Posts Tagged ‘contract’

Adverse possession and purchaser allowed into possession where the contract is never completed

July 30, 2013

In Lam Chi Keung v Choi Chung Fun ([2013] HKEC 1095, CFI) S agreed to sell property to P. Title to the property was in the name of S’ deceased father. The contract was conditional on S obtaining letters of administration. In the meantime, P paid the full purchase price and went into possession. S and P both died. P’s children sought a declaration that P had acquired title by adverse possession. This succeeded. Since the contract was conditional and S could have refused to complete and refunded the purchase price, S had a right to recover possession that could be lost by virtue of the Limitation Ordinance ([51]).

P’s children’s other claim that they were entitled to specific performance of the agreement failed. Any such right had been lost when the Government resumed the land; this extinguished all rights and interests in the property by operation of law ([30]).

Michael Lower


Signature requirement satisfied where written document intended to have contractual effect

July 25, 2013

In Leeman v Stocks ([1951] Ch 941) property was sold at auction. The auctioneer got the purchaser to sign a contract. He then reported to the seller on what had happened and the seller did not object. The contract was not signed by or on behalf of the seller. The wording of the printed contract ended with the words ‘As witness the hands of the parties’ and so seemed to envisage hand-written signatures. The seller later refused to proceed and the buyer sought specific performance.

The purchaser succeeded despite the lack of the seller’s signature. It was enough that the written contract was clearly regarded as the authorised and formal embodiment of the parties’ contractually binding intention and that the seller’s name was written in the contract. By requiring the purchaser to sign the contract, the auctioneer (as agent of the seller) was recognizing the name of the seller written in the contract as the seller’s signature.

While the contract seemed to require the parties’ hand-written signatures, this did not matter where there was evidence to show that neither party actually contemplated that there would be such a signature.

Michael Lower

No hand-written signature to contract where a signature is clearly anticipated

July 23, 2013

In Hubert v Treherne ((1842) 3 Man & G 743, 133 ER 1338) the parties entered into a contract that had to comply with the Statute of Frauds (and so had to be signed by them or on their behalf). The parties were identified by name at the beginning of the written contract. The contract ended with the words, ‘As witness the hands’ but no signature followed.

The court held that there was no signature. The problem was that the closing words (‘as witness the hands’) indicated that the parties intended to add hand-written signatures. The lack of such signatures was therefore fatal.

There was a difference of opinion as to whether the outcome would have been the same had those words (‘as witness..’) not appeared. Would it be enough that the names of the parties appeared in the body of the contract? At least two of the judges thought that this would be enough if it was clear that the written contract was a proper and authorised version of a concluded agreement. Another thought that this would not be enough since this degree of tolerance would effectively write the signature requirement out of existence.

Michael Lower

Duty to show and give good title: the MEPC principle as a last resort

July 18, 2013

In Xu Xiaoqi v Tsui Yuet Lai Teresa ([2013] HKEC 636, CFI) D agreed to sell a property to P. The agreement required D to show and give good title in accordance with sections 13 and 13A of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance. One of the assignments forming part of the title had been executed by one tenant in common on behalf of the other under the terms of a Power of Attorney. The sellers were only able to produce a certified copy of the power. D’s solicitors argued that there was no real risk that an adverse interest could have been created as a result of the loss of the original. Nevertheless, on the day before completion they sent P’s solicitors a draft of a statutory declaration that the solicitors who had acted in relation to the power of attorney were prepared to give. P’s solicitors said that they would need time to consider it. D’s solicitors would not undertake to deliver the sworn declaration on completion since the solicitor who was to make the declaration would not give such an undertaking. Completion did not take place and D purported to rescind.

The court held that D had failed in his duty. The power of attorney was a document of title and section 13(1) obliged him to deliver the original to P.

D sought to invoke ‘the MEPC principle’ :

‘In other words, notwithstanding the law that it is a purchaser’s proprietary right to have all the originals of all the title documents (see Yiu Ping Fong, p 798H), in circumstances where there is no reasonable doubt that the missing original document would not affect the title to the property the vendor may be relieved of the obligation to produce it upon completion’. ([28] Anthony Chan J)

The principle can only be invoked, however, where the seller has made all reasonable efforts to produce the original or adequately explain its loss or destruction ([30]). D had not lived up to this responsibility. His solicitors had only produced a draft statutory declaration on the eve of completion having refused to acknowledge the validity of the requisition up to that point nor to explain the loss. There was no undertaking to produce the sworn statutory declaration on completion and P’s solicitors had not been given adequate time to consider it ([31]).

