What is it?
Proprietary Estoppel is a specific legal claim in English land law. It is a claim which will arise in relation to a property owner’s right to use his land or if there is a disputed transfer of ownership of the land. It is often based upon a promise to inherit or use land which has later been broken causing detriment or loss.
This is a historical doctrine and cause of action, however case law as recent as 2018, shows how relevant this still is in society today.
A worked example of a Proprietary Estoppel Claim:
-George works on Giles’ (his Father) farm all his life. He is paid the minimum wage despite his long hours and other farm jobs paying higher.
-George forgoes higher education and the opportunity to be employed in the higher paid roles.
-The reason George worked on the farm was because, when he was younger, Giles always told his Son that “all this will one day be yours”. This is a conversation that George remembers having many times with his Father as they toiled on the farm and walked across the fields back home after long days working side by side.
-When Giles died, his Will left the farm to his estranged Wife. Although Giles and his Wife had separated some years earlier, they were not divorced and Giles had failed to change his will.
-George did not inherit the farm and Giles’ estranged Wife wanted to sell the land to developers.
In order to gain a right of ownership over the farm, George considers a proprietary estoppel claim.
To make a successful claim, and to gain ownership of the farm, George has to show:
1. Giles has is given him a clear assurance that he will acquire a right over the farm property,
2. George reasonably relied upon the assurance given by his Father, and,
3. George acted substantially to his detriment because of the assurance
Considering the above points 1-3 does George’s claim have prospects?
1. Giles repeatedly (on George’s evidence) told his Son that the farm would “one day be yours” – this is a promise or assurance.
2. George relied upon this promise – he did not make future plans to buy is own farm, instead working diligently until such a time that he was given Giles’ farm.
3. George gave up higher education and the opportunity to earn more money in alternative roles, which paid better wages that his Father did, on the basis that he was investing in a farm which he would one day own himself – he acted to his own detriment.
On the raw evidence outlined above, George potentially has a strong claim to the farmland. The Court will make a decision, in cases such as George’s, based mainly on witness evidence – given that Giles’s cannot confirm his intentions. If the Court agrees that the Proprietary Estoppel claim is successfully proved, they will consider whether fairness or “equity” demands a remedy and what that remedy should be.
There are conflicting views on the remedy for cases such as George’s. it may be that the remedy is be monetary – i.e. compensation paid to George in lieu of inheriting the farm. This payment would be to compensate George for the detriment he has suffered and the opportunities he gave up during his lifetime based upon the belief he would inherit the farm. However, the remedy may be that the farm is transferred to George to the detriment of Giles’ estranged Wife. The Court will need to consider a balanced and fair conclusion in such cases.
Can we help?
If you think you have been promised access to or ownership of land, and that promise has later been broken to your detriment, you may have a claim in Proprietary Estoppel. It is important to act promptly and get expert advice and intervention at an early stage.
Please do call our solicitor, Emma Bush, for a confidential discussion about your options on 01858 414 284 or email [email protected]