Archive for the ‘ownership of the family home’ Category

Common intention constructive trust: context

April 26, 2017

Cheung Lai Mui v Cheung Wai Shing ([2017] HKEC 740) concerned property that had been owned by three brothers (W, F and K) as tenants in common in equal shares.

W died and D1 and D2 inherited W’s share. When F and K died, P (K’s adopted daughter) applied to be administratrix and executrix of their respective estates.

D3 was D1’s son. He claimed to be solely beneficially entitled as a result of a common intention constructive trust. This succeeded.

This was a traditional Chinese family residing in the New Territories ([78]). D3 was the only male descendant of the family. This was a significant fact that lent credence to the allegation of the common intention.

There was evidence of express discussions concerning the common intention and other surrounding circumstances that made it likely that the common intention had come into existence.

The lack of any formal written evidence of the common intention was understandable in the family context ([94] – [95]).

A defence of estoppel by standing by also succeeded ([103]).

So did D3’s adverse possession claim. He had erected a gate. This was an unambiguous assertion of control even though the gate had not been locked ([108]).

Michael Lower

The equity of exoneration: family homes and indirect benefits

April 18, 2017

In Armstrong v Onyearu ([2017] EWCA Civ 268, CA (Eng)) title to Mr and Mrs Onyearu’s family home was in Mr Onyearu’s name but the couple had equal beneficial shares. Mr Onyearu borrowed money to finance his business. The loan was secured by a charge over the family home. The business failed. A was Mr Onyearu’s trustee in bankruptcy.

The question was whether Mrs Onyearu was entitled to rely on an equity of exoneration as against Mr Onyearu (and as against A). A contended that she was not since she had derived an indirect benefit from the loan: it enabled Mr Onyearu to keep his business going and so to continue to meet the mortgage payments.

David Richards LJ, delivering the Court of Apeal’s judgment, explained the equity of exoneration:

‘Where property jointly owned by A and B is charged to secure the debts of B only, A is or may be entitled to a charge over B’s share of the property to the extent that B’s debts are paid out of A’s share.’ ([1])

Whether the equity applies depends on the parties’ common intention ([3]). Where there is no evidence of an actual intention, a presumed intention may arise depending on all the relevant circumstances. In particular, the court looks at whether the co-owner derived any benefit from the debt secured on the property ([3]).

The equity is part of the law relating to the rights of sureties ([24]).

The importance of this case is that it examines whether the type of indirect benefit that Mrs Onyearu was said to have derived from the loan to her husband was relevant to the parties’ presumed intention ([8]).

A contended that the equity could only arise if Mrs Onyearu received no benefit, direct or indirect, from the secured loan ([20]). In effect, A was arguing that the equity could rarely arise in the family home context given the likelihood that the parties’ financial affairs were, at least somewhat, intertwined.

David Richards LJ’s review of the authorities led him to the conclusion that an indirect benefit is not sufficient to deny a right of exoneration to parties in the position of Mrs Onyearu ([82]).

He said:

‘An indirect benefit of the type relied on in this case is far from certain to accrue. In the present case, any benefit was subject to a double contingency: first, that the firm would survive and, secondly, that it would be profitable. Further, the intention as regards the equity is to be inferred as at the date of the transaction. As at that date, the prospect of benefit was wholly uncertain and incapable of any valuation … In general, the benefits must be capable of carrying a financial value’ ([83]).

Mrs Onyearu was entitled to rely on the equity.

Michael Lower

 

The priority of unwritten equitable interests

April 4, 2017

In Si Tou Choi Kam v Wealth Credit Ltd ([2017] 1 HKLRD 1074) A and B acquired property as legal joint tenants. B’s creditor, C, obtained and registered charging orders over the property. C then applied for an order for sale of the property. A obtained a declaration that A was sole beneficial owner of the property (having supplied the entire purchase price) and registered it at the Land Registry.

The priority of unwritten equitable interests is governed by the doctrine of notice. The charging order is to be treated as if it were an equitable charge. Priority is governed by the first in time rule. A’s interest, having arisen at the time of acquisition, has priority under this rule.

There is no authority for the proposition that A is under a duty to obtain a declaration and register it in order to preserve this priority. It was surprising, therefore, that the court held that A’s priority was governed by the date of registration of the declaration.

Michael Lower

 

 

Common intention constructive trust: condition attached to express agreement not satisfied

March 11, 2017

In Gallarotti v Sebastianelli ([2012] EWCA Civ 865, CA (Eng)) G and S were friends. They had each gone to England from Italy. G and S shared rented accommodation and then bought a flat. This was a platonic arrangement. They were happy to share until they were ready to buy homes of their own.

The title was in S’s name. G and S had an express agreement that they would be equal beneficial owners. This agreement was conditional on G contributing more than S to the mortgage repayments since S made a larger contribution than G to the down payment.

G did make some contributions but did not pay as much as S did towards the mortgage; the disparity was significant. The conditional element of the express agreement was not satisfied.

