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Analysis Of Singapore Land Law Case

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Introduction

The Republic of Singapore has now have a strong and much praised legal system, of which Land Law forms a critical part. Historically, Land Law originated from the Old English Common Law and the ‘Curia Regis’ or Kings Court. This means we have a system of law that has been handed down over several centuries with magistrates and judges presiding over procedural remedies rather than a set of statutes.

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Land law deals with the legal relationship between land and the owner of that land. It is possible for many different people to have competing claims to different interests in respect of the same piece of land.

Facts

John and Jane lived in an apartment which was solely registered in his name while Jane maintains the matrimonial home by doing house chores and minor repair works around the house. However, without Jane’s knowledge, John had mortgaged the apartment to the bank and when his business failed, John ran away without repaying the loan resulting the bank now seeking possession of the apartment and thus, evicting Jane in the process. With that information, we know that the Plaintiff is the Bank and the Defendant will be John who defaulted his mortgage agreement.

As for the eviction case which is the main issue that Jane is facing, the Bank is again will be the Plaintiff and Jane as the Defendant.

Advise

We would advise Jane to revolve around her rights in the eviction matter which are common sense and some points in the Law. We accepted there is a ‘Prima Facie’ for an eviction based on the breach of the mortgage contract and also the fact that the title deed is the strongest evidence in land ownership. However, we must also dive deeper into this case and investigate the area of Equitable Interest. Before doing so, we must be certain that if Jane could afford to pay off the bank and add her name into the title deed. This however, is most unlikely as it is not to our knowledge that Jane has any form of personal income and the facts have strong indications that John is to be the sole breadwinner. We also must highlight that the Bank would seek to protect their costs and financial interests with a forced sale of the said property. Although it is unknown how long the couple have been married to each other, it is however, very obvious that Jane had contributed to the property in an indirect way. We would have to convince the court to look beyond financial contributions and to award Jane a share in the matrimonial home. And well to convince the judge to make the Bank to take the property subject to Jane’s Equitable Interest. Having said that, we now have to prove Jane has an equitable interest in the said property. To prove this, we will have to look at a precedent case of Williams & Glyn’s Bank v Boland [1981] AC 487 House of Lords, in which Mr and Mrs Boland were living in their matrimonial home, which was mortgaged to the Bank without Mrs Boland’s knowledge, similarly like Jane’s current situation. Mr Boland also like John, ran away after his business had failed and defaulted the mortgage payments to the Bank. The Bank was also seeking possession of the matrimonial home of the Bolands to dispose of it and to take what is owed to them. However, Mrs Boland argued she had an ‘over-riding interest’ on the land as an actual occupier of the property.

It is known that as an occupier of the property, Mrs Boland had made substantial contributions to the purchase by maintaining the property throughout the duration of her stay there. Which concludes to us that Jane too, has made the same substantial contributions as Mrs Boland did and is deemed to have an equitable interest, an interest which is not documented in the title deed. The reference case proves to be an excellent precedent case for Jane to argue for a claim against the Bank for ordering her eviction. In her further statement, Jane claims that John has told her that the apartment was as much hers as it was his and that she need not worry about the future. With that statement, we’ve come to the area of spousal rights and the Laws of Estoppel as the promise which was made by John has come to an agreement with a pattern of behaviour from any couple like John and Jane in their spousal roles. To further argue her claims, we could also refer to the case of Eves v Eves [1975] 1 WLR 1338 Court of Appeal which similar to John, the husband, Mr Eve did not include his wife’s name in the title deed upon purchasing the property and caused a rise to constructive trust or a proprietary estoppel.

This case law is too, similar to Jane’s position as she was promised an equal share of the apartment but was not included in the title deed and the husband also had mortgage the property without his wife’s knowledge. We could help Jane to further argue that John always had a hidden agenda in using the matrimonial home as a back-up plan for his business which further explains why he had never included his wife’s name in the title deed thus denying her of the title ownership. This further explain the definition of constructive trust which is an equitable remedy resembling a trust (implied trust) imposed by a court to benefit a party that has been wrongfully deprived of its rights due to either a person obtaining or holding a legal property right which they should not possess due to unjust enrichment or intrusion, or due to a breach of fiduciary duty. Such actions from John, could help us further prove that Jane was a victim who has zero knowledge of John’s intentions thus preventing her from getting evicted or delay the eviction process in which we can negotiate with the Bank to settle to a non-forced sale, meaning Jane could sell the property to the open market for a fairer or even higher price.

