Proprietary estoppel
Produced in partnership with Nicholas Macklam of Radcliffe Chambers

The following Dispute Resolution practice note produced in partnership with Nicholas Macklam of Radcliffe Chambers provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Proprietary estoppel
  • Proprietary estoppel—what is it?
  • Proprietary estoppel—what do you need to establish?
  • The starting point—Fry J's five probanda in Willmott v Barber
  • Taylor Fashions—unconscionability is key
  • The current position
  • Proprietary estoppel—how to give effect to the equity—the Court of Appeal's decision in Davies v Davies
  • When might you rely on proprietary estoppel?

Proprietary estoppel

This Practice Note considers proprietary estoppel from a generic standpoint.

For industry specific guidance on proprietary estoppel, see Practice Notes:

  1. Estoppel and property law

  2. Mortgages by estoppel

Proprietary estoppel—what is it?

Unlike the other forms of estoppel (see Practice Note: Estoppel—what, when and how to plead) which cannot ordinarily found a cause of action, proprietary estoppel can. It is typically used where a party (B) seeks to assert a proprietary right to land belonging to another party (A) in circumstances where B has been lead to believe, by a promise, words or conduct and/or by acquiescence from A, that they (B) have or can expect to acquire an interest in the land.

The decisions in Ramsden v Dyson and Willmott v Barber provide an appropriate starting point for an understanding of the doctrine. Both were cases where the claimant sought to establish a proprietary interest in someone else's property on the basis that the claimant had spent money on the property in the belief that it was theirs and in circumstances where that belief had been encouraged by the true owner passively standing by without intervening (Ramsden v Dyson and Thornton (1866) LR 1 HL 129, not reported by LexisNexis®).

Cases of this nature can usefully be described as 'acquiescence' cases. See Fisher v Brooker, where Lord Neuberger said (page [805]) that:

‘The classic example of proprietary estoppel, standing

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