Case of European Court of Human Rights, January 21, 2021 (case ELLIS AND SCILIO v. MALTA)

Defense:MALTA
Resolution Date:January 21, 2021

FIRST SECTION

CASE OF ELLIS AND SCILIO v. MALTA

(Application no. 48382/17)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

21 January 2021

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Ellis and Scilio v. Malta,

The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:

Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, President,Erik Wennerström,Lorraine Schembri Orland, judges,and Renata Degener, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having regard to:

the application (no. 48382/17) against the Republic of Malta lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by two Maltese nationals, Mr Ian Peter Ellis and Ms Elizabeth Scilio (“the applicants”), on 21 June 2017;

the decision to give notice to the Maltese Government (“the Government”) of the application;

the parties’ observations;

Having deliberated in private on 16 December 2020,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

INTRODUCTION

  1. The application concerns the compensation for a breach of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention in relation to the disproportionality of the rent received by the applicants. The domestic courts have acknowledged the violation and awarded compensation. The question arises as to whether the applicants remain victims of the violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, and whether an issue arises as to the effectiveness of the domestic remedy.

    THE FACTS

  2. The applicants were born in in 1950 and 1947 respectively and live in Sliema, Malta, and Catania, Italy, respectively. The applicants were represented by Dr J. Grech, a lawyer practising in Birkirkara.

  3. The Government were represented by their Agent, Dr. V. Buttigieg, State Advocate.

  4. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

  5. The applicants own property No. 41, Sir Ugo Mifsud Bonniċi Street, Lija (“the property”).

  6. On 19 June 1973, the applicants’ predecessors in title rented (under title of temporary emphyteusis) the property to a third party, for seventeen years, at 240 Maltese liras (MTL) (approximately 560 euros (EUR)) per year. According to the Government the property was at the time not in a good state of repair and the tenants had to incur significant expenses to make the property habitable. The applicants submitted that the relevant maintenance was due in terms of both the law and the contract.

  7. In 1990, on the expiry of the contract of temporary emphyteusis, the third party relied on Article 12 (2) of Chapter 158 of the Laws of Malta, the Housing (Decontrol) Ordinance (hereinafter “the Ordinance”), as amended by Act XXIII of 1979, to retain the property under title of lease at the rent applicable according to law, which at the time and until 2006 was equivalent to EUR 1,118 per year. From January 2006 onwards the rent payable was EUR 2,236 per year.

  8. The applicants instituted constitutional redress proceedings claiming that the provisions of the Ordinance ‑ which granted tenants the right to retain possession of the premises under a lease ‑ imposed on them as owners a unilateral lease relationship for an indeterminate time without reflecting a fair and adequate rent, nor an effective remedy or relevant procedural safeguards in breach of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. They requested the court to award compensation for the damage suffered. They noted that their ex parte architect calculated the rental value of the property from 1990‑2009 as being EUR 213,600, and that from 1990‑2012 the market rental value amounted to EUR 253,200 while they had only received EUR 32,984.

  9. By a judgment of 4 October 2016 the Civil Court (First Hall) in its constitutional competence upheld the above‑mentioned claim on the basis of the relevant ECtHR case‑law.

  10. The court took note of the court-appointed expert’s valuations (excluding the improvements done by the tenants) and the fact that in 1992 the applicants only owned a quarter of the property, in 1993 a half and in 1997 three quarters, only to become full owners in 2009 and considered that the applicants’ losses would have amounted to around EUR 130,000. Bearing in mind that the above‑calculated losses were only indicative and did not reflect real losses the court awarded the applicants EUR 50,000 in non‑pecuniary damage and ordered that the tenants could not rely on Section 12(2) of...

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