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Parker v Parker [2003] All ER (D) 421 (Jul)

LAND LAW – PROPRIETARY ESTOPPEL – TENANCY-AT-WILL

Facts

The claimant occupied the defendant’s castle, and claimed a right to continue occupation. The claimant expected to be able to live there for life when he moved in (based on past practice), a belief he claimed was encouraged by the defendant and which he relied upon when deciding to give up a tenancy elsewhere.

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 issue in this case was whether the claimant was a mere licensee of the castle, or whether he had a right to remain due to proprietary estoppel.

Held

The High Court held in the defendant’s favour, but gave the claimant two years to leave.

At most, the defendant’s past-practice indicated that the claimant could expect to be able to apply for perpetual occupancy rights, not that he would automatically get them. While the defendant had initially encouraged the belief, this quickly ceased after the defendant got legal advice, and their subsequent behaviour clearly indicated that they wanted to keep the claimant’s occupation limited. Finally, the detriment which the claimant incurred in losing the tenancy was minimal: overall, it was not unconscionable to evict him.

The claimant was a mere tenant-at-will, and so only had a license to occupy which could be revoked at any time, for any reason. However, a tenant-at-will can only be evicted when given ‘reasonable’ notice. In the present case, moving the claimant’s belongings would take considerable time: no less than two years would constitute reasonable notice.


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