Posts Tagged ‘licence’

Can landlord of block of flats authorise a tenant to make structural alterations in breach of absolute covenant?

May 9, 2020

Introduction

In England, the usual arrangement for blocks of flats is for a landlord to retain ownership and control of common parts such as the structure and exterior of the building. Owners are granted long leases of their flats.

This use of leases allows the burden of positive covenants (such as the covenant to contribute to the costs of maintaining, insuring and renewing the building) to be transmitted to the owners of the flats from time to time.

Hong Kong does not need to resort to this device because of section 41 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance.

The landlord of the block is then expected to manage the building on behalf of all the tenants and to recover the costs of doing so through a service charge.  The landlord (or its agent) will be entitled by the leases to impose a service charge for this management service.

The leases may contain tenants’ covenants not to do certain things either (a) without the landlord’s consent (a qualified covenant) or (b) not to do them at all (an absolute covenant).

There may be qualified and / or absolute covenants, for example, against carrying out certain types of work.

Qualified covenants envisage that tenants wishing to do work covered by the covenant will apply to the landlord for consent. This allows the landlord to exercise oversight and control in the interests of the proper management of the building.

Absolute covenants envisage that there are certain types of work that tenants will never have any right to carry out.

The lease covenants allow the landlord to manage the building for the benefit of all the tenants. The lease might go further and, for example, require the landlord to enforce the lease covenants at the request of a tenant.

Duval v 11 – 13 Randolph Crescent

The facts in Duval

In Duval v 11 – 13 Randolph Crescent ([2020] UKSC 18) the leases of all flats in the building required the landlord: (a) to impose similar covenants in all leases; and (b) (in clause 3.19) to enforce any breach of covenant by one tenant if asked to do so by another (at the cost of the tenant making the request).

A tenant (‘W’) wanted to carry out works which would involve the removal of part of a load-bearing wall. This would be in breach of an absolute covenant (‘clause 2.7’) not to do work of this nature.

The landlord was, nevertheless, willing to grant the tenant a licence to carry out these works. Another tenant (‘D’) objected and sought a declaration that the landlord did not have the power to waive the absolute covenant in clause 2.7.

The question in Duval

Lord Kitchin (with whom the other members of the UK Supreme Court agreed) framed the question thus:

‘whether the landlord of a block of flats is entitled, without breach of covenant, to grant a licence to a lessee to carry out work which, but for the licence, would breach a covenant in the lease of his or her flat, where the leases of the other flats require the landlord to enforce such covenants at the request and cost of any one of the other lessees.’ ([1]).

Accepted that the landlord could do so in the absence of an obligation owed to other tenants to enforce the covenant

The parties, and the court, agreed that, in the absence of a covenant to enforce clause 2.7 the landlord could grant a licence to carry out works in what would otherwise be a breach of it. This was so even though clause 2.7 was an absolute covenant ([11]).

The crucial additional facts were that the landlord covenanted to impose a restriction similar to clause 2.7 in all leases and, in clause 3.19, to enforce them at the request and cost of any tenant. These facts made all the difference.

Implied covenant

The court set out its interpretation of the express terms of clause 2.7. It then decided that there was an implied term that the landlord promised ‘not to put it out of its power to enforce clause 2.7 in the leases of other lessees by licensing what would otherwise be a breach of it’ ([52]).

The decision: the landlord could not grant a licence to carry out the work

The UK Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision to grant the declaration sought by D. The landlord could not grant a licence to carry out these works:

‘In my view it necessarily follows that the landlord will not put it out of its power to enforce clause 2.7 in the lease of the offending lessee by licensing the activity that would otherwise be a breach of that clause. The clause is an absolute covenant and, under clause 3.19, the complainant lessee is entitled, on provision of security, to require the landlord to enforce it as an absolute covenant. As Lewison LJ said at para 27 of his judgment, it would not give practical content to the obligation if the landlord had the right to vary or modify the absolute covenant or to authorise what would otherwise be a breach of it.’ ([55]).

Michael Lower

 

Adverse possession: death of licensor terminates a licence

June 26, 2017

The facts of Hsieh Haw Shane Gary v Chang Ho Ying ([2017] HKEC 1246) illustrate that a licensor’s death terminates a licence to occupy land.

