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9.2.1 Licences and Proprietary Estoppel – Introduction

Welcome to the ninth topic in this module guide – Licences and Proprietary Estoppel! Licences are considered the lowermost ranking rights in terms of property rights. They occur when a business or individual occupies a property they do not have a legal right of occupation in. This usually occurs only for a short time period and gives the licensee permission to use a property for a specified reason, thus making their occupation lawful and the effect of which prevents the licensee from trespassing. There exists four types of licences in English law; bare licences, contractual licences, licences coupled with an equity and licences coupled with an interest.

The equitable doctrine of proprietary estoppel ‘estops’ a landowner from denying rights to a third party, where that same third party has come to rely on a belief in those rights. The law states that this would be unconscionable behaviour on the part of the landowner and as such, can prevent a person from insisting on their strict legal rights. For a claim of proprietary estoppel to be successful, the third person claiming must be able to satisfy the three requirements in Thorner v Major; representation, reliance and detriment.

Goals for this section:

  • To understand the difference between a bare licence, a contractual licence, a licence coupled with an equity and a licence coupled with an interest.
  • To recognise the essential elements under a claim of proprietary estoppel, namely representation, reliance and detriment.

Objectives for this section:

  • To be able to identify which type of licence is the most advantageous for the licence holder.
  • To be able to distinguish whether a licence of proprietary estoppel is of greater assistance in favour of or against a third party.
  • To be able to appreciate the overlap between proprietary estoppel and constructive trusts.
  • To be able to appreciate that proprietary estoppel is merely a personal right and therefore incapable of assignment to a third party.

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