All about statutory tenants and their rights
It is well known that tenants enjoy protection from eviction if they are statutory tenants under the Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958 ( the “DRC Act”). A statutory tenant is a term used to describe a tenancy that is covered by the DRC Act. So, therefore, any property in Delhi, that is given for rent below ₹ 3,500 per month would fall within the of the DRC Act and the tenant would be known as a statutory tenant. Tenancies where the rent reserved is above ₹ 3,500 per month, would by default, be covered by the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 (“TPA”). The expression statutory tenant is not defined, but because rent control tenancies enjoy the protection of a statute, tenants of such properties have come to be known as statutory tenants and the expression is used to distinguish from other tenants that do not fall under the DRC Act, but enjoy ordinary tenancies under the TPA.
Under the DRC Act a landlord can only seek recovery of possession only on the limited grounds mentioned in section 14 of the DRC Act. One of the grounds available to a landlord to seek of possession, is bonafide need of the landlord. Section 14(1)(e) of the DRC Act deals with bonafide need.
Section 14 has been at the source of much controversy over the years. Albeit, there are many dimensions to this Section but for the purpose of this article, we will deal only with Section 14 (1)(e) and in particular, the meaning of bona-fide requirement of the landlord in case of a statutory tenancy. What is bonafide has not been defined and is determined by the court on a case to case basis, depending on the unique facts and circumstances of each case. Through this article, I will try to retrace the various ways in which the courts have construed bonafide need of the landlord to be able to gain recovery of his tenanted premises back from the statutory tenant.
The expression bonafide requirement i s not t o be construed for the landlordowner alone, but also of the owner’s family members that are dependent on him and for the requirement of any person for whose benefit the property is held. However, in order for the landlord to seek benefit of a bonafide need, it is imperative that such persons must not have any other reasonably suitable accommodation.
The essence of bonafide requirement was captured succinctly in the matter of Rup Lal Mehra v. Kamla Soni, in 1966, whereby the division bench of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court held: “The atten- tion of the courts will have, therefore, to be directed to find out (a) whether or not the requirement of possession is bonafide, and (b) whether or not the premises already in possession of the landlord afford a reasonably suitable alternative accommodation…. So long as the landlord is able to establish that he in good faith and genuinely wishes to occupy the premises in possession of the tenant and that good faith or genuineness is of a reasonable man, it would not be open to the controller to weigh the claim of the landlord in a fine scale. Similarly, the suitability of the other accommodation will also have to be decided from the standpoint of a reasonable landlord. This decision was affirmed, in 1969, by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Si nce bonafide i s not defined, the court is often left with the difficult task of balancing equities between landlords and tenants. The presumption of bonafide is in favour of the landlord and the onus to rebut the presumption is on the tenant. Therefore, the tenant has his work cut out and has to be able to effectively demonstrate to the court that the need of the landlord is not bonafide.