Madam Chang was registered as the owner of a flat (‘the flat’). She died intestate in 1966. Letters of Administration were granted to Mr. Chang, her husband, in 1967. He was solely beneficially entitled to the flat but the legal title was never assigned into his name.

Mr. Chang married Madam Lee in 1970. He died intestate in 1984. Madam Lee did not seek Letters of Administration de bonis non in respect of Madam Chang’s estate. Madam Lee took possession of the flat on her husband’s death and rented it out.

Madam Lee moved to Malaysia in 1998. She gave the keys to the flat to her son, Gary. Gary paid all of the expenses in respect of the flat and collected the rents from then on. Madam Lee died in 2002.

The question was whether Gary had acquired title by adverse possession by 2013 when the flat (and the whole building of which it formed part) was acquired by a developer pursuant to the Land (Compulsory Sale for Redevelopment) Ordinance (Cap. 545).

Mr. Chang’s death in 1984 brought an end to any licence that he may have granted to Madam Lee. Gary began a new period of possession in his own name when he was given the keys and managed the property from 1998. He had therefore been in adverse possession for more than twelve years by 2013.

Gary had defeated Madam Chang’s title and he was entitled to the proceeds of sale of the flat.

Michael Lower

‘Licence’ pending completion of agreement for lease: A Street v Mountford exceptional case?

May 27, 2013

In Cameron Limited v Rolls-Royce plc ([2007] EWHC 546 (Ch)) RR was C’s tenant (with the benefit of two leases contracted out of Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954). The parties exchanged agreements for the grant of two further leases of the same properties, also to be contracted out of the 1954 Act security of tenure provisions). The agreements were conditional on the obtaining of the necessary court order sanctioning the contracting out and on obtaining the superior landlord’s consent to the proposed leases. In the meantime, RR was to remain in possession pursuant to licences contained in the agreements for lease.

It was accepted that these licences gave RR exclusive possession for a term at a rent. Did the licence agreements actually give rise to leases?

The court held that they did not. They fell within one of the exceptions identified by Lord Templeman in Street v Mountford. The licences were not ‘stand-alone’ arrangements but formed part of a bigger picture. Mann J. said:

‘As I have said, Mr. Small accepted that if the licence did not fall to be treated as a stand-alone document, then the vendor/purchaser exception to the prima facie Street v. Mountford position would obtain. He is right to accept that. I have come to the conclusion that this is plainly a case of a licence being granted in the context of the acquisition of the larger interest and, as such, the nature of the interest granted by Cameron and obtained by Rolls-Royce under the agreement itself and pending the grant of the lease is that of a licence only.’ ([26])

Michael Lower

Lease or licence? Licence coupled with option to call for the grant of a lease

May 21, 2013

In Essex Plan Ltd v Broadminster ((1988) 56 P & C.R. 353) D gave E a licence to occupy premises. It also gave E an option to call for the grant of a lease. The licence and option periods expired but E remained in possession. Negotiations for the grant of a further licence did not come to fruition. D conveyed the property to B. B gave notice to terminate the licence. E argued that it was a tenant, not a licensee, with the benefit of the security of tenure conferred by part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. They argued that they had exclusive possession for a term at a rent and therefore the Street v Mountford criteria for the grant of a lease were present. 

E failed. The case belonged to one of the exceptions identified by Lord Templeman in Street (occupation by a purchaser pending completion):

‘The option gave Essex Plan the right to call for the grant of the lease and therefore gave it in equity an immediate interest in the land. Its entry into occupation pending the exercise or expiry of the option was ancillary and referable to that interest. There is therefore no need to infer the creation of a tenancy which would give Essex Plan a different interest in the same land.’ (Hoffmann J, 356)

Hoffmann J. addressed the separate question as to whether E had exclusive possession. Had it been necessary, he would have held that E did not have exclusive possession. The licence expressly provided that D retained possession and there was no evidence to show that this was a sham. Had D entered during the licence period E could not have brought an action in trespass. The absence of any express right for D to enter was an interesting indicator that it did not need to be given a right to enter since it retained possession (356 – 357).

Michael Lower