Proprietary estoppel: Administration of Estates: Beneficial Ownership: Reliance: Assurances on ownership of property: Tenants in Common: s.53(1) (b) Law of Property Act 1925
Where the claimant and her late husband, as a tenant in common, had paid off the mortgage of a property on the basis of assurances from the other tenant in common that the property belonged to them, it would have been unconscionable to have reneged on those assurances and the claimant was entitled to the whole beneficial ownership of the property.
The claimant (S) sought a declaration that she was the sole beneficial owner of the house in which she had lived with her husband ® since 1948. R and his mother (M) had purchased the house in 1945 as tenants in common in equal shares. The declaration of trust in the 1945 conveyancing of the property to R and M, which stated that they were to hold the proceeds of sale of the property in trust for themselves in equal shares as tenants in common, had not been signed. It was S’s case that M had, by letter in 1948, invited S and R to live in the house as their own. Thereafter S and R kept up all mortgage payments and bills for the property. S alleged that in 1951 M had asserted that the house belonged to R in its entirety and that M was to remove her name from the bills as a result. The evidence showed that in 1952 the name on the mortgage payment receipts changed from M’s to R’s name. M’s will left all her estate to R’s sister and did not mention the property. M and R had since died and the issue was whether S was entitled to the whole of the property or just R’s half share. S submitted that (1) the declaration of trust in the 1945 conveyance was ineffective as it had not been signed by R and M and therefore the requirements of the Law of Property 1925 s.53(1)(b) were not satisfied and R and M were in fact joint tenants so that the entire beneficial interest in the property passed to R by survivorship; (2) alternatively, R acquired title to M’s beneficial half share in the property by proprietary estoppel due to reliance on M’s assurances.
HELD: (1) There was no declaration of trust signed by R and M that would satisfy the requirements of the Law of Property Act 1925 s.53(1)(b). However the express declaration in the conveyance, that they were to hold the proceeds of sale in trust for themselves in equal shares as tenants in common, remained strong contemporary evidence of their intentions and it was highly improbable that they had deliberately refused to sign it. Such evidence provided sufficient rebuttal of the presumption of beneficial joint tenancy. Therefore R and M had acquired the property as tenants in common in equal shares. (2) It was reasonable to infer that M had left her estate to R’s sister and did not mention the property because she believed that she had already given her share in the property to R. There was no reason to disbelieve S’s evidence that M had made the assurances. R had in fact advanced S’s case in 1970. M’s assurances had been clear and unequivocal. The necessary detrimental reliance was provided by the payment of all the mortgage instalments together with all other outgoings on the property. It would have been unconscionable for M to have reneged on her promise when the mortgage was paid off and, as such, M’s beneficiaries could not be in a stronger position than M would have been. The elements of proprietary estoppel had been made out and S was entitled to the whole of the beneficial interest in the property.
FLORA ADELAIDE SLEEBUSH –V- ROBBIE GORDON & ORS (2004)
Ch D (Launcelot Henderson QC) 23/9/2004