Exclusive occupation: licence granted as part of a ‘bigger picture. Lease or licence?

In Street v Mountford ([1985] A.C. 809, HL) Lord Templeman said:

”To constitute a tenancy the occupier must be granted exclusive possession for a fixed or periodic term certain in consideration of a premium or periodical payments.’ (818)

In two passages, however, Lord Templeman points out that there are exceptional cases where these factors are present but there is no tenancy. In the second of these, he says:

‘The intention to create a tenancy was negatived if the parties did not intend to enter into legal relationships at all, or where the relationship between the parties was that of vendor and purchaser, master and service occupier, or where the owner, a requisitioning authority, had no power to grant a tenancy.’ (821)

The ‘vendor and purchaser’ exception was explored in Essex Plan Ltd v Broadminster ((1988) 56 P & C.R. 353). In that case, the relevant agreement granted the occupier the right to call for the grant of a lease. During the option period, and until the option was exercised (if it was), the occupier had the benefit of a licence. The option was never exercised, but the occupier contended that the licence satisfied the Street criteria and was, in fact, a lease.

This argument failed. Although the Street factors were present, the licence fell within the vendor and purchaser exception. Hoffmann J. took the opportunity to explain the underlying rationale:

‘The option gave Essex Plan the right to call for the grant of the lease and therefore gave it in equity an immediate interest in the land. Its entry into occupation pending the exercise or expiry of the option was ancillary and referable to that interest. There is therefore no need to infer the creation of a tenancy which would give Essex Plan a different interest in the same land.’ (Hoffmann J, 356)

The occupation was primarily attributable to the equitable interest created by the option.

The same approach was taken by the English Court of Appeal in Cameron Limited v Rolls-Royce plc ([2007] EWHC 546 (Ch)). This time, the licence was contained in a conditional agreement for the grant of a lease. Here again, the occupier’s contention that the licence was actually a tenancy was unsuccessful.

Mann J. said:

‘As I have said, Mr. Small accepted that if the licence did not fall to be treated as a stand-alone document, then the vendor/purchaser exception to the prima facie Street v. Mountford position would obtain. He is right to accept that. I have come to the conclusion that this is plainly a case of a licence being granted in the context of the acquisition of the larger interest and, as such, the nature of the interest granted by Cameron and obtained by Rolls-Royce under the agreement itself and pending the grant of the lease is that of a licence only.’ ([26])

Michael Lower

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