The Supreme Court has observed that, though in a landlord-tenant suit, the landlord is not required to prove his title in the subject property as in a title-suit, but when his/her derivative title is challenged, the same has to be established in some form.
In this case [Vinay Eknat Lad vs. Chiu Mao Chen], the Trial Court had decreed the suit filed by the plaintiffs who claimed to have had derived their right, title and interest to the subject premises from the partnership firm after its dissolution. The High Court reversed the judgment of the Trial Court.
In appeal before the Apex Court, the bench noticed that that sufficient material was not there before the Trial Court or the High Court to establish the original plaintiffs' claim of ownership of the subject premises on the basis of a family arrangement after dissolution of the firm. The bench comprising Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose said:
"There is no material before us from which we could conclude that the original plaintiffs' title to the subject-premises came from residue assets of the dissolved firm. In a landlord-tenant suit, the landlord is not required to prove his title in the subject property as in a title-suit. But when the landlord's derivative title is challenged, the same has to be established in some form. On this point the original plaintiffs have failed before the first two Courts"
Though the principle of estoppel bars a tenant from questioning the title landlords [Section 116 of the Evidence Act], the court said that in this case, the said principle cannot be made applicable in the present case straightaway as the main defence set up by the tenant is that he had acknowledged the said partnership firm as the landlord but questioned the locus standi of the plaintiffs, who operated under the same trade name. It added:
"In absence of attornment or public notice of dissolution, the defendant had no way of having knowledge of change of landlord of the subject-premises from partnership firm to a co ownership concern. The co-ownership firm admittedly was not the defendant's landlord at the time of commencement of the lease. Thus, the identity of the landlord stood altered, though the seventeen individuals continued to operate under the same trade name."
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