Hanoman v Southwark Borough Council (2009)

English Property Law

Hanoman v Southwark Borough Council
Image: ‘Southwark, London’ by Rob Adams

While the ‘right-to-buy’ scheme allows council tenants to purchase their properties for determinable discounts, there are additional safeguards designed to prevent administrative vacillation between the two parties to contract. On this occasion, a local authority found itself on the wrong end of such an agreement, while the tenant was free to enjoy the fruits of an organised purchase.

In the autumn of 1999, a tenant served a right-to-buy notice under s.122 of the Housing Act 1988 for the purchase of his flat for a discounted price of £17,000. Under s.124 of the same Act, a landlord is required to respond in kind so as to allow the process to begin.

For one reason or another, the appellants chose not to acknowledge the respondent’s submission, on grounds that they believed he had withdrawn it, during which time further legislation was enacted so as to penalise landlords delaying the purchase under s.153A(1) (as inserted by the Housing Act 1985) through a ‘notice of delay’.

On 24 March 2003 the respondent issued such a notice, whereupon the appellants again failed to respond with a counter-notice, at which point s.153B of the 1988 Act further allowed a tenant to submit an ‘operative notice of delay’, thereby converting any paid rents into purchase contribution for the period between the notice of delay and the date of the as yet undelivered counter notice.

Following a declaration by the respondent on 22 June 2004 of the appellant’s failure to provide counter-notice, the parties went to court, during which the respondent was finally granted his s.124 counter-notice by the appellants on 2 July 2004, thus bringing to an end the period in which s.153B of the 1988 Act was in effect.

At the point of purchase, the effects of s.153B were left unresolved, at which point the local authority granted the respondent the right to pursue remedy through an appeal. It was thus contended to the Court that during the period between 24 March 2003 and 2 July 2004, sufficient rent had been paid so as to cover the £17,000 owed for the purchase of the flat, therefore no money was owed by the respondent, an argument supported by the Court, and one resulting in the appellants repaying the £17,000 paid with interest.

Taken to the House of Lords, the appellants argued that the respondent had relied upon housing benefits for his rent payments, and that as no money was passed between the respondent and the appellants, there was no evidence that any payment had been made nor received, as under those conditions a reduction in rent constituted the effect of such benefits, as opposed to an actual receipt of funds.

With examination of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, the House established that since its inception, Parliament had provided that under ss.140A to 140G, housing benefit was almost entirely subsidised through central government and not the local authorities, therefore despite any argument to the contrary, some form of payments were in effect, while for contextual purposes, the words of Lord Evershed MR in White v Elmdene Estates Ltd reminded that:

“[T]he word ‘payment’ in itself is one which, in an appropriate context, may cover many ways of discharging obligations.”

It was for this reason that the House upheld that regardless of exactly how the rent was realised, the effects of s.153B of the Housing Act 1988 existed to avoid the very problem the appellants had created, before dismissing the appeal and upholding the judgment of the Court.

Charrington v Simons & Co Ltd (1971)

English Property Law

Charrington v Simons & Co Ltd
‘In the Orchard’ by James Guthrie

The conveyance of land with restrictive covenants is not uncommon within property law, however when the safeguard designed to protect the needs of the vendor becomes central to his anguish, it becomes clear that the attached principles have become somewhat misused.

In a matter concerning the part-sale of an orchard by a farmer, the respondent entered into the purchase on the understanding that at no point was the road running between the two plots previously owned, to exceed the height beyond that of the section retained, as to do otherwise would impact upon the farmer’s ability to harvest his remaining plot.

After ignoring the covenant, the respondent began resurfacing the road to a height that did in fact exceed the permissions granted, thus prompting the appellant to protest both orally and by letter. When the work continued and his obvious displeasure went unheard, the appellant issued a writ in pursuit of a mandatory injunction, which would result in the removal of all works undertaken at cost to the respondent.

