Commentary on Toms v Ruberry

July 24, 2020

Just published this commentary on Toms v Ruberry in the CUHK Law Issues in Property Law blog.

Michael Lower

When does a landlord have right to serve a CPO s. 58 notice?

July 14, 2020

In Toms v Ruberry ([2019] EWCA Civ 128) the forfeiture clause in a lease required the landlord to serve notice of default on the tenant. The notice of default was to identify the breaches in question and to give the tenant 14 days to remedy (if the breach was capable of remedy). If the breaches were not remedied by the end of the 14 day period, the landlord could forfeit the lease.

The tenant broke a number of lease covenants. On 25 February 2016, the landlord served on the tenant both a notice of default and a notice under the English equivalent of section 58 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance (Law of Property Act, s. 146).

The question was whether the section 146 notice could validly be served before the expiry of the 14 day period specified in the notice of default.

The landlord argued that the section 146 notice was valid. To require the 14 day notice period to expire without the breaches being remedied before the section 146 notice could be served would be to prolong the process unnecessarily; the tenant would have two opportunities to remedy the breaches.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the tenant that the right to forfeit only arose if the 14 day notice period expired and the breaches were not remedied.

Michael Lower

Property Law seminar – 9 July

June 30, 2020

Major online property Law seminar. Still time to register.

 

https://www.law.cuhk.edu.hk/app/events/property-law-seminar-series-regulatory-overview-of-the-hong-kong-property-market-by-mr-alvin-yeung-and-ms-pheona-chow-online/

 

 

Richard Susskind keynote speaker at online conference in June

May 13, 2020

Professor Richard Susskind OBE, will be a keynote speaker at CUHK LAW “Directions of Legal Education Conference”. Professor Susskind will present a keynote address online, on Friday 19 June, 5.30-6.30 (HK Time). Please register to attend the Conference. The conference is free of charge; please feel free to share this event with interested persons. Hong Kong Law society CPD accreditation has been applied for.

Here is the registration link: https://cloud.itsc.cuhk.edu.hk/webform/view.php?id=9006024

Can landlord of block of flats authorise a tenant to make structural alterations in breach of absolute covenant?

May 9, 2020

Introduction

In England, the usual arrangement for blocks of flats is for a landlord to retain ownership and control of common parts such as the structure and exterior of the building. Owners are granted long leases of their flats.

This use of leases allows the burden of positive covenants (such as the covenant to contribute to the costs of maintaining, insuring and renewing the building) to be transmitted to the owners of the flats from time to time.

Hong Kong does not need to resort to this device because of section 41 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance.

The landlord of the block is then expected to manage the building on behalf of all the tenants and to recover the costs of doing so through a service charge.  The landlord (or its agent) will be entitled by the leases to impose a service charge for this management service.

The leases may contain tenants’ covenants not to do certain things either (a) without the landlord’s consent (a qualified covenant) or (b) not to do them at all (an absolute covenant).

There may be qualified and / or absolute covenants, for example, against carrying out certain types of work.

Qualified covenants envisage that tenants wishing to do work covered by the covenant will apply to the landlord for consent. This allows the landlord to exercise oversight and control in the interests of the proper management of the building.

Absolute covenants envisage that there are certain types of work that tenants will never have any right to carry out.

The lease covenants allow the landlord to manage the building for the benefit of all the tenants. The lease might go further and, for example, require the landlord to enforce the lease covenants at the request of a tenant.

Duval v 11 – 13 Randolph Crescent

The facts in Duval

In Duval v 11 – 13 Randolph Crescent ([2020] UKSC 18) the leases of all flats in the building required the landlord: (a) to impose similar covenants in all leases; and (b) (in clause 3.19) to enforce any breach of covenant by one tenant if asked to do so by another (at the cost of the tenant making the request).

A tenant (‘W’) wanted to carry out works which would involve the removal of part of a load-bearing wall. This would be in breach of an absolute covenant (‘clause 2.7’) not to do work of this nature.

The landlord was, nevertheless, willing to grant the tenant a licence to carry out these works. Another tenant (‘D’) objected and sought a declaration that the landlord did not have the power to waive the absolute covenant in clause 2.7.

The question in Duval

Lord Kitchin (with whom the other members of the UK Supreme Court agreed) framed the question thus:

‘whether the landlord of a block of flats is entitled, without breach of covenant, to grant a licence to a lessee to carry out work which, but for the licence, would breach a covenant in the lease of his or her flat, where the leases of the other flats require the landlord to enforce such covenants at the request and cost of any one of the other lessees.’ ([1]).

Accepted that the landlord could do so in the absence of an obligation owed to other tenants to enforce the covenant

The parties, and the court, agreed that, in the absence of a covenant to enforce clause 2.7 the landlord could grant a licence to carry out works in what would otherwise be a breach of it. This was so even though clause 2.7 was an absolute covenant ([11]).

The crucial additional facts were that the landlord covenanted to impose a restriction similar to clause 2.7 in all leases and, in clause 3.19, to enforce them at the request and cost of any tenant. These facts made all the difference.

Implied covenant

The court set out its interpretation of the express terms of clause 2.7. It then decided that there was an implied term that the landlord promised ‘not to put it out of its power to enforce clause 2.7 in the leases of other lessees by licensing what would otherwise be a breach of it’ ([52]).

The decision: the landlord could not grant a licence to carry out the work

The UK Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision to grant the declaration sought by D. The landlord could not grant a licence to carry out these works:

‘In my view it necessarily follows that the landlord will not put it out of its power to enforce clause 2.7 in the lease of the offending lessee by licensing the activity that would otherwise be a breach of that clause. The clause is an absolute covenant and, under clause 3.19, the complainant lessee is entitled, on provision of security, to require the landlord to enforce it as an absolute covenant. As Lewison LJ said at para 27 of his judgment, it would not give practical content to the obligation if the landlord had the right to vary or modify the absolute covenant or to authorise what would otherwise be a breach of it.’ ([55]).

