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High Court ruling exposes tenants

Local News
Court hammer

THE High Court has outlawed a law that has been protecting tenants renting commercial properties from being ejected once their lease agreements have expired.

Previously, tenants were protected by sections 22 and 23 of the Commercial Premises (Rent) Regulations, 1983, which authorised them to continue staying or using premises despite expiry of their contracts.

The sections prohibited the property owners from evicting tenants as long as they were abiding by the terms and conditions of the expired leases.

But High Court judge Justice Webster Chinamhora yesterday ruled that the sections were unlawful, describing the law as unfair.

“A cumulative reading of sections 22 and 23 shows that these provisions unfairly limit the powers of a court in ordering eviction and heavily restrict the lessor’s rights to terminate occupancy or seek eviction and possession of the premises after the lease expires. The regulations create a forced relationship between the lessee and the lessor known as statutory tenancy. My view is that sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) of section 22 (2) effectively preclude the lessor from increasing rentals or leasing out the property to another person once the statutory tenancy protection applies,” Justice Chinamhora ruled.

“I would add that section 23 fortifies the protection accorded under section 22 of the regulations and entitles the lessor to all the other benefits arising from the original contract.

“It is precisely for these reasons that section 22 and 23 of the regulations are ultra vires the Commercial Premises (Lease Control) Act and set them aside.”

The ruling follows a legal dispute between a Harare-based company, Elnour United Engineering Group Private (Limited) and Industry and Commerce minister Sekai Nzenza.

Elnour United owns Gulf Complex and Sunshine Bazaar in the Harare central business district and Mbare, respectively.

The company argued that the regulations went beyond the powers of the Commercial Premises Act when it sought an order directing Nzenza to make regulations that address the interests of both the lessor and lessee.

Nzenza had argued that there was nothing discriminatory in the said provisions since section 23 of the rent regulations deals with rights and duties of the lessee.

The minister further submitted that the company had failed to exhaust local remedies before asking the court to intervene in the dispute.

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