Archive for the ‘Easements’ Category

Ouster and car parking: applying Batchelor

May 12, 2017

In Kettel v Bloomfold Ltd ([2012] EWHC 1422) the claimants were long leaseholders of flats in a development. Their leases granted them the right to park in the car parking space identified in the lease. The developers wanted to allocate them new spaces and build on the existing spaces. The developers fenced off the area that they wanted to build on and enclosed the spaces. The flat owners sought an injunction to restrain this interference with their car parking rights.

The owners argued that they had either a lease or an easement of the space. It was agreed on all sides that, if there was no lease,  they had an easement. The judge (HHJ David Cooke) found that there was no lease. Despite the fact that the parties agreed that there was an easement, he considered whether the ouster principle prevented the flat owners from having an easement.

Moncrieff had not overruled Batchelor v Marlow and the judge accepted that Batchelor was binding on him: the test was whether the exercise of the car parking right left the developer with no reasonable use of the car parking space. It was a question of fact in each case whether the right granted made ownership of the servient land illusory.

In this case, the developer could pass over the space on foot when there was no car parked there and could authorise others to do so: it had granted such rights to pass over the spaces to other tenants in the leases to them. It could change or repair the surface, arrange for service media to pass under, or wires to pass over, the space. It could build over the space (and had made plans to do so). These rights had importance and value to the developer in managing the estate ([24]). The ouster principle was not infringed.

The flat owners were entitled to an injunction to restrain the actual and threatened interference with the car parking rights. This was not one of these exceptional cases where damages should be awarded instead. It would not be right to expropriate the car parking rights.

The judge held that if, contrary to his view, damages were to be awarded then they should be more than purely nominal. Even assuming that the flat owners were given an equivalent car parking space, they were entitled to damages on a release fee basis:  the flat owners should be awarded a sum that would be negotiated between willing parties for the right to build on the spaces ([61]).

Michael Lower

Car parking easements and the ouster principle: understanding Batchelor

May 4, 2017

In Virdi v Chana ([2008] EWHC 2901 (Ch)) A claimed to have acquired a car parking easement over land (‘the servient land’) partly owned by B. The question was whether the claim was invalidated by the ouster principle.

In Batchelor v Marlow, the English Court of Appeal rejected a claimed car parking easement on the basis that it left the servient owner without any reasonable use of the land.

If the whole of the surface area would be taken up by the car there was an ouster. An application of this test might seem to invalidate the easement claimed in Virdi.

Batchelor came in for severe criticism by the UK Supreme Court in Moncrieff v JamiesonMoncrieff made ‘control and possession’ the test. This was a relaxation of the strict test in Batchelor.

Judge Purle QC noted, however, that Moncrieff had not overruled Batchelor and felt bound to apply Batchelor. He held that the easement was valid even when the Batchelor test was applied.

First, peculiar to the facts of this case, B did not own all of the servient land, only a part of it. It could not be said that the claimed easement prevented B from parking since B had no right to  do so.

Second, some uses of the land owned by B remained possible: planting trees or shrubs, erecting a trellis. These could be done so long as they did not prevent the parking of a car.

Judge Purle thought that even the right to resurface the land prevented the easement from infringing the ouster principle. When the land was next to domestic property, resurfacing might have aesthetic value. Such a right was not wholly insignificant and illusory.

Michael Lower

Right of way: interference by co-owner and derogation from grant by erecting a gate

October 1, 2016

In Chin Ling Investment Ltd v General of Salvation Army ([2016] HKEC 1876) Chin Ling Investment (‘CL’) and the Salvation Army (‘SA’) owned neighbouring lots, created by a 1958 division of the land. The original combined lot had the benefit of a right of way from the land to Castle Peak Road (‘RoW1). When the lot was divided, the owner of the SA land granted the owner of the CL land a further right of way  (‘RoW2′) over the SA land to access RoW1.

SA erected a gate on the land over which it enjoyed RoW1 at the boundary with the SA land. This was found to be a substantial interference by SA with its co-owners’ rights over RoW1.

