Posts Tagged ‘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

Adverse possession and the Land (Compulsory Sale for Redevelopment) Ordinance

June 19, 2017

In Chung Chiu Hing v Law Sam ([2017] HKEC 1198) Madam Law was the registered owner of a flat (‘the Flat’). P claimed to have acquired title through adverse possession. The Flat had been sold pursuant to the Land (Compulsory Sale for Redevelopment) Ordinance (‘the Ordinance’) and P further claimed to be entitled to the share of the proceeds of sale attributable to the Flat.

Madam Law was the registered owner of the Flat. She granted an oral tenancy to P’s mother-in-law. Madam Law died in 1981. At some point she had simply stopped collecting the rent due under the agreement.

C, P’s husband, moved into the Flat to look after the Mother-in-Law in 1985 and they had joint possession of the Flat. The Mother-in-Law moved out in 1999 and P moved in at around the same time. C died in 2000. P continued in possession from then on.

Chu J. had little difficulty in accepting that the Mother-in-Law and C had been in possession with the necessary intention to possess since 1986 at the latest. P had taken over this possession

Time could only start to run when the oral tenancy agreement came to an end. There was no evidence that the Mother-in-Law or C would have been prepared to pay rent if it had been demanded in 1986; this evidence of their intention to possess suggested that the tenancy had ended.

In any event, section 12(2) of the Limitation Ordinance deems an oral periodic tenancy to come to an end one year after its grant (or from the date of the most recent receipt of rent if later than that).

P had defeated Madam Law’s title. Madam Law’s shares had, however, been sold pursuant to the Ordinance. The Ordinance provided for the relevant share of the proceeds of sale to be paid to the person who had been the owner of the undivided shares prior to the sale. The question was whether the adverse possession claim made P the owner of the undivided shares for this purpose.

Chu J. held that it did; the Ordinance required the owner of the undivided shares to give vacant possession. Madam Law could not give vacant possession because of P’s adverse possession defence. P could be regarded as the owner of the undivided shares for the purposes of the Ordinance.

Alternatively, P’s title was to be regarded as an incumbrance. The Ordinance required the proceeds of sale to be applied towards the discharge of any incumbrance.

Michael Lower

Interpretation of DMC apportionment provision and order for sale of defaulting owner’s shares

June 11, 2017

In Hertford Mansion (Un Chau Street) (IO) v Wong Shing Kwan ([2017] HKEC 1154, DC) the Management Committee of an Owners’ Corporation decided to carry out major renovation works at the property.

The building’s DMC provided that each owner would contribute the proportion of the expenses of managing the property set out in the Fifth Schedule to the DMC. This made the defendant liable for 110 / 1300 of any expenditure. The Management Committee demanded that proportion of the costs of the renovation works.

The Third Schedule to the DMC contained another charging provision. It required the owners to pay a ‘due proportion’ of management expenses including costs of repair, renewal and redecoration.

The defendant refused to pay the proportion of the renovation costs demanded of him. He argued that he was only responsible for a ‘due proportion’ of these costs and that the due proportion should be calculated (in the absence of any indication to some other effect) by reference to the proportion of the undivided shares in the building owned by the defendant. Thus calculated, the due proportion would be less than the sum demanded.

Judge Andrew Li rejected the defendant’s argument. The ‘due proportion’ (on a proper interpretation of this DMC) could only be the proportion specified in the Fifth Schedule. The Third Schedule required owners to pay a due proportion ‘in accordance with the provisions of this Deed’. The Fifth Schedule was the relevant provision of the deed for this purpose. It would be absurd to suppose that the Third and Fifth Schedule contained divergent mechanisms for apportioning exactly the same expenditure.

The defendant repeatedly refused to pay the contribution demanded. The DMC provided that unpaid sums were to be charged on the defaulting owner’s shares. The Management Committee registered a Memorandum of Charge accordingly. They now sought an order for sale of the defendant’s undivided shares.

The order for sale was granted. The DMC made the charge enforceable by the Management Committee. The defendant had ignored repeated warnings.

Michael Lower

Adverse possession: the significance of a failure to fence rural land

June 3, 2017

In Winpo Development Ltd v Wong Kar Fu ([2017] HKEC 1093) P sought an order for possession in respect of land occupied by D. D relied on adverse possession in his defence and counterclaim.

