Inheritance of Tenancy

Introduction

Property is one of the many essential assets that a person owns during his lifetime. After his demise, the same is inherited by his successors. Tenancy rights in a property often become a reason for disputes and litigation upon the death of a tenant. The main reason of such disputes is the ambiguity surrounding the question as to who qualifies as a member of the tenant’s family and is entitled to the tenancy rights in the premises after the demise of the tenant as the successor to the tenancy rights. The Courts have conclusively addressed this issue in a wide array of cases.

Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999

In India, during the Bombay Presidency in 1915 and subsequently in 1939, the first rent law was passed. Later, this was replaced by the Bombay Rents, Hotel, and Lodging House Rates Control Act of 1947 [1]. The Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999 (MRCA) [2] was passed by the legislature with the view to unify the three different rent control laws in the State. The MRC bill 1999 came into effect on 31st March 2000. The objective of this act is to assure that neither the tenant nor the landlord’s rights are exploited by the other. This Act has brought many amendments in the Bombay rent Control Act. Most importantly, the act provides for rent control, repairs of premises, eviction and fair returns.

Who is a Tenant?

In layman terms, a ‘tenant’ is a person who, on payment of rent uses or resides in certain premises owned by someone else. Section 7(15) of the MRCA defines a “tenant” as any person by whom or on whose account rent is payable for any premises. Including-

(a) Such person-

  • who is a tenant,
  • or who is a deemed tenant,
  • or who is a sub-tenant as permitted under a contract
  • or by permission or consent of the landlord
  • or who has derived title under a tenant
  • or to whom interest in premises has been assigned or transferred as permitted, by virtue of, or under the provisions of, any of the repealed Acts

(b) A person who is a tenant under section 25 of the said Act;

(c) A person to whom interest in premises has been assigned/transferred as permitted under section 26 of the said Act;

 (d) When the tenant dies, in relation to any premises, whether the death occurred before or after the commencement of this Act, any family member of the tenant, who,-

  • Where they are let for residence, is residing, or
  • Where they are let for education, business, trade or storage, is using the premises for any such purpose, with the tenant at the time of his death, or, in the absence of such member/s, any heir of the deceased tenant, as may be decided by the court, in the absence of an agreement.

Inheritance of Tenancy Rights

Section 7 (15) (d) of the Act states that a member of a tenant’s family who has been residing with the deceased tenant at the time of his/her death shall be eligible first from the family as the successor to inherit the tenancy. This section makes it clear that on the demise of a tenant the right to tenancy is extended to the members of the family who were participants in the benefits of the tenancy and were residing in the tenanted premises with the deceased, or were continuously operating the premises for commercial purposes, as the case may be. Every so often excluding legal heirs who otherwise would be entitled to the same.

Other legal heirs will come into the picture only when such a member/s are not available and then the court must decide in such cases who is to be treated as the tenant. Hence, under this act, succession of tenancy rights is different as the heirs who would normally qualify as successors under the general succession laws may not qualify as heirs to the tenancy rights under the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999.

Hence, the family member who is claiming the tenancy rights of the deceased tenant must show evidence of him/her living with the deceased tenant at the time of his/her demise. Only such a family member will get preference for the bequest of such tenancy rights over the premises over all other members of the family.

Judiciary’s take on the Inheritance of Tenancy Rights

In the case of Smt. Gian Devi Anand v Jeevan Kumar and Ors. [3], a constitutional bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that the tenancy is inheritable in nature and after death of a tenant and all his heirs would inherit the tenancy, whether it is residential or commercial.”

The Hon’ble apex court, in the case of Vasant Pratap Pandit v Anant Trimbak Sabnis [4], while dealing with the provisions of the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging Houses Rates Control Act, 1947, held that testamentary succession is not possible, as the statutory tenancy rights are personal to the tenant. Hence, a tenant cannot bequeath his tenancy rights by way of a testamentary document.

In the same judgement, the apex court held that that if the word ‘heir’ is to be interpreted to include ‘legatee’, then there would be no embargo upon a stranger being a legatee as even a stranger may have to be inducted as a tenant.

Furthermore, succession in premises that are protected under the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999. In the case of Jaysen Jayant Rele & Ors v Shantaram Ganpat Gujar & Ors [5], held that the word “family” of the deceased tenant did not deviate with the general meaning of the word “family” as used in common parlance thus including family as consisting of mother, father, sons, daughters and all such blood relations and other such relations arising from lawful marriages.

In the case if Dharmvir Joshi v Jayant Patwardhan [6], the Bombay High Court held that the definition of “resides” under the 1999 act is more than a temporary stay. The character of such residence must be permanent in nature.

Recently, in the case of Vasant Sadashiv Joshi v. Yashwant Shankar Barve [7], the Bombay High Court recently held that tenancy rights cannot be inherited by a joint Hindu family as a unit.  Further, a person cannot claim an independent right or inheritance of tenancy in a premise simply by virtue of him/her being a member of the joint Hindu family.

Conclusion

Inheritance of tenancy rights is based on possession and enjoyment of the tenancy rights of the ‘heir’ or family member who has resided with the deceased tenant. Such ‘heir’ who wishes to claim tenancy rights of the deceased tenant has to prove that he/she was permanently residing with the deceased tenant at the time of his/her death. With respect to the inheritance of such tenancy rights over the premises only such an “heir” will get precedence over all other members of the family.

The interpretations of the Courts in these plethora of judgements hold great importance considering the large number of suits involving the question of inheritance of tenancy rights. The recent judgment in the case of Vasant Sadashiv Joshi v. Yashwant Shankar Barve is notable for its extensive effect on bringing clarity and progressively interpreting the provisions of the 1999 act while recognizing its true spirit.

References

[1] Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947

[2] THE MAHARASHTRA RENT CONTROL ACT, 1999

[3] 1985(1) AIRCJ 640

[4] 1994 SCC (3) 481

[5] AIR 2002 Bom 462

[6] 2015 SCC OnLine Bom 4741

[7] (2020) 1 Bom CR 763

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