The friends fell out and G sought a declaration as to the extent of his beneficial interest. Arden LJ gave the only full judgment; the other members of the English Court of Appeal were content to agree with her.

The terms of the express agreement showed that ‘the parties were concerned that their ultimate shares in the Flat should, broadly speaking, represent their contributions to it’ ([24]). ‘[T]he inference to be made from the parties’ course of conduct was that they intended that their financial contributions should be taken into account but not that there should be any precise accounting’ ([25]). S had a 75% beneficial interest and G had 25%.

Michael Lower

 

 

Family ownership disputes: when does Jones v Kernott apply?

March 4, 2017

In Wodzicki v Wodzicki ([2017] EWCA Civ 95, CA (Eng)) G and his wife (‘W’) bought a house intending that it should be a permanent home for G’s daughter (‘D’) and her children. Title to the house was in G and W’s name as legal joint tenants.

G died intestate. W began possession proceedings. D counterclaimed that she was the sole beneficial owner of the property.

The first instance judge was of the view that G’s beneficial ownership share belonged to D. He ordered an account to be taken of W and D’s respective contributions to the purchase price, maintenance and outgoings. Their ownership shares would correspond to their contributions.

D appealed. She argued that this resulting trust approach was inappropriate in this domestic context. This argument failed. The first instance judge found that G and W intended  the property to be D’s long-term home. They did not, however, intend D to be the sole beneficial owner. There were no grounds for departing from this finding of fact.

D argued that Jones v Kernott applied and that the intention that she was to be the sole beneficial owner should be imputed as a matter of fairness. This could not succeed given the judge’s finding as to the parties’ actual intentions.

In any event, this was not a context akin to that of co-habitees. D and W were not close. The use of a resulting trust approach was not precluded here.

Even if G had intended D to be sole beneficial owner, this intention could have no effect on W. D sought to rely on Hammersmith & Fulham LBC v Monk and to argue that W was bound by the intention of her joint tenant. This was a misapplication of Monk. That decision has no relevance to a purported disposal of a beneficial interest ([27]).

The finding as to G’s actual intention also meant that D’s claim to sole beneficial ownership based on proprietary estoppel had to fail.

A strange feature of the proceedings was that W presented no evidence when the account was taken. The result was that D was found to be sole beneficial owner.

Michael Lower

Did son hold property on trust for his mother?

January 19, 2017

In Primecredit Ltd v Yeung Chun Pang Barry ([2016] HKEC 2667) title to the family home was in the name of a father and his son as joint tenants. The father died and the son became sole owner by virtue of the right of survivorship. Primecredit was a judgment creditor of the son. It obtained a charging order in respect of the debt. The defendant’s mother claimed that she had a beneficial interest in the property under a common intention constructive trust or a presumed resulting trust.

The mother had the burden of proof to show that the beneficial ownership was different from the legal ownership. She had undoubtedly contributed to the purchase price. On the facts, however, the court did not believe that a trust in her favour should be inferred from these payments. She had intended to make a gift of the contributions to her son.

Michael Lower

Proprietary estoppel and co-habitation

January 12, 2017

In Southwell v Blackburn ([2014] EWCA Civ 1347, CA (Eng)) B and S began to co-habit in 2002. S bought a house in his name and he alone made the mortgage payments. He did not envisage marriage precisely because he knew that B might then have a claim against the house. Several years later, the relationship came to an end and S excluded B from the house. B’s claim that they had a common intention to be equal beneficial owners failed. In the alternative she relied on proprietary estoppel.

There was no specific assurance that B would have any right to the home. S did, however, assure B that he was making a long term commitment to provide B with a secure home. S’s assurance was that B would ‘have the sort of security that a wife would have, in terms of accommodation at the house, and income.’ ([16])

Before moving in with S, B had accommodation rented from a housing association. She spent GBP20,000 fitting and furnishing the house. Relying on S’s assurances, B left that accommodation. Although her income was much less than S’s, B did contribute to the couple’s joint expenses.

The first issue was whether the assurances were enough for proprietary estoppel purposes. It is clear that the assurance must be clear and unequivocal and relate to the property. An assurance that B would be provided with a secure home was sufficient to give rise to an equity (Greasley v Cooke). S’s assurance was not, in substance, conditional on the continuation of the relationship ([7]).

The fact that the common intention constructive trust claim to an equal beneficial share had failed did not mean that there could not be an assurance as to the security of B’s right to accommodation ([10]).

Then there was the question of detriment. B had enjoyed rent-free accommodation and had been able to take a degree that enhanced her earning capacity. Did this mean that the detriment had been dissipated over the course of the relationship?

First, it is true that ‘detriment has to be assessed over the course of the relationship’ ([13]). It was right to have regard to the benefits that had accrued to B as a result of the relationship ([14]). But S had also benefited from B’s contributions ([15]).

There are cases where, looking at the course of the relationship from the point at which the promisor reneges on his promise, the benefit has been dissipated. That said, ‘cases involving couples living together lend themselves .. less readily to an arithmetical accounting exercise’ ([17]). Benefits flowed both ways and were incidents of the relationship ([18]).

