Posts Tagged ‘unlawful agreements’

Recovery of land transferred pursuant to an unlawful contract

December 31, 2016

In Li (or Lei) Ting Kit Tso v Cheung Tin Wah ([2016] HKEC 2720) the managers of a Tso entered into an oral agreement with D1. Under the terms of the agreement, the Tso would transfer land to D1 or a party nominated by him. Thirteen houses would be built on the land and the Tso would receive three of these and a cash payment.

D1 had one year from the date of the agreement (in October 1996) to obtain the necessary approval for the development from the Lands Department in accordance with the Small House Policy; otherwise, P could call for the re-assignment of the land to it. D1 agreed that he would not transfer the land to third parties nor allow any nominee of his to do so.

D1 nominated a company, D2, as the party that would enter into the written agreement in line with the oral agreement with D1. The Tso entered into the written agreement with D2 and transferred the land to it. No consideration was paid by D2 to the Tso (although the assignment to D2 stated that D2 had provided consideration).

No development had taken place by 2011 and the Tso wrote to D2 purporting to accept its repudiatory breach in delaying the carrying out of the development and calling on D2 to transfer the land back to it.

D2 had already divided the legal title to the land into thirteen sections and assigned some of them to third parties. After receiving D2’s letter it assigned the remaining sections to third parties.

It was accepted by the Tso that its agreement with D2 was unlawful since it would inevitably involve indigenous villagers making false declarations to the Lands Department. As a result, the Tso could not sue for breach of the agreement.

The Tso was able to rely on the presumption of resulting trust as against D2. The unlawful agreement was not consideration for the assignment to D2. Nor was the Tso estopped by the deed from showing that no consideration had been paid to it.

The problem was that D2 no longer had the land, title to which was in the hands of the various assignees. Since there was nothing to show that the assignees were anything other than good faith purchasers, the Tso had no claim against them.

Instead, D2 was ordered to pay equitable compensation to the Tso (the market value of the land as at the date of the writ).

Michael Lower

Common intention constructive trusts where the agreement is formed for an unlawful purpose: does Tinsley v Milligan apply?

December 15, 2014

In O’Kelly v Davies ([2014] EWCA Civ. 1606, CA (Eng)) the parties cohabited for many years. Title to the first family home had been in joint names at first. Title was then transferred into O’s sole name. When they moved to a second home, title to this was also in O’s name. D alone made all the mortgage payments. This was done to allow O to make fraudulent claims to state benefits. There was no express agreement that D was to have an equitable interest but both the first instance judge and the English Court of Appeal found that an agreement was to be inferred from the whole course of conduct between the parties relating to the property ([29] per Pitchford LJ).

The question was whether public policy prevented D from enforcing his claim to an equitable interest given the unlawful agreement upon which his claim rested. Did Tinsley v Milligan apply to a common intention constructive trust case where there was no presumption of resulting trust to help D? The Court of Appeal held that Tinsley v Milligan was equally applicable in this context. Since D needed only to plead the facts that gave rise to the implied agreement, and had no need to plead the unlawful purpose, he was entitled to rely on the Tinsley v Milligan approach:

‘It was not necessary for the respondent to advance his unlawful agreement in order to make good his claim to a constructive trust. As in Tinsley v Milligan the merits as between the parties are all one way. The issue is whether public policy should intervene to prevent the respondent from enforcing his interest. The conduct identified by the judge was not the making of the unlawful agreement (which was about purpose and not about shared equitable interest) but the course of dealing between the parties relating to their financial contributions to the purchases. While it is no longer appropriate to think in terms of an evidential presumption as to intention, the very conduct that, formerly, would have created that presumption supported the inference drawn by the judge and, in my judgment, for that reason the intervention of public policy is avoided.’ ([32])

This case can be contrasted with Barrett v Barrett where there was a need to plead the unlawful purpose given the equally plausible explanations advanced as to the reasons for which the payments had been made ([33]).

Pitchford LJ’s judgment is also worth reading as an example of the approach taken to implying a common intention after Jones v Kernott.

Michael Lower

No equitable interest where the claimant would need to rely on an unlawful agreement

August 17, 2012

In Barrett v Barrett ([2008] EWHC 1061) T and J were brothers. T owned the freehold of a house. T was declared bankrupt. J acquired the house from the trustee in bankruptcy and some years later he sold it. T claimed that J held the title to the house in trust for him. He alleged that he and J had agreed that J would be the ‘paper’ owner, holding the property on trust for T who would meet all of the outgoings (which would be chanelled through J). The aim was to avoid T’s trustee in bankruptcy having any claim to T’s beneficial interest.

