NRI landlord needn’t prove ownership to evict tenant, says SC

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NEW DELHI: Non-resident Indians cannot be asked to prove ownership of their property to get their tenants evicted, the Supreme Court has said while overruling a high court order.

“If ordinarily a landlord cannot be asked to prove his title before getting his tenant evicted on any one of the grounds stipulated for such eviction, we see no reason why he should be asked to do so only because he happens to be a non-resident Indian (NRI),” a Supreme Court bench said.

The court was ruling on a case from Punjab where an NRI returned and wanted to vacate a shop he had rented out as he wanted to start a business. The tenant contested the NRI’s title to the shops and won a case in the lower court, and a high court bench subsequently upheld the ruling of the rent controller.

On Tuesday the top court ruled in the NRI’s favour. “Section 13-B is a beneficial provision intended to provide a speedy remedy to NRIs who return to their native places and need property let out by them for their own requirement or the requirement of those who are living with and economically dependent upon them. Their position cannot, therefore, be worse off than what it would have been if they were not NRIs,” it said.

Justices TS Thakur and C Nagappan said the law entitles an NRI who returns to India to demand eviction of any residential or non-residential building let out by him, if it is required for his use or his dependant.

However, the right to seek the tenant’s eviction is available only after five years from the date of such NRI becoming owner of any building. This is also subject to the condition that any such right shall be available to an NRI owner of the premises only once during his life time.

“The courts below fell in manifest error in holding that the appellant-landlord was obliged to prove his title to the property, no matter the tenant clearly admits existence of…relationship of landlord and tenant between him and the appellant (NRI). We have…no hesitation in reversing the view taken by the courts below and in decreeing the eviction petition,” the bench said in its order.

The court asked the tenant to vacate the premises by March 31, 2015, subject to the condition that he clears his rent arrears in six weeks and submits an undertaking in court that he would clear out by that date. If he fails to abide by these, the eviction decree can be executed right away, it said.

The said shop in a building is situated at Banga Road, Phagwara and was let out to a tenant by an NRI who was born and brought up in India but decided to return to India in 2002 after spending 30 years in the UK with the intention of settling down and establishing a hotel at Phagwara his home town.

He filed an eviction petition under Section 13-B of the East Punjab Urban Land Restriction Act, 1949, stating that he was an NRI and needed the shop for his own use and was hence entitled to get it vacated.

The tenant opposed the eviction plea on the ground that the landlord was not an NRI. The tenant also claimed that though he was a tenant in the shop, the sale deeds relied upon by the landlord respondent did not relate to the underlying land.

The rent controller ruled in the tenant’s favour by an order passed on November 5, 2004, and dismissed his eviction petition on the ground that he failed to prove his ownership over the premises for a period of five years before the filing of the eviction petition as mandated under the law.

He also ruled that deposition of witnesses appearing on the NRI’s behalf did not satisfactorily prove that the building comprising the shops was constructed on land purchased by him in terms of the two sale deeds produced by him.

Courtesy:ET Bureau | Sep 4, 2014

      
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