Equitable accounting: is an ouster necessary before an occupation rent becomes payable?

In Murphy v Gooch ([2007] EWCA Civ 603), a co-habiting couple bought a 25% stake in a shared ownership property. The relationship between the couple broke down and Ms Murphy left the property. Ms Murphy applied for a declaration that they were tenants in common in equal shares, an order for sale and for an account to be taken as part of which Mr Gooch should be ordered to pay an occupation rent in respect of the period in which he was in sole occupation.

The English Court of Appeal (Lightman J giving the judgment) held that Mr Gooch could be ordered to pay an occupation rent if this was just and equitable even if there was no ouster ([18]).

Lightman J was prepared to hold, in any event, that there was a ‘constructive ouster’ since Ms Murphy left the property on the breakdown of the relationship ([18]).

Ms Murphy was entitled to set this occupation rent off against the sums paid by Mr Gooch in respect of mortgage interest and the rent payable in respect of the 75% share of the property still owned by the Housing Association from which the couple bought their share ([21]).

This decision was reached under the terms of the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. Lightman J states, however, that the same decision would have been reached through an application of equitable accounting principles.

Michael Lower

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