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Keelwalk Properties Ltd v Waller [2002] EWCA Civ 1076

LAND LAW – PROPRIETARY ESTOPPEL – REPRESENTATION BY CONDUCT

Facts

The appellant owned several pieces of land containing wooden bungalows. The respondent had been granted a lease by the appellant’s predecessor-in-title, which expired after the appellant was conveyed the land. The appellant sought possession of the land. The respondent countered that he was entitled to renew the lease by reason of proprietary estoppel based on the predecessor-in-title’s long-standing practice of allowing the lease to be renewed.

Issues

A person will have an ‘equity’ in land if they can establish proprietary estoppel. Establishing this requires them to prove that the land-owner made an unequivocal representation that they had a proprietary interest, which they relied on to their detriment, such that it would be unconscionable to renege on the representation. The inchoate equity that results from proprietary estoppel can be satisfied by the court using a range of remedies: whatever remedy would do the minimum amount of justice in the case.

Representations may be made by words or conduct. The issue in this case was whether, the predecessor-in-title’s long-standing practice of allowing the lease to be renewed was sufficient to ground a proprietary estoppel.

Held

The Court of Appeal held in the appellant’s favour.

The Court held that the practice of repeatedly renewing a lease could not, without more, justify the belief that the practice would go on forever. If a land-owner’s conduct cannot reasonably justify a particular belief, it cannot be taken to be a representation for the purposes of proprietary estoppel. The Court noted that no amount of detrimental reliance can transform a conduct into a representation if it did not justify a particular belief. For this reason, there was no representation in this case, and so no proprietary estoppel.


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