in coordination with the landlord. The petitioner was granted temporary accommodation in a transit camp at Borivli in November 1989.
The plan for the new building got sanctioned in 1997. The Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority (Mhada), in 1999, ordered Fernandes’ eviction from the transit camp. He moved the small causes court to establish his status as a tenant.
During the pendency of the application, the reconstruction of the building was completed.
After Fernandes moved the appellate authority of the housing board, he was granted accommodation in a transit camp in 2000.
Meanwhile, the defendant landlord had submitted before the lower court that the suit filed by Fernandes was barred by the law of limitation and as the original building was demolished, the provisions of the Bombay Rent Act, 1947, were not applicable. It was also contended that the plaintiff was not the tenant.
However, during the course of the hearing, various documents — including the two undertakings filed by the defendant in 1996 and 1997 before the housing board and the civic body respectively — by which Fernandes was accepted as a tenant were produced.
The lower court had dismissed the suit on the grounds that Fernandes did not prove his tenancy and a subsequent appeal was dismissed on grounds that it was filed 10 years after being dishoused.
Petitioner’s advocate, Usha Purohit, argued that during the period of demolition and pending reconstruction, the relationship of the landlord and tenant does not come to an end, but is merely suspended temporarily.
The landlord’s advocate contended that the collapse of the building was not on account of any act of the landlord. Justice Godbole, however, noted that the collapse was not on account of any natural calamity whatsoever. “In fact under the State Rent Act, it is the statutory obligation of the landlord to carry out tenantable repairs,” the HC said.
The court, while quashing the lower court orders, has declared that the petitioner is a lawful tenant of premises admeasuring 364.36 sqft in the old ‘Gorden House’ building and hence shall be allotted an equivalent area in the new building. The court has directed the landlord to pay suit cost of Rs25,000 to the tenant.