No estoppel in relation to representations as to the law

A representation as to the law cannot give rise to an estoppel.

In Kai Nam v Ma Kam Chan ([1956] AC 358, PC) temporary one-storey shops were built on the foundations of a house that had been largely destroyed during the war. The question was whether the tenants of the shops could claim the protection of Hong Kong’s Landlord and Tenant Ordinance 1947. The landlord claimed that each shop was an ‘entirely new building’ for the purposes of the Ordinance and so fell outside the Ordinance. The tenants claimed that the landlord was estopped from making this argument. He had served notices of increase of rent under the terms of the Ordinance; this, it was claimed, meant that he was estopped from arguing that the Ordinance did not apply to the shops.

The estoppel argument failed since if this was a representation it was of law not of fact and there could be no estoppel (per Lord Cohen at 367).

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