As for unconscionability, S contended that the relationship was not a marriage and was not expected to be permanent. Thus, there was no unconscionability about withdrawing the security of accommodation. This failed. The point was that B had incurred detriment in reliance on the assurances:

‘It is the detrimental reliance which makes the promise irrevocable and leads to the conclusion, at the end of a broad inquiry, that repudiation of the assurance is unconscionable.’ ([20]).

The relief that was awarded was a payment to reimburse her for the money that she had spent on the home that she had left and on S’s property.

Michael Lower

 

 

Common intention constructive trust: when is the agreement ‘subject to contract’?

December 10, 2016

In Ely v Robson [2016] EWCA Civ 774 (CA, Eng) E and R co-habited in a property the title to which was in E’s name. When the relationship between E and R broke down, E began possession proceedings and R counterclaimed that she had a beneficial interest in the property under the terms of a common intention constructive trust. The couple met and orally agreed a relatively complex settlement under the terms of which E would hold the property for himself for life with the remainder interest belonging 80% to his children and 20% to R. There were terms governing the payment of outgoings, the right to occupy the property and the compromise of E’s claims to other properties owned by R. It was accepted that the terms of the arrangement would be reflected in a trust deed and that the precise form of the agreement was provisional since, amongst other things, the tax implications of the way in which the deal was structured would need to be considered. E did not pursue the proceedings any further given R’s acceptance of the settlement.

R claimed that the settlement was not binding on her since it was not incorporated in a signed, written agreement satisfying section 2(1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. E argued that R was bound by the agreement on the basis of either a common intention constructive trust or proprietary estoppel.

For the purposes of the judgment, the English Court of Appeal  (Kitchin LJ giving the judgment) assumed that R, prior to the agreement, had a beneficial interest in the property under a common intention constructive trust. It reminded itself of Lord Scott’s approach in Cobbe v Yeoman’s Row to the use of proprietary estoppel in the context of agreements concerning land that did not satisfy section 2(1). Lord Kitchin also referred to the passage of Arden LJ’s judgment in Herbert v Doyle concerning such agreements. There is no common intention constructive trust where:

  1. a formal written agreement is anticipated; or
  2. further terms remain to be agreed so that the interest in property to be acquired is not clearly identified; or
  3. the parties did not expect their agreement to be immediately binding.

In these situations, if the agreement is incomplete, the parties cannot rely on constructive trust or proprietary estoppel (Herbert v Doyle, Arden LJ [57]).

The Court of Appeal rejected R’s contention that these requirements were not satisfied in the present case:

  1. although a formal written agreement was contemplated, nothing was said or written that precluded the possibility that a binding compromise had been agreed in the meeting between the parties (‘This was not a commercial transaction.’); and
  2. there were no terms still to be agreed; and
  3. the terms were sufficiently clear to constitute a binding agreement.

E relied on the agreement to his detriment by: not pursuing the possession proceedings; abandoning his claims to R’s other properties; and allowing R to remain in possession. Consequently, E held the property on constructive trust in accordance with the terms that had been agreed.

Michael Lower

Article – Marriage and acquisition of a beneficial interest in the family home in Hong Kong

December 8, 2016

Just published: M. Lower, ‘Marriage and the acquisition of a beneficial interest in the family home in Hong Kong.’ [2016] Conveyancer and Property Lawyer 453 – 465

Post-acquisition variation of existing common intention?

November 5, 2016

In Chen Lily v Yip Tsun Wah Alvan ([2016] HKEC 2326, CA) a couple acquired a flat in which they intended to cohabit prior to marriage. The property was acquired in their joint names. The couple broke up and the defendant moved out. There was a dispute as to their respective beneficial entitlements. At first instance it was held, following Stack v Dowden, that given that the couple had purchased the flat as their family home the presumption was that they were beneficial joint tenants.

The plaintiff accepted that the original common intention was that the property would be held as beneficial joint tenants. She argued, however, that there was a subsequent variation of the original common intention so that she would have a larger share of the beneficial ownership. The plaintiff argued that the original joint tenancy was agreed to by her on the basis that the defendant would be solely responsible for the costs of acquiring the flat (both the up-front cost and the mortgage payments). She contended that the common intention was varied when it became clear that she would have to contribute to the acquisition costs because the defendant could not meet them entirely out of his own resources.

The Court of Appeal, Yuen JA giving the main judgment, accepted that such a variation could be inferred from conduct. It was for the plaintiff to prove this variation but she was unable to do so. There was no evidence of any changed common intention. This was a domestic joint venture and attempts to draw up a ‘balance sheet’ based on contributions made were ill-conceived. There was no evidence of any change in the original common intention to hold as beneficial joint tenants.

The domestic joint venture context no longer applied after separation and an order requiring the defendant to bear half the mortgage costs after separation reflected the parties’ intention in the changed circumstances. In any event, the plaintiff was entitled to recover these on the basis that they were payments that were made in order to preserve the property for the parties’ joint benefit ([28.3]).

Michael Lower