CHENNAI: LAST month, the Madras High Court expressed shock on how a tenant managed to drag a litigation with his house owner for nearly 40 years and ordered his immediate eviction. But the tenant had already enjoyed the house for four decades before the case came to a conclusion.
“Getting delivery of possession from the tenant is more onerous than the delivery of a child from a mother,” Justice S Vimala said in her order.
Advocates say this was not just a one-off case and most of the tenancy related cases gets prolonged for about 10 to 12 years. The outdated Rent Control Act makes it possible for a clever tenant to enjoy a property for years at nominal rents that courts fixes during the litigating, which would be abysmally low compared to the market rate.
In the recent case disposed by Justice Vimala, the original landlord even sold the rented house to another person, who also had to continue to fight in the court to get the tenant evicted but with no success for 40 years.
What is it in the law that seems to protect only the tenant’s interests? Senior Advocate N L Rajah said that the Act, in fact, was implemented for that very reason - to protect the tenants.
“After the second world war, there was suddenly a dearth of housing facilities, the poor especially found it difficult to find housing and had to pay high rent. The Government came to the rescue of the tenants and framed the rent control law,” he explained.
Since housing is a state subject, all states have different laws and the TN Buildings (lease and Rent), Act was passed in 1960. While the law initially benefitted only those in the lower rungs of the society, in the 1980s the Supreme Court passed a judgment stating that all classes would come under the umbrella of the Act, but asked the judges to take the landlord’s grievances into consideration as well.
“The Act made sense during those times and for those families that were spending less than `400 for rent. Now, at a time of high urbanisation, there is more housing available, so it is high time that it gets revised,” said Rajah.
“The Act should be on speed track and disposed off within 90 to 120 days and landlords or tenants who try to delay the proceeding should be penalised,” suggested Advocate Sathish Kumar.
“Tamil Nadu must wake up to the realities of this Act and revamp it,” said Advocate P B Balaji of the Madras High Court who had co-authored a book on it.
While TN takes its time to revise the Act, Maharashtra and Karnataka have both taken steps to amend that act and have restricted the act to cover families from low incomes backgrounds.
Speaking to Express, Balaji said that presently the longest running case he was handling was filed in 2006 and is still stuck in the first stage.
“The landowner had rented out a portion of his property and when his family grew he asked the tenant to leave, but they are refusing.We have been trying all sort of ways to proceed with the case but nothing seems to be working,” Balaji said.
“ There should be an outer limit for disposal of RCOPs and the defaulting party (tenant not paying rent or landlord not providing basic facilities) should not be allowed to contest the case unless the arrears are cleared or amenities are cleared,” he added.
The senior advocate also said that usually the toughest part for the landlord starts after getting the decree. “Tenants indulge in delay tactics to extend the case and defeat the execution, and the court sometimes steps in to give police protection and ensure that eviction decrees are executed. But since the tenant can take any kind of defense, they can deny the landlord the eviction. The law should be given a rethink in this regard,” he explained.