Delve into the case of Binions v. Evans (1972), a key property law case for law students focusing on issues of proprietary estoppel and equitable rights over real property.

  • In the case of Binions v Evans 1972 Ch 359 it was found that a constructive trust of a licence will arise whenever the transferee of the licensor has notice of the licence.

Facts of the Case Binions v Evans

  • D’s husband was employed by an estate and lived in a cottage owned by the estate, paying no rents or rates. The husband died in 1965 when D was 73 years old. She continued living in the cottage.
  • In March of 1968, the trustees of the estate entered into an agreement with D to provide a temporary home for her and agreed to permit her to reside in and occupy the cottage as a tenant at will of them free of rent for the remainder of her life or until determined as hereinafter provided.
  • Clause 2 provided that the tenancy “may be determined at any time” by the defendant giving to the trustees no less than four weeks’ notice in writing.
  • By clause 3, D undertook to keep the cottage in good condition and repair and not to re assign or sublet or part with possessions of the cottage or any part thereof and… upon ceasing personally to liv there, to give vacant possession to the trustees.
  • By clause 5, it was agreed that the tenancy shall unless previously determined forthwith determine on the death of the defendant.
  • In Ma of 1970, the trustees agreed to sell the cottage to the claimants and they gave them a copy of the agreement and inserted a special clause in the contract for sale to protect D; s occupation.
  • As a result of the provision, the C’s paid a reduced price.
  • On February 11th, 1971, the claimants gave D notice to quit on MRCH 17th.
  • They applied to the county court seeking possession claiming that D was a tenant at will and as the tenancy had been determined she was a trespasser.
  • The judge decided that the claimants held the cottage on trust to permit D to reside there during her life or as long as she wished.
  • The claimants appealed.

Issues in Binions v Evans 1972 Ch 359

  • The issues in this case concern whether C could assert her contractual licence to remain on the land against the defendants who were not party to that licence.

Held by Court of Appeal

  •  Appeal dismissed.

Lord Denning MR

  • The appeal was dismissed in that the words “tenancy at will” in the agreement were inconsistent with the terms “for the remainder of her life or until determined as hereinafter provided” and to provide a “temporary home” for D did not create a tenancy at will.

Stephenson L.JJ

  • “I prefer to regard the defendant as a tenant for life and not a licensee.  Again, I need not express, and prefer to follow Sir Raymond Evershed M.R. in Foster v. Robinson [1951] 1 K.B. 149, 156 and Somervell L.J. in Errington v. Errington and Woods [1952] 1 K.B. 290, 293 in not expressing, a final view about the alternative possibility that the defendant became a ten­ ant at will with a promise that the tenancy at will would not be determined.
  • The introduction of the words “as tenant at will of them ” and the old doctrine set out in Coke on Littleton, 55A, that a tenancy at will expressed to be at the will of one party only is by implication of law to be at the will of the other party also create a difficulty in the defendant’s way; but all the rest of the document is inconsistent with the defendant being a tenant at the will of her landlords. If those six words are inconsistent with the rest of the document, I agree that we should disregard them. If they make the document ambiguous, then any ambiguity in the language of the agreement resulting from the attempt of the landlords’ lawyers to have the best of different worlds ought clearly to be resolved against those who drew up the agreement and put it forward. To give it the meaning for which Mr. Pugh persuasively contends would be to turn it into a trap for the defendant. The successors in title to the owners who put forward this agreement took the cottage subject to the agreement and ought to be in no better position to turn her out than their predecessors who agreed not to.
  • I am happy to find that the law is what it ought to be and to agree that this appeal cannot succeed “p. 14 pp. B-E.

Significance of Binions v. Evans

Binions v. Evans (1972) is a landmark case in the realm of property law, particularly concerning the doctrine of proprietary estoppel. This case significantly advanced the legal understanding of when and how an individual might acquire rights over property based on the assurances of the property owner, even without formal legal title. Here’s how this case has influenced subsequent legal developments:

  1. Crabb v. Arun District Council (1976): Following Binions, Crabb further elaborated the application of proprietary estoppel, emphasizing that an individual could rely on clear assurances to their detriment with the expectation that rights would be granted, reinforcing the principles established in Binions.
  2. Gillett v. Holt (2000): This case explored the depth of the relationship between the parties involved and the nature of the assurances given, which could establish a claim of proprietary estoppel. Gillett v. Holt built upon the Binions decision by detailing the factors that influence the court’s decision, such as the claimant’s reliance on promises and the extent of the detriment suffered.
  3. Thorner v. Major (2009): This more recent case demonstrated the lasting impact of Binions by applying its principles to a dispute involving farmland. The case highlighted that even in the absence of a written agreement, longstanding assurances and the claimant’s significant contributions to the farm could fulfill the requirements for proprietary estoppel.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

How does Binions v. Evans influence the interpretation of verbal versus written assurances in proprietary estoppel claims?

Binions v. Evans established that verbal assurances can be as binding as written ones under proprietary estoppel, provided they are clear and have been relied upon to the claimant’s detriment. This principle was further clarified in Jennings v. Rice (2002), where the court determined that the nature of the assurance (verbal or written) matters less than the claimant’s reliance on it and the resulting detriment. The court in Jennings underscored that the assurance must be sufficiently clear and unequivocal, whether conveyed verbally or in writing, for proprietary estoppel to apply.

What are the potential limits to the application of proprietary estoppel as demonstrated in Binions v. Evans?

The case of Binions v. Evans delineates several limits to proprietary estoppel, primarily that the claimant must show a significant detriment in reliance on the landowner’s assurances. Further limits were explored in Davies v. Davies (2016), which emphasized that the detriment must be substantial and that the estoppel must not grant more than is necessary to prevent the detriment. Additionally, proprietary estoppel cannot override statutory requirements or the rights of third parties, highlighting that estoppel is fundamentally an equitable remedy, dependent on the court’s discretion.

Are there notable cases where Binions v. Evans has been applied to non-traditional forms of property, such as intellectual property or digital assets?

While Binions v. Evans primarily addresses real property, its principles have been cautiously approached in cases involving non-traditional property. For instance, in Green v. Ireland (2009), the High Court considered proprietary estoppel in the context of intellectual property, though it noted the complexity of applying such doctrines outside traditional property disputes. However, there has been limited application to digital assets, as these typically involve more complex legal considerations related to ownership and transfer rights, indicating a need for specific legislative frameworks to address these modern asset types comprehensively.