The right to enjoy one’s property is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and Property Rights. This right is continually being challenged through actions taken by landlords, tenants, and laws. One of the latest examples concerns Darmanin Joseph et vs Stella Maris Band Club.
A tenancy that has lasted for over a century
The lease on the Sliema property has been active since 1959, though the Stella Maris Band Club has occupied the premises since the 1920s. This property was under a temporary emphyteusis of 150 years that the landlords had agreed to in 1876. The temporary emphyteusis is set to expire in 2026.
This property is directly owned by a government agency tasked with administering properties that were transferred to the government by the church. The agency’s name is the Joint Office and was set up in the 1990s.
Unapproved structural works led to the band club’s eviction notice
In 2008, the landlord filed proceedings before the Rent Regulation Board seeking to rescind the lease and regain possession of the property. The argument behind this request was that structural works carried out by the defendant were not approved. Moreover, the landlords were not made aware of the application for planning permits.
The defendant’s counter argument was that the works were merely ordinary property maintenance. These were essential to ensure the continued use of the property.
A right that no amendment could quell
In 2017, the Rent Regulation Board threw out the plaintiff’s claim. As a result, the landlord took the case in front of the Court of Appeal.
As the appeal proceedings carried on, the Government of Malta introduced amendments to the Civil Code aimed at protecting band clubs. The amendments forbid landlords from forcibly evicting band clubs as a result of unapproved structural works done for philharmonic or social activities or activities performed by the band club.
This initiative came about as the De Paule Band Club was also facing eviction.
The new law was set to be applied retroactively, thus protecting Stella Maris Band Club. In fact, whilst the Court of Appeal decided in favour of the plaintiff, it was unable to approve the eviction.
Following this decision, the plaintiffs (the landlords), assisted by Professor Ian Refalo, brought the case to the Constitutional Court, claiming that the 2018 amendments impeded one’s property rights. In 2020, the Court agreed with the plaintiff’s arguments, declaring these amendments unconstitutional.
An appeal filed by the defendant as well as the Government was thrown out by the Court of Appeal in 2022. In its decree, the Court declared that whilst the amendments were introduced to protect band clubs, this should not come at the expense of providing impunity to those who fail to fulfil their contractual obligations.
The final twist to the Stella Maris Band Club case
Whilst all was set for the eviction of the Stella Maris Band Club on November 23, 2022, the government has successfully intervened in the matter.
At the eleventh hour, the Government agreed to provide a sum of €450,000 to the landlords in order to allow the band club to continue occupying the Sliema premises.