Malta has a rich historical heritage and picturesque urban landscapes. Many large properties located in the urban conservation area of various towns and villages have over the years been split in smaller residences known as “kerrejja”. These properties usually have distinctive features: shared ownership of the entrance, yard, and open staircases of the building by all the units within it.
A recent court case concerned the interpretation of the term ‘comunione’ (loosely translated from Italian as ‘common’) used by a Notary back in 1930 to describe a property being acquired. This dispute has shed light on the intricacies of property law, historical preservation, and the importance of contractual clarity.
The bone of contention in this case was the interpretation of the word ‘comunione’ in the description of the property as used by the Notary in 1930.
The First Hall Civil Court reiterated that according to article 1002 of the Civil Code, “where, by giving to the words of an agreement the meaning attached to them by usage at the time of the agreement, the terms of such agreement are clear, there shall be no room for interpretation.”
This principle emphasises the importance of upholding contractual obligations and respecting the will of the contracting parties, a concept known as “pacta sunt servanda.”
The applicants argued that ‘comunione’ should be understood in the sense of ‘the whole of’ or ‘the assemblage of,’ rather than implying co-ownership. Conversely, the respondents insisted that ‘comunione’ should be interpreted in its conventional sense, denoting assets held in common.
The First Hall Civil Court affirmed that indeed the description referred to a state of co-ownership. This decision was supported by the historical and structural context of the building, as the properties were originally designed as separate tenements for various families or “kerrejja,” as testified by witnesses during the proceedings.
The respondents were represented in Court by Dalli Advocates. Case is now subject to an appeal filed by the applicants.