Resulting / constructive trust of Ting house

In Lau Kwai Kiu v Bian Xintian ([2012] 2 HKLRD 954) O applied for land by way of private treaty grant in Lok Lo Ha Village near Shatin under the Small House Policy. He was successful. He paid the premium and a grant of land in the village was made to him. At that time, the Lands Department did not require applicants to sign a declaration to the effect that they had not entered into an agreement to sell the land, hold the property on trust or sell it (the Department later did insist on such declarations).

O had agreed to sell the land to P before making the application. P had supplied the funds for the premium. Once the grant was made, she supplied the funds for the construction of the house and she and her family lived in it from the time of the issue of the certificate of compliance. O had written letters to P confirming that he would give the property to her and would transfer the title to her after five years. This would require a further application to the Government and payment of a premium to lift the restriction on alienation in the grant to O. This application was never made because P could not afford the additional premium. O died and the question of P’s interest in the land had to be decided.

O’s wife argued that P had no interest in the land and that any resulting or constructive trust there might have been was unenforceable on the grounds that the arrangement was illegal or contrary to public policy.

It was held that P had an interest under either a resulting and / or a common intention constructive trust because of the payments and the agreement set out in the letters (signed by the parties and, in the case of one letter, witnessed). There was no illegality on the facts of this case. Even if there were, P had no need to plead it since she could rely on the payments she had made to establish her beneficial interest; she did not need to rely on the letters at all (see Tinsley v Milligan). Nor was the arrangement contrary to public policy since there had been no false declaration. The express agreement envisaged that the necessary application to the Government would be made and the additional premium for the lifting of the restriction of alienation would be made.

The Court of Appeal held that the land was held on a resulting and / or a common intention constructive trust (but expressly subject to the Government’s rights).

Michael Lower

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