The claim concerned a large and remote area of land in the New Territories. D’s family had lived on and farmed the land since at least 1968.

The land was unfenced. Recorder Whitehead SC accepted that this fact tells strongly against D having had possession of the land ([64]). Here, however, the natural landscape formed clear barriers; fencing would have been superfluous and impractical ([65]).

D had shown the intention to possess. He and his family dealt with the land ‘as an occupying owner might have been expected to deal with it, and to the exclusion of the world at large, including the owner with the paper title’ ([69]).

D’s adverse possession defence succeeded.

Michael Lower

Developer’s informal allocation of private parking space in the common area

May 20, 2017

In Faraday House (IO) v Shine Wheel Ltd ([2017] HKEC 957, LT) P was the purchaser of a flat in Faraday House in 1992. The estate was then a new development and she bought from the developer. She wanted three car parking spaces. Two of the spaces she was offered were allocated as private car parking spaces. The third space (‘the Adjacent Space’) was next to these spaces but was in the common area of the development.

The selling agent assured P that he would arrange for the developer to expressly acknowledge her right to use the Adjacent Space as a private car parking space (‘the Assurance’). P paid HK$250,000 for the two ‘official’ spaces and HK$50,000 for the Adjacent Space.

The Adjacent Space was never re-designated as an area for P’s exclusive use but P was issued with a Permission Letter allowing her to use the space. She was given three car parking permits. The owners incorporated in 1996 and a new manager was appointed at that time.

P used the three spaces for sixteen years until 2014. The owners’ corporation then demanded that she cease using the Adjacent Space. When P refused to comply, the corporation brought proceedings seeking an injunction preventing P from parking in the Adjacent Space. Parking in the common areas was a breach of the DMC.

The Lands Tribunal (Judge Kot) started from the proposition that the Permission Letter to use the Adjacent Space was a licence. The developer could not have granted a licence over the Adjacent Space since it had already been designated as a common area; the licence was invalid. Even if it were valid, it would be revocable; there were no equitable grounds for restraining this revocation. Even if it were irrevocable, it would not bind the IO which took over control of the common parts in 1996.

Promissory estoppel, the principles of which were most recently articulated in Hong Kong in Luo Xing Juan v Estate of Hui Shui See ((2009) 12 HKCFAR 1) could not help. The IO were not bound by an assurance given by the developer. The act of allowing P to park in the Adjacent Space for many years could be seen as an assurance. P had not, however, incurred any detriment in reliance on this (the HK$50,000 having already been paid).

Acquiescence was a possible defence given the nature of the covenants that had been broken. There had been an assurance or lying by on the part of the owners. It was not, however, unjust in all the circumstances to grant the injunction sought. P had had the benefit of the Adjacent Space over many years and would not be caused any hardship.

Michael Lower

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

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

 

Adverse possession by co-owner in breach of DMC

April 10, 2017

In Foremost Hill Ltd v Li Hon ([2017] HKEC 708) P and D owned adjoining shops in a building covered by a Deed of Mutual Covenant (‘DMC’). P had been in possession of part of D’s shop (‘the disputed area’) since 1981 (possibly earlier) due to a wrongly positioned partition wall. P claimed to have acquired title to the disputed area by adverse possession. The court agreed.

There was a clear ouster; P’s actions were incompatible with D’s right to exclusive occupation of the disputed area.

D also relied on the DMC covenant provisions conferring on each owner a right to the exclusive use of its own unit. Andrew Chung J commented that this effectively raised the question as to whether adverse possession can ever operate as between co-owners of units covered by a DMC ([25]).

The matter seemed not be covered by authority and should be approached from first principles.

An action to enforce the DMC term as a contractual term was time-barred after six years (section 4(1) of the Limitation Ordinance).

There was no limitation period for an action to enforce a restrictive covenant in equity but the doctrine of laches applies. The adverse possession began so long ago that it would be inequitable to allow D to enforce the covenant against P.

Andrew Chung J. also agreed with the proposition that since the action was, in substance, an action to recover land the limitation period in section 7(2) is engaged ([37]).

Michael Lower