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Heslop v Burns [1974] 1 WLR 1241

Rent free occupation for over 16 years; no formal agreement as to nature of occupation

Facts

Mr Timms developed a friendly relationship with Mr and Mrs Burns and as they were living in poor circumstances, he allowed them to live rent-free in one of his cottages. There was no formal agreement as to the nature of the occupation. Mr Timms visited the couple regularly and took meals with them. He paid all the expenses for the cottage and told Mrs Burns regularly the cottage would be theirs on his death. On his death, his executors sought possession of the cottage.

Issues

The executors argued that Mr and Mrs Burns held a license to occupy the cottage which had terminated on Mr Timms’ death. They claimed that since there was no formal agreement as to the nature of the occupation, it was impossible to infer any intention to create the legal relationship and, therefore, no tenancy could have been created. Mr and Mrs Burns asserted that from the outset they were tenants at will of Mr Timms. By virtue of s9 Limitation Act 1939, the tenancy, they claimed, became determined one year after its commencement. At that point a right of action accrued to Mr Timms and this right of action became statute barred 12 years afterwards under s4(3) Limitation Act 1939.

Held

Mr and Mrs Burns were held to be licensees. Given the lack of formal agreement as to the terms of the occupation, it was impossible to infer an intention to create the legal relationship of landlord and tenant. It was also impossible to infer that Mr Timms intended that he could be excluded from the cottage and therefore, the proper inference was that the agreement amounted to a license which terminated on Mr Timms’ death.


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