Michael Lower

 

Coronavirus and Property Law

April 21, 2020

Here is a Brazilian website providing a ‘Coronavirus and Property Law’ portal. The link is to the international section with some English language resources.

Right of way: with vehicles or only pedestrian?

April 8, 2020

In The Dairy Farm Company Limited v Secretary for Justice ([2020] HKCFI 306), a 75 year Government lease of land in Pokfulam (‘the Lot’) to Dairy Farm contained a clause (‘SC20’) stating that: ‘“A right-of-way from Pokfulam Road to the new lot on a line to be approved by the Director of Public Works will be given.’ 

The question was whether the right of way was to be for vehicles or whether only pedestrian access was contemplated. Dairy Farm successfully sought an order requiring the Government to grant it a vehicular right of way.

This required the court (Hon. Wilson Chan J.) to apply the normal principles of contractual interpretation and to look at the words used in their documentary context and in the light of the relevant facts known to both parties at the time of the Grant (1958).

A number of contextual features combined to support Dairy Farm’s contention that the parties must be taken to have contemplated vehicular access:

  • the right of way was for access to domestic premises and so the grant was of a right of way for all purposes required for that use;
  •  SC20 entitled Dairy Farm to construct a ‘road or path’, suggesting both pedestrian and vehicular access was contemplated;
  •  SC20 required Dairy Farm to contribute to the cost of maintaining the road suggesting a type of use that might damage it; ([33])
  •  the right of way was intended to connect to the vehicular access on Pokfulam Road;
  •  pre- Grant correspondence between the parties suggested that the background was a plan to develop a network of roads in the area capable of accommodating vehicular access;
  •  the 75 year term militated against a restrictive interpetation;
  •  especially since vehicular access would be needed for the repair or rebuilding of any buildings on the Lot;
  •  the Lot was intended to be used to house senior staff of Dairy Farm (who were likely to have cars) ([35] – [36]).

Hon Wilson Chan J. decided that the Government’s refusal to grant a vehicular right of way was a breach of SC20 ([72]) and, since it rendered the land practically unusable, a derogation from grant ([73]). The Government was ordered to grant the right of way.

Michael Lower

Online seminar – Sham and illusory trusts

April 4, 2020

Professor Steven Gallagher of CUHK’s Faculty of Law will deliver an online seminar on sham and illusory trusts on 22 April. Here is the registration link.

Michael Lower

Relief from forfeiture of a contractual licence

March 10, 2020

In The Manchester Ship Canal Company Limited v Vauxhall Motors Limited  ([2019] UKSC 46) the UK Supreme Court considered whether contractual licensees were entitled to apply for relief from forfeiture of a contractual licence. Lord Briggs gave the judgment with which the other members of the Supreme Court agreed. Lady Arden gave a separate judgment reflecting on whether the judgment introduced unacceptable uncertainty into the law.

Facts

In 1962 The Manchester Ship Canal Company Limited (‘MSCC’) granted Vauxhall Motors Limited (‘Vauxhall’) a perpetual licence (‘the licence’) relating to land owned by MSCC next to the Manchester Ship Canal (‘the Canal’).

The licence entitled Vauxhall to install pipes between Vauxhall’s land and the Canal under land owned by MSCC and to discharge surface water and treated effluent through the pipes into the Canal.

Vauxhall had to pay a ‘rent or annual sum’ of GBP 50. If it failed to make this payment on the due date then MSCC had a right to serve a notice requiring payment within 28 days. If payment was not made within this 28 day period then MSCC had the right to serve notice on MSCC to terminate the licence.

Vauxhall failed to pay the sum due in 2013. MSCC gave 28 days notice but Vauxhall did not pay the sum due within the notice period. MSCC served notice to terminate the licence. Vauxhall claimed relief from forfeiture.

When is relief from forfeiture available?

MSCC argued that relief from forfeiture was only available in respect of proprietary interests. The UK Supreme Court rejected this and held that the court could grant relief from forfeiture where:

  •  the primary object is the securing of a stated result for which the forfeiture provision is added by way of security ([18]); and
  •  ‘where what is in question is forfeiture of proprietary or possessory rights as opposed to merely contractual rights, regardless of the type of property concerned’ ([94])

Lady Arden may be expressing the first requirement in other words where, in her judgment, she says that there will be no relief where:

‘it was inconsistent with the terms of the parties’ bargain that there should be any relief from strict performance of the contract if the other party chose to enforce his rights’ ([87]).

The Supreme Court did not accept Vauxhall’s contention that the right to relief applies to all forms of right to use property ([49]). The Supreme Court did not commit itself to the idea that the right to possession had to be of indefinite duration ([51]).

‘Possessory rights in relation to land’

In the Court of Appeal, Lewison LJ explained possessory rights as involving factual possession and an intention to possess:

‘There are two elements to the concept of possession: (1) a sufficient degree of physical custody and control (‘factual possession’); (2) an intention to exercise such custody and control on one’s own behalf and for one’s own benefit (‘intention to possess’). What amounts to a sufficient degree of physical custody and control will depend on the nature of the relevant subject matter and the manner in which that subject matter is commonly enjoyed. The existence of the intention to possess is to be objectively ascertained and will usually be deduced from the acts carried out by the putative possessor ..’ ([2018] EWCA Civ 1100 at [59])

and the Supreme Court accepted this understanding ([42]).

Outcome

The rights in this case were possessory ([55] – [58]). There was no reason to disturb the decision of HHJ Behrens to grant relief from forfeiture.

Michael Lower