The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Committee composed of President Georgios A. Serghides, judges Erik Wennerström and Lorraine Schembri Orland, and Deputy Section Registrar Olga Chernishova, issued a judgement in the case that was brought forward by several landlords (the “applicants”) who jointly inherited a property which had been rented under the title of temporary emphyteusis since 1985.
The applicants claimed that their right of peaceful possession set out in Article 1 of Protocol No.1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”), had been breached, as in 2006 when the contract of temporary emphyteusis had expired, the tenant relied on Act XXIII of 1979 amending Chapter 158 of the Laws of Malta, the Housing (Decontrol) Ordinance to retain the property under the title of lease. The applicants argued that their ancestor had no other choice than to rent the property under the title of temporary emphyteusis as this was the best way to avoid the possibility of requisition or expropriation.
After the Civil Court (First Hall) in its constitutional competence found a violation of the applicants’ property rights and awarded EUR 10,000 in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage combined, the Constitutional Court revoked the first-instance judgment and rejected the applicants’ claim stating that the applicants were aware of the law at the time and it was their decision to rent it at the price they did. Following this, the applicants filed a case with the Rent Regulation Board, however they withdrew their case as they reached an agreement with the tenants who vacated the property in 2019.
The Court referred to the principles that were set out in Amato Gauci v Malta. The Court held that the ancestors of the applicants could not have reasonably foreseen the extent of inflation in property prices. Further to this, the Court stated that since the applicants in this case inherited the property that was already subject to a lease, did not have the possibility to set the amount of rent themselves nor the freedom to terminate the agreement. The Court concluded that the applicants have suffered an excessive individual burden from 2006 to 2019 and that the Maltese State failed to strike the requisite fair balance between the general interests of the community and the protection of the applicants’ right of property.