What is a ‘house’?

Fully Profit (Asia) Ltd v Secretary for Justice ([2011] 3 HKLRD 434) concerned a proposal to build a 26-storey retail / residential building on the site of a row of five townhouses. Each house was demised by a separate Government lease. The leases contained covenants: (a) not to erect or allow to be erected more than one house on the demised premises; and (b) not to erect or allow to be erected more than one house on the said piece or parcel of ground. It was held that the proposed development would infringe these covenants. There is no ‘general purpose’ definition of a house for legal purposes. It is rather a question of the interpretation of the terms of the deed. The parties to these leases would not have regarded the development as a house but, rather, as a multi-storey building. The decision was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal (but see the later Court of Final Appeal judgment).

This is an interesting decision on the approach to construction and the meaning of ‘house. It is also interesting because the plans were approved by the Buildings Department from a planning perspective but opposed by the Lands Department which focused on the applicability of the covenants.

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