Weekly review: 8 – 12 August

Land covenants: abandonment

Land covenants often impose restrictions on what can be built on land and the uses to which it can be put. Should a covenant created in the nineteenth century still govern the use of land today? This gives great weight to the intentions of the long-dead parties to the deed. The character of the area and the pressures on the use of the land may have changed greatly. Thus in Attorney-General of Hong Kong v Fairfax Ltd, the Crown sought to enforce a restriction in an 1862 Crown Lease of land near the centre of Hong Kong (Hing Hon Road and Bonham Road). Since the 1950s high-rise, high-density development had been the norm in the area. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, the Crown still sought to enforce a covenant that allowed only the building of ‘villa residences’, The Crown’s acquiescence over many years in other obvious breaches of the same covenant persuaded the Privy Council that it had abandoned the covenant and was no longer entitled to enforce it.

Gray and Gray point out that although the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) (formerly the Lands Tribunal) in England has the power to discharge or modify restrictive covenants (Law of Property Act 1925, s. 84) it is often reluctant to do so. The covenants can often play a useful part in protecting ‘environmental amenity’ (Elements of Land Law, pp. 255 – 256). Property Prof Blog has a number of posts about the use of conservation easements in the US.

Land Covenants: who can benefit?

Privity of contract means that only the parties to a contract can enforce it. Section 26 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance provides a way of extending the range of parties to land covenants:

‘A person may take an immediate or other interest granted to him in respect of land or the benefit of any condition, right of entry, covenant or agreement granted to him over or in respect of land, although he may not be named as a party to the instrument.’

One practical use of this is as a way of passing the benefit of land covenants onto the owners of identified parcels of land (as one element of a building scheme). White v Bijou Mansions shows that the person relying on section 26 must show that he falls within ‘the scope and benefit’ of the covenant and not merely that enforcement would be useful to him. Section 26 does not abolish the law on privity and applies only to land (Beswick v Beswick).

Promissory estoppel

It is usually said that promissory estoppel is a sword and not a shield. The Australian High Court allowed it to be used as a cause of action in Walton’s Stores (Interstate) Ltd v Maher. More recently, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal seems to have done the same in Luo Xing Juan v Estate of Hui Shui See.

Proprietary estoppel

Sometimes the relevant promise or representation in a proprietary estoppel claim stands out a mile; there have been frequent public assurances. On other occasions, however, the evidence is not overwhelming but is sufficient. Suggitt v Suggitt is an example of the latter.

Vacant possession

A seller of land often agrees to sell with vacant possession. At the end of a lease, a tenant has to give back possession. The meaning of ‘vacant possession’ was considered again in NYK Logitics (UK) Ltd v Ibrend Estates BV.

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