On the lessor’s right to immediately repossess his leased premises
“Possessions. The very word is potent—suggestive as it is of ownership, both material and erotic,” said English journalist Hamish Bowles. “To possess. Possession. Possessed.”
This potency may also apply when the lessor attempts to indemnify himself from the damage resulting from his lessee’s failure to pay the rent or to vacate the leased premises by entering, and taking possession of the items found in it.
The Supreme Court decided the legality of this all too familiar situation in Viray v. Intermediate Appellate Court. In this case, Benjamin de Asis leased his apartment to Rustico Victor for a period of three months, and shall be impliedly renewable on a monthly basis under the same terms and conditions of the corresponding lease agreement, unless otherwise revised by them.
Should Victor fail to comply with these terms and conditions, as well as those that may be imposed by De Asis before or upon the renewal of the lease agreement, the latter shall be entitled to enter and take possession of the apartment and the belongings therein, upon five days’ written notice or in Victor’s absence, upon written notice posted at the entrance.
Subsequently, Victor and his wife left for Canada, with the leased apartment left in the care of their son, Ramon. Believing that Victor and his wife had abandoned the apartment in favor of Ramon, an unauthorized stranger, De Asis filed a suit for his eviction before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC), which the latter dismissed.
Nevertheless, Victor did not re-occupy the apartment. Meanwhile, Ramon asked his brother, Roldan, to look after it, then left for Canada. But, Roldan occasionally visited the apartment and changed the padlock at its main door.
Upon discovering this development, De Asis tried to survey the apartment, but could not enter because it was locked. So, he caused the disconnection of the electrical and water service connections and later on posted a notice of termination of the lease on the ground of abandonment and failure to pay the rent pursuant to the lease agreement.
De Asis returned to the apartment and found that the notice had been taken down. Thus, he posted another notice, this time stating his intent to repossess the place after five days in order to secure the apartment from fire, repair it to preserve its value, and inventory Victor’s things as were inside which might thereafter be claimed at his residence.
Consequently, De Asis sought assistance from the local barangay captain, after which he was able to enter his apartment, hauled to his residence the things found inside after making an inventory of them, and leased it to Cresencio Viray. This constrained Victor, through Roldan, to file a complaint for forcible entry before the MeTC, and against De Asis and Viray.
MeTC granted the complaint, affirming that: (a) Victor could not be deemed to have abandoned the apartment; (b) even if he had, De Asis could only repossess the apartment by filing a judicial action; and (c) the stipulation in the lease agreement authorizing De Asis to do so is void for being against public policy and existing precedents. Upon appeal, the Regional Trial Court and Court of Appeals affirmed MeTC’s findings.
The Supreme Court, however, reversed and set aside the lower courts’ rulings. It found that the authority given to the lessor, such as De Asis, to take possession of the leased property, may be validly stipulated in a lease agreement, absent any law prohibiting it.
Thus, the Supreme Court held that a lease agreement may provide that if the tenants hold over after the expiry of its term, the landlord may enter and take possession of the premises, using all necessary force to obtain the actual possession thereof. In this regard, the landlord’s entry should neither be regarded as trespass, be a ground for the filing of suit against him, nor in any wise be considered unlawful.
Moreover, the landlord may forcibly expel the tenant upon the termination of the lease, using no more force than is necessary, and will not be liable for the tenant therefore. Meanwhile, the tenant cannot maintain any action, such as in the instant case, to deprive his landlord from the lawful and immediate possession of the denied premises.
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