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Matharu v Matharu (1994) 26 H.L.R. 648

LAND LAW – PROPRIETARY ESTOPPEL – REQUIREMENTS

Facts

The claimant allowed his son and daughter-in-law to live on his property as their family home for many years. The daughter-in-law thought the son was the owner of the property, and the claimant encouraged this belief. When his son died, the claimant sought possession of the home from the daughter-in-law.

Issues

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

A representation can be made by words, conduct or silence, knowing acquiescence in a person’s mistaken belief. The issue in this case was whether encouragement of a mistaken belief amounts to a representation for the purposes of proprietary estoppel, and if so, what remedy was appropriate.

Held

The Court of Appeal declined to grant the claimant possession, and granted the daughter-in-law an irrevocable license for life (so long as she met the outgoing finances of the property).

The Court held that encouragement of the daughter-in-law’s mistaken belief that the property belonged to her husband was sufficient to amount to an unconscionable representation. The Court also held that the daughter-in-law had only lived in the home one the basis of this representation, and that this was sufficient to establish reliance. An estoppel therefore arose, and an irrevocable license for life was the remedy which would best satisfy the daughter-in-law’s equity.


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