SA had already moved the gate so that it was now on its own land. It had taken to locking the gate but had given a key to the owners of the CL land. This was a derogation from the grant of a ‘free and uninterrupted’ right over RoW2. Providing the key did not alter this ([79], Deputy Judge ST Poon). The owners of the SA land were ordered to demolish the gate.

Michael Lower

Easement by prescription to create a noise that would otherwise be a nuisance. Private nuisance and the public interest

September 29, 2014

In Lawrence v Fen Tigers Ltd ([2014] AC 822, SC) (Coventry v Lawrence) C used former farmland near a village for speedway and similar types of racing. The land used as the stadium had planning consent for the various types of races held there. A succession of temporary consents began in 1992 ending when permanent planning permission was granted in 2002. L was a resident in the village having moved there in 2006. L brought an action in nuisance because of the noise caused by racing and ancillary activities at the stadium. The Supreme Court decided that the judge at first instance had been right to find that the noise was a nuisance and that C had not acquired an easement by prescription entitling it to make the noise that was complained of (although the acquisition of such an easement was legally possible). The fact that the defendants had planning permission to carry on the noisy activity did not settle the question as to whether or not there was a private nuisance.

This note relies principally on the judgment of Lord Neuberger. Although the other judges agreed with him in general there were differences of approach on some issues.

Can an easement to commit what would otherwise be a nuisance by noise be acquired by prescription?

Lord Neuberger held that it is possible to acquire an easement to carry on an activity which results in noise ([33]) and it can be acquired by prescription ([37]). But it is not enough to show that the noise has been created for 20 years. It must also have constituted a nuisance during that time ([42]). Otherwise, the servient owner would not know that a claim was being made against his land ([43]).

Coming to the nuisance

It was no defence to say that the claimant came to the nuisance where the claimant continues to use the property in the way that it had previously been used by her predecessors ([51]). It may be different where the claimant built on the land or changed the use to which it was put after the alleged noise nuisance had started ([56]).

Reliance on the defendant’s own activities in defending a nuisance claim

The character of the locality is an important consideration in nuisance cases ([59]). The court has to have regard to ‘the established pattern of uses’ ([60]). On this basis, the defendant’s own activities clearly should be taken into account ([63]) to the extent that they have become part of the character / established pattern of uses but not to the extent that there has been some change / intensification that might constitute a nuisance ([65]). Even where it was originally a nuisance, the right to make the noise might have been acquired by prescription or sanctioned by a previous decision to award damages rather than an injunction for the breach ([69]). See also Lord Carnwath (at [187]).

The effect of planning permission on an allegation of nuisance

Lord Sumption explained the importance of this issue and the next (remedies):

‘It is, I think, worth pointing out that the question what impact the grant of planning permission should have on liability in tort for private nuisance and the question what remedies should be available for a nuisance are closely related. They both raise a broader issue of legal policy of some importance, namely how is one to reconcile public and private law in the domain of land use where they occupy much the same space?’ ([155]).

It is normally not a defence ([94]) but neither is it irrelevant; it may have evidential value ([96]).

The award of damages instead of an injunction

The role of this issue in the general scheme or design of the law in this area is explained thus:

‘What saves, or could save the law from anomaly and incoherence is the court’s discretion as to remedies. An injunction is a remedy with significant side-effects beyond the parties and the issues in the proceedings. Most uses of land said to be objectionable cannot be restrained by injunction simply as between the owner of that land and his neighbour. If the use of a site for (say) motocross is restrained by injunction, that prevents the activity as between the defendant and the whole world. Yet it may be a use which is in the interest of very many other people who derive enjoyment or economic benefits from it of precisely the kind with which the planning system is concerned. An injunction prohibiting the activity entirely will operate in practice in exactly the same way as a refusal of planning permission, but without regard to the factors which a planning authority would be bound to take into account. The obvious solution to this problem is to allow the activity to continue but to compensate the claimant financially for the loss of amenity and the diminished value of his property. In a case where planning permission has actually been granted for the use in question, there are particularly strong reasons for adopting this solution. It is what the law normally provides for when a public interest conflicts with a proprietary right.’ (Lord Sumption at [157]).

An injunction had been granted at first instance. C now contended that damages should be awarded instead. This issue and the question as to how damages should be assessed was an issue in all but one of the judgments. The Supreme Court clearly saw this as an important issue and an area that needed to be settled. Lord Neuberger envisaged that it would be argued and considered more fully in later proceedings ([152]).

