Excuses considered insufficient to prove interest in a property - Curran v Collins Image

Excuses considered insufficient to prove interest in a property - Curran v Collins

Posted: 28/05/2015

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the claim of Pamela Curran to an interest in property registered in the name of her childhood sweetheart and co-habitee, Brian Collins. Ms Curran claimed that an “excuse” used by Mr Collins as to why his property should not be put into joint names was evidence of a common intention that they should jointly benefit from the property. Ms Curran claimed that she had relied on that to her detriment, so as to give her the right to benefit from the property. 

Ms Curran and Mr Collins met in 1977 and were in a relationship until 2010. In 1986 Mr Collins purchased a property in Feltham. That property was registered in Mr Collins’ sole name and at the time he told Ms Curran that this was because if her name was on the title there would have to be two life insurance policies which would be too expensive. In 2007 Mr Collins sold the Feltham property and purchased a new house with a dog kennels business attached. Again, that property was registered in Mr Collins' sole name. Ms Curran made no direct financial contribution to the properties, although she claimed that she had contributed to household expenses.

The court found that Mr Collins had made it clear to Ms Curran that the property and business belonged to him alone. This justified a finding that there had been no common intention between Ms Curran and Mr Collins that Ms Curran should have an interest in the property or business. Furthermore, the court found that Ms Curran had not really worked in the business and her assets had not been pooled with those of Mr Collins, so she was unable to prove any financial contribution or detriment.

The Court of Appeal also upheld the trial judge’s finding that Mr Collins' “excuse” for not putting Ms Curran’s name on the Feltham property was made to avoid embarrassment, did not amount to a representation that Ms Curran should have a share in the property and had not been relied on by Ms Curran to her detriment.

Although Ms Curran’s claim was unsuccessful, the Court of Appeal did refer to other cases in which giving a “specious excuse” for not adding a person’s name to a property title has resulted in the inference of a constructive trust. For example, where a property was purchased as a family home and a positive representation was made that it would be held in joint names but for the excuse that the claimant was too young to be named on the title. However, Lewison LJ explained that such cases are “fact-sensitive”.

This judgment from the Court of Appeal highlights that where there is a dispute between non-married co-habitees, the outcome will turn on the specific facts of each case. Wherever possible co-habitees should seek to formalise arrangements between each other, particularly with regard to interests in property, because there can be no certainty about how a court would view the arrangement given that each case is decided on its own facts.

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