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This article is written by Anubhab Banerjee, currently pursuing BBA-LLB (Hons) from the School of Law, Alliance University. This is an article which deals with the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants across India during the difficult times posed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Introduction

The lockdown amid the fear of COVID-19 has had its effect on the economy as well. The fear created by this virus has penetrated into everybody’s life and has affected every aspect of the country and its citizens. The whole country has just a few essential services which are running at the moment and except that there has been a complete shutdown of the economy.

The situation has made it difficult for most people to meet our monetary targets. The effect of an uncertain income for most small and middle-sized businesses is obviously a growing concern amongst the population. Such monetary issues are giving rise to another issue i.e. the payment of rent by tenants to their homeowners. As paying rent under the present circumstances is becoming an added burden on certain tenants. 

This problem will definitely raise certain questions in the minds of tenants and landlords as well. Questions like ‘what if a tenant is not being able to make timely payments for his rent due to no earning under the present circumstances”, “what if a tenancy contract is ending during this period” and “what if a landlord doesn’t allow a tenant to enter the premises” would be raised. 

The primary aim of this article is to answer such questions and suggest solutions on what can be done. This article will deal with the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants during the difficult times amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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Rights of tenants during COVID crisis

Under the current circumstances tenants and landlords, be it commercial/regular, are in an unknown territory facing a complete or partial shutdown of business operation as a result of the restrictions and regulations having been put by the government on our day to day activities. Urbanisation can be considered as a factor which has led most of us to move to big cities in the expectation of a better life, a better job, better opportunities, etc.

With most of such population staying in rented houses or apartments, a huge question is getting raised concerning what these tenants are supposed to do if they are unable to pay rents to their landlords. As in what are their rights and obligations under the present circumstances. The following are certain instances with regards to such concerns:

  • The best way to resolve the issue of non-payment of rent under the present circumstances is to mutually reach an amicable settlement with the landlords with regards to payment of rent. In case the tenants are unable to cope up with their financial needs amid the lockdown, they need to talk it out with their landlords and ask for extensions in periods for such payments.
  • The tenants though, cannot be asked to leave the house/apartment without any formal notice by the landlord. A landlord needs to give a one month notice to a tenant for vacating the premises in case such is necessary. The law as well requires a landlord to give a 30-day notice to ask for the payment of rent from a tenant. The tenant on receiving such a notice can take up to three months to repay the amounts of rent which have been due. On the failure of which the landlord shall approach a court for taking legal action against the tenant with regards to non-payment.
  • In the case of commercial leases, it is to be seen if the tenants can make use of the ‘Force Majure’ clause. It mainly depends on the interpretation of the pandemic by the courts. If the courts interpret such a situation to be considered under the ‘Force Majure’ clause then it shall be considered to be a relief on the part of the tenants. As they can use the clause accordingly to get relief under the present circumstances. Though they shall have to make full payment for the period during which the payment had been skipped because of the pandemic.
  • Another major problem which has been arising with regards to tenants under the present circumstances is that if such tenants are doctors, nurses or any other medical staff associated with the treatment of the deadly virus, the ruthless landlords or communities in certain areas are not letting them enter their houses. 
  • For any of the tenants across the country who are facing such issues, they should be well aware of their rights. Their rights in such a situation tell them that no one can lawfully stop them from entering their houses unless such an act is barred by law. Thus, if any of the medical professionals or staff associated with medical help are facing any such issues, they can simply post a complaint at their nearest police station against the people who have been harassing them. The rest would be taken care of by the government. 
  • As the saying goes ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures’. The state governments and the central government have been acting promptly in dealing with such inhumane behaviour taking place against medical practitioners. Thus, the governments have promised to be strict against the violators, stating that such people are entitled to enter their houses without their landlord trying to throw them out of the house or interfering in their lives.
  • It is important for us to note here that Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 clearly states that any person who is found to be disobeying any regulation made under this Act shall be punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Further, Section 4 of the Act provides that any person who has been legally abiding by the instruction being provided during such a period shall not be subject to any suit filed against him for the purpose of following such instruction passed by the government.
  • Since the tenants under the present circumstances have been acting as per the instruction of the government, no legal suit can be filed against such people in the view of non-payment of rent. If a person has the means to pay then obviously such a person comes under the obligation to pay such rent, as or else it would be unfair towards the landlords.
  • Though during this period of time the tenant as well should take care of their moral obligations towards taking care of the landlord’s property and providing them with the required maintenance. Such should be a moral obligation on the tenant under the present circumstances.

