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``Landlord cannot evict woman deserted by husband''

By Our Legal Correspondent

NEW DELHI, FEB. 15. The Supreme Court has held that if a husband, a tenant, deserted his wife and left the house, the landlord cannot evict her so long as she pays the rent and performs the conditions of tenancy.

A three-Judge Bench, comprising the Chief Justice, R.C. Lahoti, Justice G.P. Mathur and Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan, also held that a deserted wife who had been or was entitled to be in occupation of the matrimonial home was entitled to contest the suit for eviction filed against her husband subject to satisfying two conditions — the husband in his capacity as tenant had given up the contest in the suit and that his action would prejudice the deserted wife residing on the premises.

Writing the judgment, the Chief Justice said that such a wife would be entitled to raise all such pleas and claim trial as would have been available to the tenant himself and no more. A deserted wife in occupation of rented premises could not be placed in a position worse than that of a sub-tenant contesting a claim for eviction on the ground of sub-letting. "Having been deserted by the tenant, husband, she cannot be deprived of the roof over her head where the tenant has conveniently left her to face the peril of eviction attributable to default or neglect of himself," the Bench said and added, "this right comes to an end with the wife losing her status as wife consequent upon decree of divorce and the right to occupy the house as part of right to maintenance coming to an end."

But, the Bench said, in case the settlement for divorce included residence, she could claim tenancy in her own name.

The Bench quoted extensively from English laws and said: "A wife is no longer her husband's chattel. The wife's right is effective not only against her husband but also as against the landlord."

The Judges gave the ruling on a special leave petition filed by B.P. Achala Anand of Bangalore, challenging a Karnataka High Court judgment, which held that there was no relationship of tenant and landlord between her and the owner of the house.

Achala's husband, H.S. Anand, who first deserted her and later divorced her through mutual consent when the proceedings for eviction were on, was the tenant.

Since his eviction was ordered for non-payment of rent, Ms. Achala could not claim tenancy in his place.

As her husband was not serious in paying the rent arrears, Ms. Achala was allowed to become a party to the litigation and she deposited the arrears.

The landlord withdrew the amount but maintained that only the husband could reside in his house.

Disposing of the petition, the Bench asked the State Governments, particularly Karnataka, to amend their Rent Control Act to give effect to the judgment.

Since she had been divorced, Ms. Achala was asked to vacate the house by December 31.

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