Michael Lower

Deposit or penalty? The court can order repayment of a penalty that has already been paid.

June 26, 2013

Workers Trust & Merchant Bank Ltd v Dojap Investments Ltd ([1993] AC 573, PC) was an appeal to the Privy Council from the Court of Appeal of Jamaica. A purchaser had paid a 25% deposit and this had been forfeited by the vendor when the purchaser failed to complete on time (time being of the essence for completion). The purchaser successfully sought relief from forfeiture of the deposit.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson explained that in general a provision that a party in default is to pay or forfeit a sum of money is an unlawful penalty unless the sum in question can be shown to be a genuine pre-estimate of damages. There is an exception to this general rule in the case of deposits; these can be forfeited even where they bear no relation to the anticipated loss of the innocent party (p. 578).

For a sum to be treated as a deposit it must be a sum that can reasonably be described as a deposit. Since it is difficult to say what sum would be a reasonable deposit, the approach is to accept (without searching for any further explanation) that it is long established custom and usage in the United Kingdom and Jamaica to accept a 10% deposit as being reasonable in those jurisdictions. It is for a seller wishing to rely on any larger sum to show what special circumstances would justify the larger deposit (p. 580). A reference to market practice at the time of the contract does not amount to such a justification (pp. 579 – 580).

Here the vendor had not been able to show why a larger (25%) deposit was justified. As a result, the entire sum (not merely the excess over 10%) was treated as a penalty. The court had jurisdiction to order the vendor to repay the entire sum less the amount of any damage actually suffered by the vendor as a result of the purchaser’s breach (p. 582).

Michael Lower

Periodic tenancy: effect of exercise of landlord’s right to increase the rent

June 7, 2013

In West Coast International (Parking) Ltd v Secretary for Justice ([2001] HKEC 442, CA) L granted T a lease for a two year fixed term. At the end of the two years, the agreement provided for the tenancy to continue from quarter to quarter until terminated by either party as provided for in the agreement. The lease gave the landlord the right to revise the rent at the end of the third year of the agreement. The landlord exercised this right. The tenant completed a reply slip indicating its willingness to pay the increased rent and to pay an additional deposit (the agreement provided for an increase in the rent but not in the amount of the deposit). Not long after, the landlord served a notice to quit. The question was whether the agreement as to the revised rent and increased deposit simply amounted to a variation of the terms of an ongoing periodic tenancy or amounted to the surrender of the lease and the grant of a new two year term that would later become a periodic tenancy.

As a matter of construction of the correspondence concerning the increase (in the context of the relevant terms of the tenancy) the Court of Appeal held that this was a variation of the terms of the existing periodic tenancy. Hence L was entitled to serve notice to quit.

Michael Lower

Fully Profit (Asia) Ltd v Secretary for Justice (Court of Final Appeal)

May 21, 2013

In Fully Profit (Asia) Ltd v Secretary for Justice ([2013] HKEC 717, CFA) F owned several neighbouring plots of land. Each lot was the subject of a Government lease containing a restriction against building more than one house on the land. The question was whether building a single 26-storey residential building straddling the lots would be a breach of the covenant not to build more than one house on the land.

The plots had been carved out of a larger lot the subject of Conditions of Exchange which provided that if more than one ‘building’ were erected on the land then there would be a separate lease for each building (special condition 6). They also required the construction of ‘one or more good and permanent buildings’ on the land. There was a prohibition on industrial use and a restriction on building more than twenty houses. The lot covered by the Conditions of Exchange had twenty houses on it, each being the subject of a separate Government lease containing the restriction on building more than one house. There was nothing to indicate that the leases were intended to introduce any additional restrictions beyond those contained in the Conditions of Exchange.

The Court of Final Appeal (reversing the decision of the Court of Appeal) held that the proposed development would amount to a breach of the covenant.

Ma CJ emphasised the key role that context has to play in the process of contractual interpretation ([15]).

Applying that principle to this case, he continued:

‘In context, it is clear that the meaning of the word “house” under the Government Leases must have reference to those characteristics of the houses which were actually standing at the time the Government Leases were entered into … [H]ouses were actually standing on each of the individual, sub-divided Lots at the time the Government Leases were created. In the context of those Leases, the meaning of the word “house” should be taken to mean the type of house existing on the individual lots. ([17])

Michael Lower

SMS as a written memorandum of a contract?

