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Willis v Hoare (1999) 77 P & CR D42

LAND LAW – PROPRIETARY ESTOPPEL – CERTAINTY OF INTEREST

Facts

The claimant was the head-tenant of a third-party’s land, and had granted a four-year sub-lease to the defendant. When the sub-lease expired, negotiations for a new lease broke down and the claimant sought possession of the land. The defendant argued that there was an understanding that the defendant would be offered a new sub-lease on the expiry of the existing sub-lease. However, there was no understanding as to what the terms of that new sub-lease would be.

Issues

A person will have an inchoate ‘equity’ in land if they can establish proprietary estoppel. Establishing this requires proof 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 whatever remedy would do the minimum amount of justice in the case.

The issue in this case was the degree of certainty which was required as to the proprietary interest the defendant believed himself to be entitled to.

Held

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

The court held that the representation must be unequivocal and make clear the extent of the representee’s expected interest. If the representation produces an expectation which is too unclear for the courts to give effect to, then it does not matter how unconscionable the representor’s behaviour is: no estoppel will arise.

In this case, as there were no expectations as to what the new sub-lease would look like, the arrangement was too uncertain for the courts to enforce. There was therefore not a representation which could give rise to an estoppel.


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