Posts Tagged ‘co-habitees’

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

 

 

Proprietary estoppel: co-habitees

April 13, 2016

In Liden v Burton ([2016] EWCA Civ 275) B and L co-habited in B’s home for twelve years until they broke up in 2013. B’s home was mortgaged and he was concerned that he would not be able to keep up with the mortgage payments. He asked L to contribute and she made monthly payments to him of GBP 500. She asked him to explain how this was made up and he agreed that GBP 200 of this was ‘towards the house.’ The sum of  these payments ‘towards the house’ came to GBP 28,500.  L made the payments because of her reliance on the relationship (that he would look after her forever) and because of the later assurance that the payment was ‘towards the house’ which she reasonably understood to mean that she was to have an interest in the house. At first instance, the judge found that the elements of proprietary estoppel were present. B held the house on trust under the terms of which the first GBP 32,500  (GBP 28,000 plus interest) of the equity was held on trust for L. The English Court of Appeal (Hamblen LJ giving the main  judgment) upheld the first instance decision.

The assurances about the the long-term nature of the relationship and that the house would be their joint home were confirmed by the assurance that the payments were ‘towards the house’ ([28] – [30]). There was clear reliance and the GBP 200 payments were detriment. ‘The combination of reliance and detriment leads to and justifies the conclusion of unconscionability’ ([32]). The judge had a discretion as to how to satisfy the equity and it could not be said that the trust securing the repayment of the contributions with interest was more than the minimum required to do justice.

Michael Lower