Heslop v Burns – 1974

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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Heslop v Burns [1974] 1 WLR 1241

Intention to create legal relationships in tenancy arrangements.


Mr. Timms met a married couple, and developed an affection for the wife, Ms. Burns. He permitted the married couple to live in his second house, without any rent. He often visited the second house to see Ms. Burns and once told her, “don’t worry about the house: its yours.” When Mr. Timms died, Ms. Burns claimed that she and her husband were entitled to possession as they were tenants of the deceased that could continue in possession under the Limitation Act 1939.


The issue arose as to whether the facts evidence a legal granting of tenancy with an intention to create legal relations or a mere licence to enjoy the use of the property.


The Court held that, in examining the circumstances of occupation, the parties did not enter into an arrangement with the intention to create a legal relationship on the terms of a tenancy in respect of the premises. As a point of law, the Court held that it will be reluctant to infer a grant of tenancy in the context of a domestic relationship, and in the absence of legal terms and payable rent. On the facts, the circumstances evidence that there was no intention to grant a legal right of tenancy to Ms. Burns but merely a licence to occupy the property, with seemingly personal motivations. The absence of any rent payments further demonstrates the absence of a tenancy. Thus, the Courts did not infer the intention to create legal relations and grant a tenancy to Ms. Burns; she merely acquired a personal licence to occupy the premises that was terminated upon Mr. Timms’ death, and so the claim for possession fails.

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