Limited Period Tenancy – S.B.Noronah v. Prem Kumari – 1980

Comment : In this landmark decision on S.21 of the Delhi Rent Control Act – which provides for limited period tenancy, if a landlord does not need a premises for a certain period, and wishes to give it out for residential purposes, he can after seeking permission from controller – induct tenant who would have to evict on the elapse of time, failure may attract eviction + Damages. This principle is an exception amongst the otherwise tenant friendly act and on elapse of time landlord need not make out his case under various grounds as given in S.14. J.Krishna Iyer in this case emphasised that since this section makes serious inroads, controller not to give permission mechanically as that would frustrate the benevolent provisions of this act, but to ensure that conditions exist. 
The Court further went on to observe that just because tenant co-operated in getting permission u/s 21 – he would not be estopped from claiming fraud etc. in getting the permission for i) there is no estoppel against the statute, fraud vitiates everything, ii) inequal bargaining power. 
S. B. Noronah vs Prem Kumari Khanna on 16 August, 1979
Bench: Krishnaiyer, V.R.

ACT: Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958, Section 21 scope of-Duty of the Court in dealing with applications under Section 21, explained.


Dismissing the appeal by special leave, the Court HELD: Section 21 of the Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958 carves out a category for special treatment. While no landlord can evict without compliance with sections 14, 19 and 20 of the Act, a liberal eviction policy cannot be said to under-lie in section 21. Parliament was presumably keen on maximising accommodation available for letting, realising the scarcity crisis. One source of such spare accommodation which is usually shy is potentially vacant building or part thereof which the landlord is able to let out for a strictly limited period provided he has some credible assurance that when he needs he will get it back. The law seeks to persuade the owner of the premises available for letting for a particular period by giving him a special assurance that at the expiry of that period the appointed agency will place the landlord in vacant possession. And, Section 21 confines the special remedy to letting for residential uses only. Parliament had the wholesome fear that if the section were not controlled by many conditions it might open the floodgates for wholesale circumvention of the rent control legislations by ingenious landlords exploiting the agonising need of houseless denizens. [285B-D, G-H, 286A]

2. Section 21 over-rides section 14 precisely because it is otherwise hedged in with drastic limitations and safeguards itself against landlords’ abuses. The first condition is that the landlord does not require the demised premises “for a particular period” only. This means that he must indicate to the authority before which sanction is sought for letting what is the particular period for which he can spare the accommodation. The Controller exercises an important regulatory function on behalf of the community. The fact that a landlord and a potential tenant together apply, setting out the formal ingredients of Section 21, does not relieve the Controller from being vigilant to inquire and satisfy himself about the requisites of the landlord’s non-requirement “for a particular period” and the letting itself being “as a resident”. A fraud on the statute cannot be permitted especially because of the grave mischief that may be perpetrated in such event. [286E, H, 287A-D]

3. There would be a terrible blow to the rent control law if section 21 were freely permitted to subvert the scheme of Section 14. Every landlord will insist on a tenant going through the formal exercise of Section 21, making ideal averments in terms of that Section. The consequence will be that both the Civil Procedure Code which prescribes suits for recovery of possession and the Delhi Rent Control Act which prescribes grounds for eviction will be eclipsed by the pervasive operation of Section 21. Neither grounds for eviction nor suits for eviction will thereafter be needed, and if the landlord moves the Court for a mere warrant to place the landlord, through the Court process, in vacant possession of the premises, he gets it. No court-fee, no decree, no execution petition, no termination of tenancy-wish for possession and the court is at your command. Such a horrendous situation will be the negation of the rule of law in this area. [287 D-F]

4. When an application under Section 21 is filed by the landlord and/or tenant the Controller must satisfy himself by such inquiry as he may make, about the compulsive requirements of that provision. If he makes a mindless order, the Court, when challenged at the time of execution will go into the question as to whether the twin conditions for sanction have really been fulfilled. Of course, there will be a presumption in favour of the sanction being regular, but it will still be open to a party to make out his case that in fact and in truth the conditions which make for a valid sanction were not present.

5. The sanction granted under section 21, if it has been procured by fraud and collusion cannot withstand invalidity because, otherwise, high public policy will be given as hostage to successful collusion. The doctrine of estoppel cannot be invoked to render valid a proceeding which the legislature has, on grounds of public policy subjected to mandatory conditions which are shown to be absent. As between unequals the law steps in and as against statutes there is no estoppel, especially where collusion and fraud are made out and high purpose is involved. 

6. Law that non-performs stultifies the rule of law and hence the need for strict compliance. Or else, the sanction is non-est….Collusion between the strong and the weak cannot confer validity where the mandatory prescriptions of the law are breached or betrayed. [289A]

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