Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Racaza vs. Gozum

Facts: The plaintiffs are the registered co-owners of a parcel of land situated at Santolan, Pasig City. In 1981, defendant Ernesto Gozum occupied the back portion of the property on a P3,500.00 monthly rental. On July 1, 1995, plaintiffs sent Gozum a letter of demand to vacate the premises. After a failed barangay conciliation, plaintiffs commenced an ejectment case against Gozum. The case was, however, dismissed due to a technicality. On May 27, 1997, plaintiffs sent anew a formal demand letter to vacate on the ground that the verbal contract of lease over the property had already expired sometime in July 1995, and the same has not been renewed and since then, defendant had discontinued paying the monthly rentals of P3,500.00. When this latter demand was not heeded, on June 4, 1997, the present complaint for recovery of possession or accion publiciana was initiated before the RTC of Pasig City.

The RTC ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Respondent appealed to the CA. The CA reversed the decision of the RTC holding that the lower court had no jurisdiction over the complaint for accion publiciana considering that it had been filed before the lapse of one year from the date the last letter of demand to respondent had been made. The CA ruled that the proper remedy of petitioners should have been an action for unlawful detainer filed with the first level court, or the municipal or metropolitan trial court.

Issue: Does the RTC have jurisdiction in this case?

Held: Yes. The petition has merit. An action for unlawful detainer should be filed with the municipal trial courts within one year after the occurrence of the unlawful deprivation or withholding of possession. Beyond the one-year period, the real right of possession may be recovered through the filing of an accion publiciana with the regional trial courts.

Respondent insists that the one-year period must be reckoned from the date of the second demand letter to vacate, that is, on May 27, 1997. Considering that petitioners’ complaint was filed within days from this date, respondent contends that the RTC had no jurisdiction to hear the case. Respondent argues that petitioners should have filed an action for unlawful detainer instead with the metropolitan or municipal trial courts.

Demand or notice to vacate is not a jurisdictional requirement when the action is based on the expiration of the lease. The law requires notice to be served only when the action is due to the lessee’s failure to pay or the failure to comply with the conditions of the lease. The one-year period is thus counted from the date of first dispossession. To reiterate, the allegation that the lease was on a month-to-month basis is tantamount to saying that the lease expired every month. Since the lease already expired mid-year in 1995 as communicated in petitioners’ letter dated July 1, 1995, it was at that time that respondent’s occupancy became unlawful.

Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that a demand or notice to vacate was necessary, a reading of the second letter shows that petitioners were merely reiterating their original demand for respondent to vacate on the basis of the expiration of the verbal lease contract mentioned in the first letter. Subsequent demands which are merely in the nature of reminders or reiterations of the original demand do not operate to renew the one-year period within which to commence the ejectment suit considering that the period will still be reckoned from the date of the original demand.

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