Why are Landlord-tenant disputes under TP Act arbitrable but those under Rent Acts non-arbitrable? [‘Vidya Drolia’ explainer by Supreme Court]

Supreme Court: Three days after the Court overruled the ratio in Himangni Enterprises v. Kamaljeet Singh Ahluwalia, (2017) 10 SCC 706 wherein it was held that landlord-tenant disputes governed by the provisions of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, are not arbitrable as this would be contrary to public policy, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna* and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ referred to the law laid down in Vidya Drolia v. Durga Trading Corporation2020 SCC OnLine SC 1018 and explained what makes the lease disputes arising under the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 arbitrable and those under Rent Acts, non-arbitrable.

Here’s the explainer by the Court:

Disputes arising under Transfer of Property Act

Section 111, 114 and 114A of the TP Act indicate the manner in which the determination of lease would occur, which also includes determination by forfeiture due to the acts of the lessee/tenant in breaking the express condition   agreed between the parties or provided in law. The breach and the consequent forfeiture could also be with respect to nonpayment of rent.

In such circumstance where the lease is determined by forfeiture and the lessor sues to eject the lessee and, if, at the hearing of the suit, the lessee pays or tenders to the lessor the rent in arrear, Section 114 of TP Act provides that the Court instead of passing a decree for ejectment may pass an order relieving the lessee against the forfeiture due to which the lessee will be entitled to hold the property leased as if the forfeiture had not occurred.

Under Section 114A of the TP Act a condition for issue of notice prior to filing suit of ejectment is provided so as to enable the lessee to remedy the breach.

“No doubt the said provisions provide certain protection to the lessee/tenant before being ejected from the leased property. In our considered view, the same cannot be construed as a statutory protection nor as a hard and fast rule in all cases to waive the forfeiture. It is a provision enabling exercise of equitable jurisdiction in appropriate cases as a matter of discretion.”

Such equitable protection does not mean that the disputes relating to those aspects between the landlord and the tenant is not arbitrable and that only a Court is empowered to waive the forfeiture or not in the circumstance stated in the provision.

When the disputes arise between the landlord and tenant with regard to determination of lease under the TP Act, the landlord to secure possession of the leased property in a normal circumstance is required to institute a suit in the Court which has jurisdiction. However, if the parties in the contract of lease or in such other manner have agreed upon the alternate mode of dispute resolution through arbitration the landlord would be entitled to invoke the arbitration clause and make a claim before the Arbitrator.

Even in such proceedings, if the circumstances as contained in Section 114 and 114A of TP Act arise, it could be brought up before the Arbitrator who would take note of the same and act in accordance with the law qua passing the award.

“If in the arbitration proceedings the landlord has sought for an award of ejectment on the ground that the lease has been forfeited since the tenant has failed to pay the rent and breached the express condition for payment of rent or such other breach and in such proceedings the tenant pays or tenders the rent to the lessor or remedies such other breach, it would be open for the Arbitrator to take note of Section 114, 114A of TP Act and pass appropriate award in the nature as a Court would have considered that aspect while exercising the discretion.”

Disputes arising under Rent Acts

The disputes arising under the Rent Acts are not arbitrable as notwithstanding the terms and conditions entered into between the landlord and tenant to regulate the tenancy, if the eviction or tenancy is governed by a special statute, namely, the Rent Act the premises being amenable to the provisions of the Act would also provide statutory protection against eviction and the courts specified in the Act alone will be conferred jurisdiction to order eviction or to resolve such other disputes.

“In such proceedings under special statutes the issue to be considered by the jurisdictional court is not merely the terms and conditions entered into between the landlord and tenant but also other aspects such as the bonafide requirement, comparative hardship etc. even if the case for eviction is made out.”

In such circumstance, the Court having jurisdiction alone can advert into all these aspects as a statutory requirement and, therefore, such cases are not arbitrable. The same is not the position in matters relating to the lease/tenancy which are not governed under the special statutes but under the TP Act.

Conclusion

Insofar as eviction or tenancy relating to matters governed by special statutes where the tenant enjoys statutory protection against eviction whereunder the Court/Forum is specified and conferred jurisdiction under the statute alone can adjudicate such matters. Hence in such cases the dispute is non-arbitrable.

If the special statutes do not apply to the premises/property and the lease/tenancy created thereunder as on the date when the cause of action arises to seek for eviction or such other relief and in such transaction if the parties are governed by an Arbitration Clause; the dispute between the   parties is arbitrable and there shall be no impediment whatsoever to invoke the Arbitration Clause.

[Suresh Shah v. Hipad Technology Pvt. Ltd., 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1038, decided on 18.12.2020]


*Justice AS Bopanna has penned this judgment

For petitioner: Advocate Vikas Dhawan

Also read: ‘Landlord-tenant disputes under Transfer of Property Act are arbitrable’. SC lays down test for determining non-arbitrability of disputes

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