Michael Lower

Acquisition of right of way by prescription

June 19, 2013

In Cheung Yuk Ying v Lo Koon Fuk ([2013] HKEC 932, CFI) the path leading from P’s house to the public footpath crossed the land of a Tso (represented by D). P’s land was landlocked and P claimed a right of way by prescription under the doctrine of lost modern grant. This succeeded. The path over D’s land had been used as the access between P’s property and the public footpath ‘on a reasonably regular basis’ (though perhaps not continuously) since at least the 1940s. On that basis, the doctrine of lost modern grant applied ([146] – [147]). The fact that the house was in ruins between the mid 1950s and the mid 1990s did not matter since the path was still used as an access to the property (perhaps as a way of getting to a chicken farm beyond it) during that time. The fact that, for much of that time, the occupiers and owners were all likely to have been members of the Tso did not mean that the use of the path was a private privilege reserved for members of the Tso.

The court considered, and seems to have been inclined to accept, a second and independent basis on which the easement might have come into existence. There was a re-grant of all Government leases in the New Territories in 1973 (New Territories (Renewable Government Leases) Ordinance) and all Government leases in the New Territories had been extended in 1997 (New Territories Leases (Extension) Ordinance). P’s land was land-locked. The grant of the claimed right of way could be implied on the basis of necessity on the re-grant or extension of the lease of P’s land (with a corresponding reservation on the re-grant or extension of the lease of D’s land). Alternatively, the rule in Wheeldon v Burrows or section 16 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance could result in the implied grant of an easement based on the then existing use of the path as a means of access from P’s land to the public footpath.

Michael Lower

Removing internal staircase: infringement of right of way: encumbrance?

June 17, 2013

In Ho Ching Group Ltd v Tsang Pui Lin ([2013] HKEC 780, CFI) S agreed to sell the property (a ground floor shop) to P. There had been an internal staircase leading from the shop to the cockloft above (in separate ownership) and the owner of the cockloft had a right of way to use the staircase to get to the cockloft. The staircase had been removed and S acknowledged that this amounted to an infringement of the easement. The internal staircase had been replaced by an external staircase before S bought the property in 1998 and there had been no complaint by the owner of the cockloft. On the other hand, when approached by P, the owner of the cockloft refused to renounce its right to use the internal staircase. The question was whether the infringement of the easement amounted to an encumbrance on title.

The court held that it was not an encumbrance. J Poon J. stated the test thus:

‘In considering if a risk of litigation may constitute an encumbrance, the court will ask : are the facts and circumstances of the case so compelling to the mind of the court that the court concludes beyond reasonable doubt that the purchaser will not be at risk of a successful assertion against him of the encumbrance.’ ([12]).

Here, there had been no complaint by the owner of the cockloft. There had been no threat of action concerning the removal of the staircase by other owners in the building or the Government. It seemed clear that the owner of the cockloft had abandoned the right of way. The risk of litigation was fanciful ([13]).

The sale and purchase agreement contained a clause requiring P to accept the situation as regards the staircase but the presence of this clause was not a factor in the judgment.

Michael Lower

Easement by prescription when licence ends

February 25, 2013

In London Tara Hotel Ltd v Kensington Close Hotels Ltd ([2011] EWCA Civ 1356, CA (Eng)) Tara and KCH were the owners of adjoining hotels. KCH’s predecessors in title had had the benefit of a licence to use a private access road on Tara’s land. This licence had ended on a change of ownership of KCH’s hotel in 1980. The question was whether KCH had acquired a right of way by prescription. The English Court of Appeal emphasised that the only questions were whether the post-1980 use was nec vi, nec clam, nec precario (peaceful, open and not based on any permission). It was common ground that the use was peaceful (no element of force was alleged).

The use was not the result of a permission. The licence had ended in 1980 and there was no evidence of a later express or implied licence.