In the first hearing, the judge adopted the unorthodox position of taking two negatives in order to create a positive. This was executed through an injunction, while explaining that:

(i) The respondent was to modify the road so as to benefit the appellant, rather than to remove it outright, after having spent around £1400 on its construction, before paying the appellant £1062 in special damages for the harm caused to date.

(ii) The mandatory injunction was to remain ineffective for a period of three years, while the respondent set about altering the road’s layout, which itself required agreement by the appellant to trespass onto his land in order to carry out the work.

(iii) That consultation between the two parties would continue throughout this period, and that should the appellant refuse to consent to the needs of the respondent, the respondent would be granted sufficient argument so as to discharge the injunction entirely.

Upon immediate appeal, the appellant argued that the judge had erred in law when creating an injunction that rendered the breach of covenant void, that requirement to consent to the work would result in a trespass and that such an impingement and modification would cause the appellant to suffer both personally and financially, as his own orchard would be compromised during the alterations.

With consideration of the judge’s genuine wish to improve upon an already damaging situation, the Court held that when refusing to enforce the injunction with immediate effect, the court had failed to properly address the purpose of both the covenant and the injunction in favour of an outcome serving only the needs of the breaching party.

 

Borman v Griffith

English Property Law

Borman v Griffith
Image: ‘Pathway of Life’ by Connie Tom

Implication by way of contract, is argued in a case involving the conflict of interests between two tenants and a perhaps disorganised and rushed grant of occupancy by the landlord.

In a time immediately before the Law of Property Act 1925, a landowner sought to let out a part of his estate for a determined period. Under the terms of the lease there was at the time, a gravelled road that passed by the tenant’s rented property named ‘The Gardens’, while leading to the door of the main estate property named ‘The Hall’.

At the time the tenant began his residence, there was also an unfinished bridleway that allowed for access to the rear of the Gardens, albeit given no mention within the contract, nor any reliable evidence that use of the drive had been orally agreed between the two parties. During this period, and shortly after taking occupancy of the Gardens, the Hall was leased to another occupier, with no issues arising between them.

A few years afterwards, this same tenant vacated the Hall, and so the landowner let it out to another party for a fixed period, after which the occupier of the Gardens continued to use the gravelled drive as a means of access to the front of his property, as he had since his lease began. Two years after taking up residency, the defendant in this case erected a wire fence to prevent the claimant and tenant of the Gardens from using the gravelled drive as a means of access, hence resulting in litigation.

Relying upon the wording of s.62(1) of the 1925 Act, and the fact that there had never been any other suitable means of access to his home, the claimant argued that an easement by way of implication had been granted by the landlord. When considered by the court, the facts determined that there was a clear difference between the granting of a lease and the conveyance of interest in land or property; and that in this instance the former applied.

There was however, the principle that under the terms of the contract there could be argued, an obligation to undertake full performance of the rights bestowed the claimant, where unless the contract provides specific exclusion of a right of way between two sharing tenants, the gravelled drive afforded both users equal powers to enforce their rights. It was on these grounds that the judge endorsed the action and awarded accordingly, while holding that:

“[A] grantor of property, in circumstances where an obvious, i.e., visible and made road is necessary for the reasonable enjoyment of the property by the grantee, must be taken prima facie to have intended to grant a right to use it.”

Midland Bank Plc v Cooke

English Property Law

Midland Bank Plc v Cooke
Image: ‘Pillars of Deceit’ by Michael Lang

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When two first-time homebuyers rely upon a financial donation from family members, the equality of shared ownership can become displaced, despite individual perceptions of common intention and the partnership of marriage.

When two young newlyweds entered into a mortgage of their family home, it was not without a significant cash contribution from the groom’s parents. This gift was bestowed upon the couple after the bride’s parents had covered the costs of the wedding, and therefore implied equal investment into their committed relationship. At the time of conveyance, the deeds fell under sole title in favour of the groom, and no assumptions were otherwise made than it was their home, and that both parties were joint occupants and thus entitled to equal benefits.