To further elevate Jane’s position in this case, we can refer to a case from a propriety estoppel point of view, Yaxley v Gotts & Anor [1999] EWCA Civ 3006 Court of Appeals, which shows us in an absence of a contract or a title deed, it was proven that a verbal contract is sufficient to prove ownership or a share of a property. Yaxley, a builder who was promised a share of a building in return for renovating and managing it. However, the Defendant, Gotts defaulted the verbal agreement between the two of them and was successfully sued by the Plaintiff, Yaxley. The Court was convinced that Yaxley would not have continued to renovate or manage the said property if he wasn’t promised a share of the property which is similar to Jane’s role in maintaining the matrimonial home through housework. Thus we can safely argue that Jane was carrying out one of her roles as a wife and also who relied heavily on the promise that John made to her. Based on these precedent cases and arguments, we can strongly believe that Jane has a strong position in winning this case.

If Jane had given her consent to the mortgage, we would have to consider the following factors; did she fully understood the terms and conditions upon giving consent? Was she under undue influence or duress? Such as Barclays Bank v Coleman (2000). Which shows for a wife to challenge a mortgage on the grounds that it had been procured by her husband’s presumed undue influence over her, of which the mortgagee had notice, she must demonstrate that the charge was manifestly disadvantageous to her. If she was indeed under duress or undue influence, we would have to convince the court accordingly and get the agreement void. However, this will be time consuming and a risky position for Jane as John may have a separate agreement with one another to hold Jane solely liable for all costs which would include both the Bank’s and John’s legal fees. We could take a look at Allcard v Skinner (1887) 36 Ch D 145 where the Court was convinced that although the plaintiff’s gifts were voidable because the Plaintiff had made gifts of money and stock to the Defendant without any independent advise but it was because of undue influence brought to bear upon the Plaintiff through the training she had received, she was disentitled to recover because of her conduct and delay.

Was there a misrepresentation or did Jane fully understood when she signed the agreement? We could use this as an argument as Jane had no one to explain to her the terms and conditions of the agreement let alone the consequences of it and she relies heavily on John’s intentions and trusts that he only has her best interests. However, if we refer to the case of Nottingham Brick & Tile Co v Butler (1889) 16 QBD 778, the Bank may counter claim that Jane did not bother to ask or read the agreement and with her signature on the said document and it is legally binding. And again, John and the Bank may have a separate agreement with one another in order to make Jane solely liable for the all of the costs, including legal fees for both the Bank and John. It would once again be time consuming and terribly difficult to prove otherwise and which would end in Jane unable to hold on to her property.

Conclusion

We can safely conclude that Jane has a strong position against the Bank’s intentions of possessing the property and evicting her out based on the facts that has been highlighted above. We would also advise her not to seek a permanent claim on the property to seek a reasonable time period to sell it at a possibly fair or even higher price in the open market, split the profits of the property to 50%, file a writ of divorce from John, move on and put this case behind her. Even though Jane has her rights to the property questioned, the Bank still has the right to the property as well due to the breach of mortgage. Jane and the Bank could also come to a mutual agreement where the Bank does take possession of the property without evicting Jane. In doing so, the Bank would become Jane’s landlord and Jane would become a merely tenant in her own property. However, in doing so, Jane has to pay rent in order to continue living there. This conclusion however, is not the most advantageous situation for Jane but it does guarantee her a roof over her head for as long as the lease is ongoing, giving her more time to plan her next step to move forward. Thus proving a Contractual Licence is not beneficial for Jane as it offers a shorter duration of stay in her matrimonial home and is more ideal if the said property is a hotel or a motel. The fair and equitable path would be granting Jane a chance to sell the property at a fair price in order to recoup the losses occurred by the Bank and herself.

15 July 2020

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