Santa Marija Estate (Mellieha) clause unenforceable

The Civil Court has determined that a clause in the contracts for plots at Sta Marija Estate Mellieha, could not be enforced to reclaim the property as it did not preclude the property from being used by people other than the owners.
“This Court disagrees with the meaning of the clause as it was written. The house was being used for “private residential purposes” even if the person living there is not the owner. And there is no link between the house being used as an ordinary residence and as a private residence,” the Court, presided over by Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon, said.

Silvio and Maria Isabella Borg were being sued by Albert Mizzi in the name of Central Mediterranean Development Corporation (CMDC) because the contract for their property in Sta Marija had a clause which said that it was for “private residential purposes only” but the Court said that this should not be interpreted to mean that it could only be used by the owner as a residence. It noted that the Borgs still used the villa in Mellieha as their residence.

The Borg family were given the option of paying Lm15,000 for the clause to be removed but they declined to pay. The amount has since been increased to Lm25,000.

In its ruling, the Court noted: “If the action taken by the defendants really did disrupt the harmony being sought by the company, the Court believes that no amount of money from the defendants would be able to compensate for the harmony desired by the company....”

The property was bought from CMDC in 1988, still in plot form. CMDC went to Court because they suspected, based on a report passed on to them by an unidentified person, that the basement in the Borgs' property had been turned into a flatlet and was being rented out.

The owners of Santa Marija Estate, CMDC, argued that the clause had been put into the contract in order to guarantee the characteristics of the area as a private residential estate. In fact, in the 1960s and 1970s, access to the entire estate was restricted to residents, by an access barrier.

The contract said the leasehold would be dissolved should the property owners fail to remedy any contravention within 3 months of being notified of it. CMDC had sent such warnings in 2004 and 2005, as well as through an official letter in 2006.

The Court noted that CMDC was unable to prove that part of the villa was being sub-let but that it was ultimately irrelevant to the case.

“Even if the property were rented (which did not result in this case) the fact that the property was being used principally as the ordinary residence of the defendants (as happened in reality) should invalidate any attempt by the company to ask for the revocation of the contract,” it said.

“…The spirit of the law is not to give an advantage to the owner which would allow him to profit from circumstances to prevent people from enjoying their property,” it said.

from di-ve news editorial September 29, 2009

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