Periodic tenancy: Government’s right to resume possession for a public purpose

In Attorney-General v Sun Lee Godown Co Ltd ([1968] HKLR 116) the Crown had granted a monthly tenancy. The agreement allowed the Crown to resume possession if it needed the land, or any part of it, for a public purpose. The question was whether the Crown retained the normal implied right to give a month’s notice to quit or whether this was displaced by the limited express right to recover possession. It was held, as a matter of construction of the agreement, that the express right was additional to, and did not displace the usual right to terminate by giving notice to quit.

Mills-Owen J. said:

‘I see no reason to infer a bargain whereby the Crown relinquished the right to give notice to quit in exchange for clause 3(f). Further, if I had been of the opinion that clause 3(f) operated, whether by way of inferred bargain or otherwise, to deprive the Crown of the right to give the usual month’s notice to determine the monthly tenancy, I would have held it to be void as repugnant to the nature of the tenancy expressly created. It would be clearly so repugnant, in my view, as amounting to complete in consistency with the incidents of a monthly tenancy. It would be not a mere added condition, or a mere regulation of the conditions on which notice to quit might be given by the landlord. On the contrary, in my view it would have been a provision depriving the landlord of the right to determine the tenancy by a means inherently incident to the nature of the tenancy expressly created, namely by notice to quit. It would have amounted to an attempt to change the nature of the monthly tenancy, by destroying an essential incident of such a tenancy, not merely to regulate the length of notice or the terms on which it might be given. It would not be a question of regulation to a degree but of complete abrogation of the right to give notice. That in my view would necessarily be repugnant to the nature of the tenancy.’

Michael Lower


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