The judge thought that this could not be a resulting trust case since T had not directly contributed to the mortgage payments or purchase price. He paid J and J made the payments ([24]). There were alternative explanations for the payments made by J to T (J alleged that they were rent payments). So there was a need to show that the payments were referable to the unlawful agreement (unlawful because it was entered into to avoid s333(2) of the Insolvency Act 1986). The common intention constructive trust claim failed because of the unlawful purpose. The same problem would be fatal to claims based on the agreement to found a claim of an express trust, proprietary estoppel or a Pallant v Morgan equity.

As David Richards J. explained:

‘Without that [unlawful] purpose the agreement or arrangement has no rational explanation. Thomas needs to allege and prove it in order to establish the agreement, but in doing so he relies on his own illegal purpose and thereby renders his interest unenforceable.’ [25]

Nor was the unlawful purpose too remote from the creation of the alleged beneficial interest. The whole purpose of the alleged agreement was to deprive the trustee in bankruptcy of the opportunity to acquire T’s beneficial interest in the property.

Michael Lower

Resulting / constructive trust of Ting house

June 8, 2012

In Lau Kwai Kiu v Bian Xintian ([2012] 2 HKLRD 954) O applied for land by way of private treaty grant in Lok Lo Ha Village near Shatin under the Small House Policy. He was successful. He paid the premium and a grant of land in the village was made to him. At that time, the Lands Department did not require applicants to sign a declaration to the effect that they had not entered into an agreement to sell the land, hold the property on trust or sell it (the Department later did insist on such declarations).

O had agreed to sell the land to P before making the application. P had supplied the funds for the premium. Once the grant was made, she supplied the funds for the construction of the house and she and her family lived in it from the time of the issue of the certificate of compliance. O had written letters to P confirming that he would give the property to her and would transfer the title to her after five years. This would require a further application to the Government and payment of a premium to lift the restriction on alienation in the grant to O. This application was never made because P could not afford the additional premium. O died and the question of P’s interest in the land had to be decided.

O’s wife argued that P had no interest in the land and that any resulting or constructive trust there might have been was unenforceable on the grounds that the arrangement was illegal or contrary to public policy.

It was held that P had an interest under either a resulting and / or a common intention constructive trust because of the payments and the agreement set out in the letters (signed by the parties and, in the case of one letter, witnessed). There was no illegality on the facts of this case. Even if there were, P had no need to plead it since she could rely on the payments she had made to establish her beneficial interest; she did not need to rely on the letters at all (see Tinsley v Milligan). Nor was the arrangement contrary to public policy since there had been no false declaration. The express agreement envisaged that the necessary application to the Government would be made and the additional premium for the lifting of the restriction of alienation would be made.

The Court of Appeal held that the land was held on a resulting and / or a common intention constructive trust (but expressly subject to the Government’s rights).

Michael Lower

The meaning of ‘alienation’

November 30, 2011

(Overturned by the CFA). An agreement giving rise to a common intention constructive trust is an alienation (eg for the purposes of section 17B(1) of the Housing Ordinance) even if entered into before the relevant property had been acquired.

In Ling Wing Fai Billy v Ling Shui Fai ([2010] 6 HKC 434, CA) the defendants were a married couple. They agreed with the husband’s mother (and brother and sister-in-law) that if their application for a flat from the Hong Kong Housing Authority were successful then they would all contribute to the mortgage installments and the mother would provide the deposit. In return, the beneficial ownership of the flat would be shared between them. The principal question was whether this was an unlawful ‘alienation’ for the purposes of section 17B(1) of the Housing Ordinance.

It was argued that an alienation requires a positive act while the beneficial interests here arose by operation of law. This was rejected. The defendants had engaged in positive acts (the agreement itself, using the money received to make the relevant payments and allowing the other family members to live in the flat and make contributions as agreed). The fact that the interests had arisen by operation of law did not mean that they were not the result of these positive acts (para. 26). The Court of Appeal referred to the description of ‘alienation’ in Re A Solicitor ([2000] HKCU 1003, CA): an alienation was described as the creation and grant of rights over property impinging upon the most important features of ownership.

This was an alienation. It did not matter that the arrangement was entered into before the flat had been acquired (para. 30). The fact that the arrangement was one made between family members was irrelevant (para. 32).