Lessees may lose their rights to agricultural land if farms and/or any other integral buildings are not maintained

The Court heard the counterclaim by the defendants who stated that the farm had been severely damaged by a storm and through no fault of their own 

If a lessee does not adequately maintain a farm that is an integral part of a rented agricultural land then the Agricultural Lease Board will restore possession of the whole lease to the owner. In the case of Trapani Galea Feriol Igino Pro Et Noe Vs Bonnici Vincent Et, the plaintiffs pleaded with the Court to restore possession to them as they claimed that a farm, which was situated in a their leased agricultural plot of land in Burmarrad, had been severely neglected by the defendants who were leasing the property.

The Court heard the counterclaim by the defendants who stated that the farm had been severely damaged by a storm and through no fault of their own. They claimed that due to the fact that there were a number of lessees, all of whom utilised different parts of the land, they could not have been expected to carry out the repairs individually. They pleaded with the Court to allow them to benefit from what is referred to as la purgazione della mora, or the benefit of time. This would allow them a while to affect the necessary repairs without prejudicing their right to carry out the lease.

The Court explained that since the plea was to terminate an Agricultural lease, the Court would have to assess the contents of Article 4 of the Agricultural Leases (Re-Letting) Act, which is Chapter 199 of the Laws of Malta. It was explained that such situations fell under Article 4(f), which allows the Court to terminate an agricultural lease in three situations.

The lessor must prove that either (1) the lessee did not repair and maintain the walls surrounding the agricultural land, or (2) that they failed to fulfil such obligation or habitually disregarded any other conditions of the lease or (3) deliberately or through negligence caused or allowed to be caused damage, other than damage of small importance, to any fruit trees in the agricultural land. The defendants pleaded that none of these conditions were satisfied and that in fact the land surrounding the farm that was used for cultivation was maintained and in a good state as attested by the technical experts.

The presiding Magistrate, Francesco Depasquale, agreed with the defendants that the law especially protected boundary walls and fruit trees, which in this case were kept in good condition. It was, however, observed that an appraisal of the damages to the farm constituted €161,200.

It was also explained that the farm was an integral part of the land and so it had to be maintained as a bonus paterfamilias, meaning that a standard of reasonable care is expected. It was also explained that in accordance with Article 1561 of the Civil Code, any damage or deterioration to the property had to be compensated unless it could be proven that the damage did not occur through any fault of his own. The Court therefore ordered that possession be restored to the owners within three months and ordered all costs to be borne by the defendants.

 

Dr Malcolm Mifsud is partner Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates

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