Rights of landlords during COVID crisis

The landlords have a well recognised right under law to ask for fair remuneration for using premises under the present circumstances. Demanding rent on the part of the landlords cannot be considered to be illegal even under the present circumstances. Though it becomes one of their moral obligations to take care of their tenants under the present circumstances and give them some concessions if the tenants are not being able to make their ends meet and pay their rent amid the lockdown. As the incomes for most small and middle-sized businesses have come to a halt amid the lockdown. This has caused huge tension and confusion amongst the members of society. The following are a few rights and duties of the landlords under the present circumstances:

  • The landlords have a right to receive rent by filing a suit under the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Though such suits can only be initiated on continuous non-payment of rent for at least a period of six months. 
  • Though there are certain rights of the landlords which can be curtailed amid the present circumstances. Such rights may be associated with vacating the premises i.e. if a rental agreement ends during the period of lockdown and the landlord decides to throw the tenants out of his house due to the expiration of the tenancy contract between him and the tenant. In such a case the landlord cannot force the tenant to leave the house. As under the present circumstances, activities like shifting houses are completely prohibited by the government and can lead to severe legal action being taken against such people.
  • Thus, if a contract of tenancy between a landlord and a tenant ends under the present circumstances, the landlords are expected to be considerate and allow the tenants to stay until the situation normalises. Though such stay cannot be deemed to be free and the landlord has every right to receive equal remunerations for the period for which the tenant uses the premises amid the current circumstances.
  • The landlords in India under no circumstances are allowed to interfere in the private lives of the people. When we consider this along the line of landlords stopping their tenants who are working in the medical support system to contain the spread of the virus, then as well such landlords should be up for legal action being taken against them even under normal circumstances. Under the present extraordinary circumstances, such acts of interference in the private lives of the tenants i.e. who are medical practitioners, by the landlords are going to have even more severe legal consequences.
  • Though a certain example is being set around the country with landlords giving concessions to the tenants with regards to payment of rents and are trying to ease the payment procedure which eventually would help their tenants cope up with their financial needs amid the present conditions. As the relationship shared between tenants and landlords especially in India are not considered to be similar to just business transactions. 
  • As for Indians, renting your house to someone means that you’re renting a piece of your life to a person and thus, people end up being in constant touch with their tenants with regards to their premises, which indeed helps develop a friendly relation amongst them.

Conclusion & Suggestions

The present circumstances call for all of us to act more responsibly than ever. We should all look towards the perspective of getting ahead of this virus as a whole, letting along our individual needs and wants. As if we can get through this virus with a minimum amount of casualties then it would be a great success for us as a nation. As even developed countries like the USA, Italy and Germany haven’t been able to cope up with this pandemic. The World Health Organization has as well applauded India’s efforts in trying to curb the virus by imposing a lockdown at such an early pace instead of giving the virus a span of three to four weeks which would have facilitated its spread.

The crisis which has arisen under the current circumstances was never expected. Thus, we as law-abiding citizens of the country should take care of our needs as well as that of others in these hard times. Extending our help though a few small deeds as mentioned in this article and through many others is actually an act of kindness which can be performed without taking much effort. 

As a small act of kindness, today would have a huge impact on the future tomorrow, as such an act might end up saving a person’s life. Acting heartlessly under circumstances like this and forcing tenants to pay their rents or forcing them out of their houses is a deed to be considered cruel under the present circumstances. 

After all, this is our country, we are the ones who need to fight this pandemic. Many countries like South Korea have done this the right way. We as responsible citizens need to follow the instructions given to us by the government and the World Health Organization. As there is always a ray of hope of the other side of things. There are better days to come with us overcoming this pandemic.

References

  1. https://www.myadvo.in/blog/rights-duties-landlord-tenant/
  2. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1005961/
  3. https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_introduction-to-the-law-of-property-estate-planning-and-insurance/s16-02-rights-and-duties-of-landlords.html

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