A man’s legal bid to be recognised as co-owner of a house has been dismissed by the High Court.
In Quaintance v Jones, the man had appealed a previous ruling giving his former partner all profits from the sale of the house, arguing that he had not relinquished his claim on the property.
The house in question was bought in 1999. The man and his former partner had lived together since 1992. It was registered in both of their names, despite him not contributing financially to the purchase.
The man only lived in the house a short time, estimated to be between six and 12 weeks, before the relationship broke down irreparably. He moved out shortly afterwards.
Following the breakup, the woman began to suffer from depression so severe that she was unable to work.
As a result, the mortgage fell into arrears and the house was eventually repossessed.
The woman had previously attempted to have the property transferred to her sole name but the building society did not believe she had the means to make the repayments.
When the house was sold, the woman received half of the proceeds while the remainder was held back pending the results of a court hearing.
Given the sequence of events, the original judge believed that the man “wished to have nothing further to do with [his former partner] or the house” and ruled his former partner should receive all of the profits from the sale.
Sitting in the High Court of Justice, His Honour Judge Waksman did not find the man’s arguments convincing. He cited the law, starting with Stack v Dowden and subsequently Kernott v Jones, which we have extensively considered on this blog. A post on this topic had the great honour of also appearing also on the Supreme Court blog.
“In paragraph 9 [of the earlier judgement, the judge] refers to the well-known case of Stack v Dowden, noting that the presumption was that equity should follow the law where there are joint legal owners, and that such a presumption would be displaced only where the facts were very unusual. He was not prepared to displace that presumption in the face of the unsigned declaration at the time of purchase. But in paragraph 11 he cited the subsequent case of Jones v Kernott and the well-known judgments of Lord Walker and Lady Hale, which I will recite:
“(1) The starting point is that equity follows the law and they are joint tenants both in law and in equity.
(2) That presumption can be displaced by showing (a) that the parties had a different common intention at the time when they acquired the home, or (b) that they later formed the common intention that their respective shares would change.
(3) Their common intention is to be deduced objectively from their conduct…
(4) In those cases where it is clear either (a) that the parties did not intend joint tenancy at the outset, or (b) had changed their original intention, but it is not possible to ascertain by direct evidence or by inference what their actual intention was as to the shares in which they would own the property, “the answer is that each is entitled to that share which the court considers fair having regard to the whole course of dealing…” …”the whole course of dealing…”should be given a broad meaning…”
But it is a whole course of dealing in relation to the property. And, importantly:
“Each case will turn on its own facts. Financial contributions are relevant but there are many other factors which may enable the court to decide what shares were either intended…or fair…”
He declared that as the woman could realistically still be living in the house had she not suffered from depression following the break up.
“[H]ad she done so, there is not a shred of evidence that [her ex-partner] would at any stage have come knocking on the door.”
Judge Waksman agreed with the original judge’s ruling at first instance and dismissed the man’s appeal.
“I find it quite impossible to say how the fair outcome is anything other than I have described. That, of course, is the outcome in substance which the [original] judge reached.”