The Bombay High Court in a recent decision1 had the occasion to interpret the provisions governing inherited tenancy rights under the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947 (Rent Act) in the context of whether tenancy rights are capable of being inherited by a joint Hindu family. It held that tenancy rights cannot be inherited by a joint Hindu family as a unit.
Raghunath was the original tenant of a leased premises (Premises) owned by Yashwanth Shankar Barve and his family, (Respondents). Raghunath was the authorized representative (termed 'Karta') of a family owned Indian entity, a 'Hindu Undivided Family' (HUF), which had Vasant Sadashiv Joshi and his family, (Petitioners). Raghunath occupied the Premises from the year 1937 till his death. His son then occupied the Premises till 1979 following which; the Premises were occupied by the Petitioners.
A suit for eviction was filed by the Respondents under Section 29 of the Rent Act on a number of grounds, including failure to pay of arrears of rent and citing requirement of the Premises for the Respondents themselves. One of the grounds on which the suit was resisted was that the Premises were taken on tenancy by Raghunath for the benefit of the HUF in 1937 and as a result, all members of the HUF had inheritable tenancy rights.
The trial court dismissed the suit filed by the Respondents. The appeal court i.e. the District Court, in turn, reversed the decision of the trial court and directed the Petitioners to hand over possession of the Premises to the Respondents. The Petitioners instituted a challenge to the District Court's decision before the Bombay High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution of India 1950.
The Bombay High Court held that the Rent Act does not recognize members of a joint family or the joint family itself, to be a tenant within the meaning of the Rent Act. The Bombay High Court further held that Section 5(11) of the Rent Act defines "tenant" as any "person by whom or by whose account, the rent is payable to the landlord". Sub-clause (c) of sub-section 5(11) further expands this definition to mean any member of the tenant's family residing with the tenant at the time of his death. The Bombay High Court held that the joint family is thus not included in the definition of "tenant" under the Rent Act and by extension, cannot include members of such a joint family.
The Bombay High Court also observed that a tenant had to necessarily mean a single person and not a joint family, either as a unit or any of its members individually.
The Bombay High Court held that if the interpretation of the Petitioners was to be accepted, a landlord would never be able to get the tenant evicted, as every successor of a tenant, would start claiming legal rights and protection under the provisions of the Rent Act.
In view of the above, the Bombay High Court held that the tenancy in respect of the Premises came to an end after Raghunath's son (who was the tenant) moved out of the Premises in 1979. In view of the same, the Bombay High Court dismissed the Petition and directed the Petitioners to hand over possession of the Premises to the Respondents.
The clarity provided by the decision of the Bombay High Court assumes importance in light of the high pendency of eviction suits in Mumbai. The progressive interpretation of Act will likely result in speedy disposal of long-pending eviction suits filed under the Rent Act.
1. Vasant Sadashiv Joshi v. Yashwant Shankar Barve [Writ Petition No. 2371 of 1997 decided on 3 January 2020]
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