Neo Hui Ling v Ang Ah Sew

Judgment Date23 March 2012
Date23 March 2012
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No.488 of 2010/C
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Neo Hui Ling
Ang Ah Sew

Lai Siu Chiu J

Originating Summons No.488 of 2010/C

High Court

Equity—Proprietary estoppel—Landowner represented to claimant that claimant would ‘not need to worry about having a roof over her head’—Claimant allegedly relying on representation to her detriment by agreeing to sell previous property held in parties' joint names in order to purchase property in question in joint names—Claimant subsequently evicted from property in question—Whether landowner's statement constituted clear and unequivocal representation—Whether claimant suffered detriment as result of agreeing to sell previous property

Trusts—Resulting trusts—Presumed resulting trusts—Property conveyed into joint names with intention that rule of survivorship should apply—Whether operation of rule of survivorship sufficed to rebut presumption of resulting trust

The parties were formerly legal joint tenants of a house (‘the Property’); and the plaintiff was the daughter of the defendant, who was her mother. The plaintiff had previously applied for the joint tenancy to be severed and for the Property to be sold. This was granted on 29 July 2010. The net sale proceeds were paid to the plaintiff, subject to 50% thereof being held by the plaintiff's solicitors as stakeholders pending further orders from the court on the parties' respective equitable interests in the Property. Those orders were the subject of the present action.

The defendant claimed entitlement to 50% of the sale proceeds of the Property on the basis that the parties had intended to hold the Property as equitable joint tenants; and alternatively claimed entitlement to an equity in the Property on the basis of proprietary estoppel, which remedy was at the court's discretion.

The parties and two of the defendant's three other daughters resided at the Property until the plaintiff sold the Property and applied to evict them all. Prior to living at the Property, the defendant and all four of her daughters including the plaintiff previously resided in a flat in Bishan. The parties held that flat as joint tenants, and the defendant consented to its sale in order that the Property could be purchased.

The plaintiff denied the alleged equitable joint tenancy of the Property. The plaintiff contended she had contributed solely to the purchase price of the Property; and that the parties held the sale proceeds on a resulting trust for the plaintiff. The defendant did not dispute the plaintiff's sole contribution but claimed that the plaintiff had arranged for the Property to be conveyed into their joint names intending that the rule of survivorship would pass the Property to the defendant should the plaintiff predecease the defendant. Accordingly, that was evidence of the parties' intention that the Property was to be held by them as equitable joint tenants; which intention would rebut the presumption of a resulting trust.

In respect of her claim in proprietary estoppel, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff had represented to her several times that the defendant ‘need not worry about having a roof over her head’. In reliance on those representations, the defendant had agreed to sell the Bishan flat and move into the Property with the plaintiff. The defendant alleged that she had suffered detriment as a result since she had no roof over her head after being evicted from the Property.

Held, dismissing the defendant's claim to a share of the sale proceeds of the Property:

(1) Where the parties were joint tenants at law, and there were also clear indications that the parties were intended to hold as equitable joint tenants; then equity would follow the law. However, there were no such clear indications in this case: at [14] and [15].

(2) Where the parties had made unequal contributions to the purchase price of the property, equity would presume that the parties held the property as beneficial tenants in common in shares proportionate to their contributions to the acquisition of the property. Here, the plaintiff had contributed 100% of the purchase price.Prima facie, the defendant's share of the sale proceeds of the Property would be zero: at [14] to [19].

(3) Only ‘direct’ contributions to the purchase price would be relevant, see Lau Siew Kim v Yeo Guan Chye Terence[2008] 2 SLR (R) 108. The defendant claimed to have made contributions to the outgoings of, and the furniture in the Property. However, those did not count as contributions to the purchase price of the Property: at [17] and [18].

(4) The manner by which the parties held the Property in proportionate shares was the presumed intention resulting trust. Such a trust arises where there is a voluntary inter vivos transfer of property to a recipient, where the intention behind the transfer was unclear. A legal presumption would apply as to the transferor's intention, which would give rise to the resulting trust: at [20], [22], [25]and [26].

(5) The parties commonly intended that if the plaintiff were to predecease the defendant, the Property should pass to the defendant. In other words, the rule of survivorship was intended to apply. However, this would not suffice to rebut the presumption of a resulting trust. The intended consequences of the rule of survivorship operate after the death of one tenant, and shed no light on the joint tenants' intentions as to their beneficial interests in property while both were alive. The rule of survivorship only affected the remainder in the property and did not affect the life interest: at [28] to [42].

