Estoppel: Clare Hall v Harding

In The Master or Keeper, Fellow and Scholars of Clare Hall v Harding ((1848) 6 Hare 273, 67 E.R. 1169) the plaintiff and defendant each claimed to be the owner of property in Scarborough. R was the tenant negotiating for a new lease under the terms of which R would carry out substantial works of improvement. R had to decide which party he would deal with as landlord. He chose to accept Clare Hall as the landlord on the basis that he would be indemnified by them should Harding prove to be the real owner. Harding was later able to recover possession. Clare Hall claimed to be entitled to relief in respect of Rowntree’s expenditure on the basis of estoppel. Harding had told Rowntree of his claim before the repair work but had not warned him of the consequences of proceeding. The claim failed:

‘If a party in possession of an estate, knowing that another claims the property, will with his eyes open, spend money upon it, I know of no case in which in which it has been held that he can, in the absence of special circumstances, keep the lawful owner out of possession, unless he will reimburse the party in possession the expenditure he has made. That would indeed be improving a man out of his own estate.’ (at 1179).

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