Most, if not all, of us have bank accounts. And, one of the most common facilities that a customer opts in the bank where he/she has an account is availing the "Locker" facility. But, what if one day, somehow mysteriously your stuff in the locker go missing? Can you hold a bank accountable? Can you ask them to compensate you? Or, are you left to cry in a corner?
A banker and a customer share many types of relationships depending on what type of service the customer avails. When you have a locker in your bank branch, the locker is treated as a fixed, immovable property, thus creating a lessor-lessee relationship between a banker and a customer. A lessor is someone who leases or lets out a property to another. To put simply, bank is like the landlord for that cubical space of the locker you keep your stuff in, and you are just using the leased out property.
Section 105 of the Transfer of Property Act defines the term "lease". There are four key criteria for an act to qualify as a valid lease.
1. Lease can be with respect to ONLY immovable property. Here, as already said, the vault/locker is treated in law as a fixed and immovable property.
2. Possession of the immovable property must be transferred from the lessor to the lessee. Now, how is this happening in the case of the bank locker? All of you who have a locker facility in a bank, or have seen the locker of a bank, would be aware that when you avail a locker facility, the bank provides you with a vault wherein there are two keys, or a double lock which has to be opened. One, is a key that you would possess, and the other is a key that the bank will keep. It is virtually impossible for the bank to open your locker without you and your key. Thus, this is qualified to be called a "transfer of possession" under law as you have the access to the vault and the bank does not.
3. Possession is transferred for peaceful enjoyment for a specific duration. Simple enough. When you have a locker, you are allowed to keep whatever you wish so long it is not anything illegal. And, this facility is not forever. You are bound by a specific duration as agreed by the contract signed between you and the bank at the time of availing such facility.
4. Possession can be transferred only in favour of some rent/premium. The bank doesn't offer their locker for charitable purposes. Nor do they give it to you for free because you are their valuable customer. If they did, it wouldn't qualify as a lease. The bank charges the facility usually through premiums, or periodical rents.
Satisfying all the conditions required by the Transfer of Property Act, there is no question or doubt on the fact that the locker facility is a lease. Then, if there is anything missing from what you kept in your locker in the bank, is the bank responsible?
The law says no. A lessor is not responsible for anything that happens in the immovable property when the possession and enjoyment of the property is with the lessee. Unlike a pawnor-pawnee relationship, or a bailor-bailee relationship, the lessor-lessee relation gives more freedom to the lessee to do what he/she wants with the property, but at the same time reduces the liabilities of the lessor. So, if there is something gone missing, what is to be done? An FIR or stolen/missing property can be filed by the bank and the customer, and wait for the investigations to come. But, a customer can't proceed with any action against the bank, unless negligence from the bank's side can be proven. If, for example, the bank had allowed access to your vault negligently without confirming identity to someone who is not you, then maybe there is a chance to make a case against the bank. Unless you can pin on something that is under the bank's control and which the bank ought to have done, there is no way a bank would compensate for your loss.
Then, why do so many people avail the bank locker facility? I guess it's because there is a general feeling that the property you keep in bank lockers are definitely more safe than keeping at home, because of the additional security there, which makes sense as the banks account and keep track of every move of those accessing lockers.
To conclude, it is important to know the various different rights you have with your bank, and also know what rights you don't have.