May 15, 2012

In Distinct Fortune Ltd v Hyndland Investment Co Ltd ([2011] 1 HKLRD 817) P agreed to buy property in Tsim Sha Tsui from D. P signed a provisional agreement and paid earnest money. D did not sign a provisional agreement but preferred to sign a formal agreement prepared by the parties’ respective solicitors. The parties’ solicitors then corresponded with each other to negotiate the terms of the formal agreement. All correspondence was ‘subject to contract’. There were two or three telephone conversations between the parties’ solicitors and between the parties’ agents in which the terms of the formal agreement were settled.  D’s representative sent P’s representative a text message to say that P would tell his solicitors to go ahead with the deal. The SMS read ‘Kim said he’ll give instruction to pig to go ahead with the deal’. Kim was a director of D and ‘pig’ was the solicitor acting for D. The next day, D’s solicitors sent out an engrossment of the formal agreement for signature by P. The engrossment was sent out under cover of a letter marked ‘subject to contract’.  P signed the formal contract and returned it to D’s solicitors with a cheque for a further deposit. D’s solicitors returned the contract and the deposit payments since D had decided against proceeding with the transaction. P sought specific performance and D countered that there was no written contract or memorandum to satisfy section 3 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance. P relied on the SMS message  (read together with the engrossment of the formal agreement) as the memorandum. Alternatively it argued that returning the signed formal agreement together with a cheque for the deposit amounted to part performance. D succeeded in having the action struck out on the basis that there was neither a memorandum nor part performance.

There was no memorandum. The SMS  could not simply be read together with the formal agreement to form a memorandum since the formal agreement was accompanied by a ‘subject to contract’ letter. The reference in the SMS to the intructions to be given to D’s solicitor would include the instruction to send the agreement with a ‘subject to contract’ letter. The SMS merely referred to ‘the deal’ and so there was not enough detail to forge a link with the engrossed formal agreement. Another problem was that the formal agreement was not in existence at the time of the SMS. Further, the SMS could not be a memorandum since it did not in any sense purport to be signed by D’s representative.

Nor was there part performance; the acts of submitting the signed formal agreement with a deposit were acts preparatory to a contract and not part performance of it.

The case for saying that an oral agreement had been concluded was very weak. The solicitors had been careful to label all of their letters to each other ‘subject to contract’ and to declare that their respective clients were not to be bound by anything said in the correspondence until both parties had signed a formal agreement. Properly understood, the conversations between the parties had not crossed the boundary between negotiations and a concluded contract. The court would not have struck out the action on this basis, however, since a full consideration of the facts would be necessary.

Michael Lower

Reading two documents together to form a memorandum satisfying CPO, s.3

September 24, 2010

Section 3 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance requires that land contracts either be in writing or that there be a written memorandum of the terms of a contract that was concluded orally. The contract or memorandum has to be signed by ‘the party to be charged’ (the party trying to escape from performance of the contract).

It is permissible to read two documents together in order to produce a memorandum satisfying section 3. So, in Timmins v Moreland Street Property Co Ltd ([1958] Ch 110) a buyer and seller orally agreed terms for the sale of land in London. A director of the buyer gave the seller a signed cheque for the agreed deposit. The seller then gave him a receipt that identified the parties, the property and the price and made it clear that a contract had been concluded. The buyer wanted to escape from the contract and the seller sought damages for the repudiation of the contract.

One of the buyer’s defences was that there was not a memorandum to satisfy the (now repealed) English equivalent of section 3 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance. The receipt was not signed by the buyer. The seller contended that it was possible to read the cheque (signed on behalf of the buyer) together with the receipt.

The buyer’s defence was successful. The English Court of Appeal reiterated the requirements to be met before two documents can be read together to form a memorandum. Jenkins LJ suggested that the two documents must be ‘so manifestly connected without the aid of oral evidence as to justify their being read together.’ (at 129).

This was not so in the present case:

‘But before a document signed by the party to be charged can be laid alongside another document to see if between them they constitute a sufficient memorandum, there must, I conceive, be found in the document signed by the party to be charged some reference to some other document or transaction.’ (at 130)

The cheque contained no reference to the receipt and so they could not be read together.

Michael Lower