Proprietary estoppel: equity potentially binding on third parties

In Chin Lan Hong v Cheung Poh Choo ([2004] HKEC 64) a daughter lived in a room in the house that had been the family home. She occupied the room as her father’s licensee. The father had transferred title to the home to his concubine and some of her children to put it beyond the reach of creditors. The court found that the father’s intention when transferring the title to his children was to retain the beneficial ownership during his lifetime. The children sought to recover possession from the daughter.

The daughter claimed that her father had represented to her that she would always be entitled to a room in the house that had been the family home. This was an assurance said to have been given both expressly and through an alleged family tradition that unmarried daughters would be housed by the father. She claimed to have relied on this assurance to her detriment. As a result she claimed to be entitled to rely on proprietary estoppel to resist the eviction.  The judge found that there had been no detrimental reliance even if there had been an assurance. It is interesting to note that as the children were volunteers, the judge was of the view that their legal title would have been subject to the daughter’s prior equitable interest had the proprietary estoppel claim succeeded.

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