FIRST SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 35815/97 
by Carlotta MEAZZI 
against Italy

The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting on 15 November 2001 as a Chamber composed of

Mr C.L. Rozakis, President
 Mr G. Bonello
 Mr P. Lorenzen
 Mrs N. Vajić
 Mrs S. Botoucharova
 Mrs E. Steiner, judges
 Mr L. Ferrari Bravo, ad hoc judge
and Mr E. Fribergh, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application introduced with the European Commission of Human Rights on 12 February 1997 and registered on 28 April 1997,

Having regard to Article 5 § 2 of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention, by which the competence to examine the application was transferred to the Court,

Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicant,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicant is an Italian national, born in 1921 and living in Milan. She is represented before the Court by Mr C. Fumagalli, a lawyer practising in Milan.

The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows:

G.B. was the owner of an apartment in Milan, which he had let to S.H.

In a writ served on the tenant on 29 March 1991, G.G. communicated his intention to terminate the lease and summoned the tenant to appear before the Milan Magistrate. By a decision of 15 April 1991, which was made enforceable on 22 April 1991, the Milan Magistrate upheld the validity of the notice to quit and ordered that the premises be vacated by 1 November 1992.

On 26 May 1992, the applicant became the owner of the apartment.

On 27 January 1993, she made a statutory declaration that she urgently required the premises as accommodation for herself.

On 29 January 1993, she served notice on the tenant requiring him to vacate the premises.

On 18 February 1993, she served notice on the tenant informing him that the order for possession would be enforced by a bailiff on 26 March 1993.

Between 26 March 1993 and 17 September 1996, the bailiff made fifteen attempts to recover possession. Each attempt proved unsuccessful, as the applicant was never granted the assistance of the police in enforcing the order for possession.

On 29 October 1996, the applicant recovered possession of the apartment.

THE LAW

1.  The applicant complains that her inability to recover possession of her apartment amounted to a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

The Court considers that the interference complained of amounted to control of the use of property within the meaning of the second paragraph of Article 1, and pursued a legitimate aim in the general interest, as required by that provision (see the Immobiliare Saffi v. Italy [GC], no. 22774/93, 28.7.99, §§ 46 and 48, ECHR-V, and the Scollo v. Italy judgment of 28 September 1995, Series A n° 315-C, p. 26, §§ 30-31).

The Court recalls that an interference must strike a “fair balance” between the demands of the general interest and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights in order to be compatible with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. The concern to achieve this balance is reflected in the structure of Article 1 as a whole, and therefore also in its second paragraph. There must be a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim pursued. In determining whether this requirement is met, the Court recognises that the State enjoys a wide margin of appreciation with regard both to choosing the means of enforcement and to ascertaining whether the consequences of enforcement are justified in the general interest for the purpose of achieving the object of the law in question. In spheres such as housing, which plays a central role in the welfare and economic policies of modern societies, the Court will respect the legislature’s judgment as to what is in the general interest unless that judgment is manifestly without reasonable foundation (see the Immobiliare Saffi judgment cited above, § 49).

The Court considers that, in principle, the Italian system of staggering of the enforcement of court orders is not in itself open to criticism, having regard in particular to the margin of appreciation permitted under the second paragraph of Article 1. However, such a system carries with it the risk of imposing on landlords an excessive burden in terms of their ability to dispose of their property and must accordingly provide certain procedural safeguards so as to ensure that the operation of the system and its impact on a landlord’s property rights are neither arbitrary nor unforeseeable (see, mutatis mutandis, the Immobiliare Saffi judgment cited above, § 54).

The Court must thus ascertain whether, in the instant case, a balance was maintained between the relevant interests (see the Scollo v. Italy judgment cited above, § 37).

The Court observes that, on 26 May 1992, the applicant acquired title over the property when the eviction proceedings were still pending. On 27 January 1993, she made a declaration of urgent necessity and two days later she served notice on the tenant that he vacate the premises. Thereafter, the applicant was made to wait approximately three years and seven months before she recovered possession of her apartment on 29 October 1996.

The Court finds that the restriction on the applicant’s use of her flat, which restriction lasted three years and seven months, did not impose on her an individual and excessive burden, contrary to the requirements of the second paragraph of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (see, a contrario, the Scollo judgment, cited above, § 40; see also, mutatis mutandis, Caselli v. Italy (dec.), no. 36679/97, 20 January 2000, unpublished).

Having regard to the general interests at stake, it follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.

2.  The applicant further complains that the length of the enforcement proceedings was excessive and in breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

The Court considers that this complaint should be examined in connection with the more general right to a court (see the Immobiliare Saffi judgment cited above, § 61).

The right to a court as guaranteed by Article 6 also protects the implementation of final, binding judicial decisions, which, in States that accept the rule of law, cannot remain inoperative to the detriment of one party (see, mutatis mutandis, the Hornsby v. Greece judgment of 19 March 1997, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997-II, p. 510, § 40). Accordingly, the execution of a judicial decision cannot be unduly delayed. However, a stay of execution of a judicial decision for such period as is strictly necessary to enable a satisfactory solution to be found to public-order problems may be justified in exceptional circumstances (see the Immobiliare Saffi judgment cited above, § 69).

In the present case, the Court notes that after the applicant sought the enforcement of the eviction order and before she recovered possession of her apartment, she had to wait for three years and seven months. Having in mind the public order problems which Italy admittedly has had to face in the field of housing, the Court considers that this delay was not so long as to deprive the order for possession of all useful effect or of undermining its substance (see, a contrario, the Immobiliare Saffi judgment cited above, § 73; see also, mutatis mutandis, Caselli v. Italy (dec.), no. 36679/97, 20 January 2000, unpublished).

Further, the Court considers, bearing in mind the practical difficulties raised by the enforcement of a very large number of evictions, that the length of the proceedings at issue was not unreasonably long (see, a contrario, the Scollo judgment cited above, § 44 in fine).

It follows that this complaint is also manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Declares the application inadmissible.

Erik Fribergh Christos Rozakis 
 Registrar President

MEAZZI v. ITALY DECISION


MEAZZI v. ITALY DECISION