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Pascoe v Turner [1979] WLR 431 Court of Appeal

The claimant and defendant lived together in a house owned by the claimant. They were not married but lived as if they were. In 1973 he met another woman and left the defendant. He told her she could have the house but never formally transferred the title. She remained in the house and spent money on redecoration and improvements in the belief that she owned the house. He was aware of her expenditure and belief but did nothing to prevent either. In 1976 he brought an action seeking to evict her. She entered a defence and counter claim.

Held:

The defendant could remain in the house and was entitled to have the title transferred to her through proprietary estoppel.

Cumming-Bruce LJ:

This court appreciates that the moneys laid out by the defendant were much less than in some of the cases in the books. But the court has to look at all the circumstances. When the plaintiff left her she was, we were told, a widow in her middle fifties. During the period that she lived with the plaintiff her capital was reduced from £4,500 to £1,000. Save for her invalidity pension that was all that she had in the world. In reliance upon the plaintiff's declaration of gift, encouragement and acquiescence she arranged her affairs on the basis that the house and contents belonged to her. So relying, she devoted a quarter of her remaining capital and her personal effort upon the house and its fixtures. In addition she bought carpets, curtains and furniture for it, with the result that by the date of the trial she had only £300 left. Compared to her, on the evidence the plaintiff is a rich man. He might not regard an expenditure of a few hundred pounds as a very grave loss. But the court has to regard her change of position over the years 1973 to 1976.

We take the view that the equity cannot here be satisfied without granting a remedy which assures to the respondent security of tenure, quiet enjoyment, and freedom of action in respect of repairs and improvements without interference from the appellant. The history of the conduct of the appellant since 9th April 1976 in relation to these proceedings leads to an irresistible inference that he is determined to pursue his purpose of evicting her from the house by any legal means at his disposal with a ruthless disregard of the obligations binding upon conscience. The court must grant a remedy effective to protect her against the future manifestations of his ruthlessness. It was conceded that if she is granted a licence, such a licence cannot be registered as a land charge, so that she may find herself ousted by a purchaser for value without notice. If she has in the future to do further and more expensive repairs she may only be able to finance them by a loan, but as a licensee she cannot charge the house. The appellant as legal owner may well find excuses for entry in order to do what he may plausibly represent as necessary works and so contrive to derogate from her enjoyment of the licence in ways that make it difficult or impossible for the court to give her effective protection.

Weighing such considerations this court concludes that the equity to which the facts in this case give rise can only be satisfied by compelling the appellant to give effect to his promise and her expectations. He has so acted that he must now perfect the gift.

Back to lecture outline on constructive trusts or proprietary estoppel in land law