The English Court of Appeal found the question as to whether the user was secret more difficult. Tara failed in this respect too. Lord Neuberger MR said:

’36. It was inherent in the Licence that it would determine on a change in the ownership of the KC Hotel, and that should have been (and maybe was) appreciated by Tara when the Licence was granted. When the change of ownership of the KC Hotel occurred in 1980, there was no question of any secrecy, or even of a deliberate intention to keep quiet, on the part of KCL or THF, as is shown by the fact that the change was known to junior employees at the KC Hotel. Accordingly, it appears to me that Tara’s case on clam fails for very much the same reasons as Tara’s case on precario fails.

37. Of course, whether the case is put on clam or precario, very different considerations would apply if it could have been shown that KCL or THF had deliberately concealed the change of ownership of the KC Hotel from Tara, or, a fortiori, if it could have been shown that KCL or THF had deliberately misled Tara about the change of ownership. But there is no such suggestion in this case.’

Nuisance: the grant of planning consent can change the character of an area

February 21, 2013

In Lawrence v Coventry (t/a RDC Promotions) ([2012] 1 EGLR 165, CA (Eng)) (later overturned by the Supreme Court) C used former farmland near a village for speedway and similar types of racing. The land used as the stadium had planning consent for the various types of races held there. L was a resident in the village who brought an action in nuisance because of the noise caused by racing and ancillary activities at the stadium. The claim failed in the English Court of Appeal. The planning consents had altered the character of the neighbourhood and this changed character had to be borne in mind when considering a claim in nuisance.

Jackson LJ said the following about the relevance of the planning consent:

‘i) A planning authority by the grant of planning permission cannot authorise the commission of a nuisance.

ii) Nevertheless the grant of planning permission followed by the implementation of such permission may change the character of a locality.

iii) It is a question of fact in every case whether the grant of planning permission followed by steps to implement such permission do have the effect of changing the character of the locality.

iv) If the character of a locality is changed as a consequence of planning permission having been granted and implemented, then:

a) the question whether particular activities in that locality constitute a nuisance must be decided against the background of its changed character;

b) one consequence may be that otherwise offensive activities in that locality cease to constitute a nuisance.’ ([65])

Lewison LJ suggested, obiter, that it may be possible to have an easement to transmit sound waves and to acquire such an easement by prescription. ([91])

Landlord’s use of adjoining land making demised property less fit for contemplated purpose

September 25, 2012

In Aldin v Latimer Clark, Muirhead & Co ([1894] 2 Ch 437) a landlord granted a lease of property to be used for the purpose of carrying on the business of a timber merchant. The tenant covenanted not to use the property for any other purpose. The landlord later erected buildings on the neighbouring land retained by him which interfered with the flow of air to the sheds and made them less useful for the tenant’s business. The court held that the right to the flow of air could be an easement but no such easement had been acquired here.

The tenant claimed that this amounted to nuisance, derogation from grant and breach of the covenant for quiet enjoyment. The landlord was liable in damages.

‘[W]here a landlord demises part of his property for carrying on a particular business, he is bound to abstain from doing anything on the remaining portion which would  render the demised premises unfit for carrying on such business in the way in which it is ordinarily carried on, but that this obligation does not extend to special branches of the business which call for extraordinary protection.’ (444 per Stirling J).

Express covenant for quiet enjoyment leaves no room for the implied covenant

August 30, 2012

In Miller v Emcer Products Ltd ([1956] Ch. 304, CA (Eng)) a landlord granted a lease of ground floor premises and the right to use a lavatory on the second floor of the building. The lease contained an express covenant for quiet enjoyment but limited liability under it to actions of the landlord, the  superior landlord and people deriving title under the landlord. The tenants of the second floor (including the lavatory) did not fall into any of these categories. The second floor tenants locked the lavatory and refused to allow the ground floor tenants to use it. The ground floor tenants could not rely on the express covenant for title since it did not cover actions of the second floor tenant. They argued that it was a breach of the unqualified implied covenant for quiet enjoyment.

The English Court of Appeal held that the right to use the second floor lavatory was an easement attached to the ground floor lease and so the covenant could apply to it. Where, however, there was an express covenant covering the same ground as the implied covenant there was no room for the implied covenant (expressio unius est exclusio alterius). The implied covenant did not apply and there had been no breach of the express covenant (since it did not cover actions of the second floor tenants).