(6) Unconscionability was the essence of the inquiry on proprietary estoppel, and the requirements of the doctrine were directed at establishing that unconscionability, see Hong Leong Singapore Finance Ltd v United Overseas Bank Ltd[2007] 1 SLR (R) 292. This had to be so because proprietary estoppel created property rights in the claimant where there were none, and destroyed existing property rights in the landowner: at [48] to [50].

(7) The landowner's representations had to relate to the claimant receiving some interest in land; and had to be clear and unequivocal, the assessment of which had to be conducted from the claimant's point of view. This was an objective question considered in the particular context of the case, and asked what the reasonable meaning of the representations made by the landowner to the claimant was, from the claimant's viewpoint: at [54] and [55].

(8) The most that was reasonable for the defendant to interpret of the plaintiff's representations was that the plaintiff would provide her with accommodation for the foreseeable future. The question of whether the defendant had an equity that would entitle her to a monthly payment from the plaintiff for the cost of accommodation thus fell into the realm of promissory estoppel: at [66] to [68].

(9) To determine if there was detrimental reliance, the court would have to compare the defendant's position as it was before she relied on her belief, and juxtapose that with her position consequential on that reliance. On that basis, the defendant's position after reliance was not more secure than it was before her reliance: at [74] to [78].

(10) The question of whether the defendant suffered detriment was closely related to the question of whether the plaintiff had acted unconscionably. It was because a claimant would suffer detriment that would make it unconscionable for a landowner to insist on his strict legal rights. The plaintiff had previously offered the defendant alternative accommodation on reasonable terms which the defendant rejected. In the circumstances it could not be said that the plaintiff was acting unconscionably: at [79] to [82].

Basham, deceased, Re [1986] 1 WLR 1498 (refd)

Bennet v Bennet (1879) 10 Ch D 474 (refd)

Cobbe v Yeoman's Row Management Ltd [2008] 1 WLR 1752 (folld)

Crabb v Arun District Council [1976] Ch 179 (folld)

Gillett v Holt [2001] Ch 210 (folld)

Greasley v Cooke [1980] 1 WLR 1306 (refd)

Hong Leong Singapore Finance Ltd v United Overseas Bank Ltd [2007] 1 SLR (R) 292; [2007] 1 SLR 292 (folld)

Lau Siew Kim v Yeo Guan Chye Terence [2008] 2 SLR (R) 108; [2008] 2 SLR 108 (folld)

Mariam Khatoon bte Rahim Khan v Mohamed Saleh [1999] SGHC 68 (folld)

Nelson v Nelson (1995) 184 CLR 538 (refd)

Neo Hui Ling v Ang Ah Sew [2010] SGHC 328 (refd)

Thorner v Major [2009] 1 WLR 776 (folld)

Maintenance of Parents Act (Cap 167 B, 1996 Rev Ed)

Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed) s 18

Lisa Sam Hui Min (Lisa Sam & Company) for the plaintiff

Tan Siah Yong (Com Law LLC) for the defendant.

Lai Siu Chiu J

1 This unfortunate case was the culmination of much unhappiness between a daughter and her mother. Neo Hui Ling (‘the plaintiff’) brought this action against her mother Ang Ah Sew (‘the defendant’) in respect of a house located at 55 Jalan Chengam, Singapore 578338 (‘the Property’). The Property was held in the joint names of the parties, and the plaintiff applied for an order that the joint tenancy be severed and that the Property be sold. I granted the application on 29 July 2010, and also ordered that the net proceeds of the sale be paid to the plaintiff, subject to 50% thereof being held by the plaintiff's solicitors as stakeholders, pending further orders from the court regarding the parties' respective interests in the Property.

2 The present proceedings before me were to determine the extent of the parties' interests in the Property. It should be noted that the defendant was legally aided in these proceedings. On 2 November 2011, after the parties had been cross-examined on their affidavits of evidence-in-chief (‘AEIC’) which were filed pursuant to an order of court dated 24 May 2011, I ordered that the defendant's claim to 50% of the sales proceeds be dismissed and that the sum held by the plaintiff's solicitors be released to the plaintiff. In other...

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