A few years after the purchase, the nature of the mortgage altered, and was now liable under the terms of an acquiring bank, at which point the wife was asked to sign away any beneficial interest she held in favour of the new mortgagee. Her agreement to this request was given (albeit under visible duress) so that the husband could continue to run his business, while the family (now with three children) could remain in secure occupation.

After re-mortgaging the property a number of years later, the wife took the opportunity to have her name included within the title, and thus became a legal tenant-in-common. When the business began to fail and the mortgage fell into unrecoverable default, the bank sought to repossess, at which point the wife challenged the order on grounds that any relinquishing of interest had not been of her volition, rather that her now estranged husband’s undue influence led her to act against her will and under marital obligation.

In the first hearing, the judge found in favour of the wife on the grounds described, before going further to explain that while her collective time and monies invested into the home during the course of their marriage could not translate into an equal half-share of the property, it did result in a six percent stake hold, arising from her half-share entitlement of the cash gifted by the groom’s parents at the point of purchase; and therefore under those circumstances, any repossession order could not stand.

When challenged by the bank and the wife in the Court of Appeal, the principle of shared equity was given greater consideration, along with the equitable maxim ‘equality is equity‘, which on this occasion was not relied upon. Instead, it was agreed that the wife’s actions first dismissed as non-contributory,  were embraced as wholly acceptable, despite no verbal agreements between the couple as to whether or not the home was equally divisible to begin with.

Re Ellenborough Park

English Property Law

Re Ellenborough Park
Image: ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte’ by Georges Seurat

Note: To read about this case in greater depth, and with the benefit of full OSCOLA referencing, simply purchase a copy of ‘The Case Law Compendium: English & European Law’ at Amazon, Waterstones or Barnes & Noble (or go here for a full list of international outlets)


As can be traced back through the historic case law surrounding easements, there has been much dispute as to exactly what constitutes such a privilege; and so in Re Ellenborough Park, a generosity of scope was favourably agreed upon and the principle further refined.

When the considerate nature of the original owner of Ellenborough Park (itself no more than an expansive parcel of land) bestowed conditional rights upon the future freeholders of property encircling it, those privileges allowed exclusive enjoyment of the space and fresh air afforded them, yet the vendor had no idea how many years later, that same kindness of spirit would be challenged by those succeeding him.

For almost 100 years, the owners of the chosen properties had enjoyed uninterrupted peaceful use, until the second world war brought with it, the temporary military occupation of both the park and the homes built around it. After returning the houses back to their current owners (along with suitable compensation for their use), it was decided by the trustees of Ellenborough Park, that continued access to the gardens would no longer be accepted, and that under the terms of the original conveyance, no such easements had ever been put into effect.

Under the general terms prescribed by common law, there are a number of criteria that need to be met for an easement to exist. These critical elements include the principles that those assigned the granting of an easement must take it on the understanding that use of such a covenant relies upon utility and benefit from the right, and that benefit of the easement must derive from the granting of such a right. Because Ellenborough Park was cosmetically different from most commonly prescribed easements, it was argued that the mere capacity to wander around freely upon a large plot of land (albeit subject to expressly detailed maintenance contributions) amounted to no more than a ‘jus spatiandi’, which is a phrase typically assigned to public parks and recreational areas requiring little more than careful observation of the rules associated with their use.

In the first hearing, the judge found in favour of the defendants, and so when further considered under appeal, an in-depth examination of the founding conveyance revealed very succinct terminology as to support and endorse the intentions of the estate owner, in that he had not only established by definition the presence of easements to the freeholders, but that such consideration had been expressly granted by way of the deed’s construction. This decision has since proven instrumental to the variances in the physical representation of easements, and the reinterpretation of covenants provided for by way of grant.

Gillett v Holt

English Property Law

Gillett v Holt
Image: ‘Folk Art Farm’ by Tony Grote

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The notorious ambiguity of estoppel is explored here through the unexpected end of a lifelong working relationship built upon trust, duty and a faith of spirit, and as is so often found in matters such as these, a man’s word is not always his bond.

After investing the best part of forty years into a farming alliance that created an almost familial structure, the arrival of a divisive party witnessed the destructive end of a mutually prosperous and seemingly concrete friendship. When a younger man forged a meaningful relationship with an older farmer, the two men became almost father and son, with the former relying upon, and often following the wisdom of the latter, in accordance with domestic arrangements, career aspirations and even parenting decisions; all while sustaining and enriching the estate’s financial footing through the course of his duties.

This interdependence became the foundation of a commercial enterprise that by definition became more complex, and so required increased investment from both the employer’s paid advisers and the younger man’s wife as a co-contributor. During the many years spent together, there had been a significant number of verbal declarations as to the intentions of the elder man when it came time to choose a successor to his sprawling estates, and it was these quasi-promises, along with multiple wills, that coloured the appellant’s choice-making and calculated reluctance to set aside the type of financial provisions one might ordinarily expect.

The mechanics of the business and associated friendship continued to flourish, until the arrival of a trained solicitor, who for one reason of another, began making spurious claims that the appellant and his wife were defrauding the business, and that legal intervention was ultimately necessary. This course of action and influential advice also led to the couple’s removal from the existing will, whereupon sole beneficial rights instead passed to the now co-defendant.

After an exhaustive cross-examination in the original hearing, the deciding judge awarded against the appellant, despite his claim of proprietary estoppel following the removal of his presence in the will, and inherent reliance upon the goodwill of the defendant during the passage of time.

At appeal, the fluid and therefore often misinterpreted principle of estoppel, was held to close scrutiny, along with the previous findings of the judge; whereupon it became clear that while a degree of effort had been put into the relevance of estoppel, the obvious right to claim had been lost to principles attributable to succession law. Through the delicate use of equity, the Court then agreed that (i) there was ample evidence to show a detriment under continued reliance, and (ii) that in order for a clean break to exist, there needed to be a reversal of fortune on the part of the co-defendant, and a ‘coming good’ on the word of the older man.

Parker v British Airways Board

English Property Law

Parker v British Airways Board
Image: ‘Concorde’ by Ivan Berryman

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Under the breadth of property ownership, does the principle of occupier’s rights supersede the entitlement of an authentic finder, or is the common law more complex than first appears?

While waiting to catch a flight, a qualified guest of an airport lounge discovered an abandoned men’s gold bracelet on the seating area floor. By virtue of his own honesty, the respondent handed the jewellery to a member of staff, on the proviso that should the original owner not be found, the airline was to forward the item to his home address as  was provided.

After waiting almost a year, the appellants instead took it upon themselves to sell the bracelet, while directly profiting from the sale. Upon discovery, the respondent immediately sued for loss incurred from the deceit and conversion of assets. In the first hearing, the judge awarded in favour of the passenger, whereupon the airline appealed and the matter was given greater thought.

When assessing the imputation that occupiers of land are privy to greater powers of ownership to lost property, the distinctions were drawn in order to clarify where the exceptions to those assumptions lay. In common law, it has been largely agreed through the progression of case law, that in many familiar circumstances, the rights to ownership of property construed as abandoned or lost, would fall to the landowner. However, in this case the airline took no steps to draw notice to that right when considering the frequency and nature of transient visitors to their lounge. In contrast, the only provisions made for matters involving lost property entailed procedural guides for staff members and no more.

After careful evaluation of the two prevailing rights, and when comparing to the honest intentions of the passenger to an abject failure of the airline to express their position when handling lost property, the Appeal Court held that it would be unreasonable to deny the respondent his fundamental rights to ownership of property honestly acquired in the absence of the original owner.