Victory at trial for Hayley Bundey in a complex TOLATA claim
Hayley Bundey, a solicitor in our specialist inheritance disputes team, has won an emphatic victory at the London County Court in a complex TOLATA claim.
The legal action was brought under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act (TOLATA). Our client was a man who had been in a long-term relationship with his ex-partner for 17 years. During that time they found a house together in North London to make their home. Because neither of them could raise a mortgage his partner’s parents purchased the property in their name. Our client said it had always been agreed that the net proceeds from the eventual sale of the property would be split 50/50 between him and his ex-partner; a promise confirmed by his partner’s father.
The couple lived together in the property for many years, sharing the bills and income received from lodgers. When their relationship eventually broke down our client even remained living amicably in the property with his ex-partner for over a year, until it was agreed he would move into a caravan on a plot of land they jointly owned in France. In return, his partner signed documents confirming his 50% interest in the London property and agreed to provide him with the income from the lodger until the property was sold and he could receive his share.
The move to France was extremely difficult for our client due to the language barrier, his age and difficulty in obtaining work. He was solely dependant upon the lodger’s income to get by, but didn’t insist on realising his share of the property, for the sake of his ex-partner. Unfortunately she then reneged on the agreement to pay the income from the lodger to him. In evidence presented to the court it was subsequently established that this coincided with her discovering our client had formed a new relationship. Her actions left our client financially destitute, particularly as he was unable to claim benefits in France. This resulted in him becoming emaciated due to his inability to even afford food.
He had no choice but to seek legal advice, but when he did so he was shocked to discover that not only was his ex-partner going back on her agreement to pay him the income from the lodger, but was also saying he wasn’t entitled to a share of the London property. The dispute became bitter and personal when she claimed she had only signed the documents relating to his share under duress and made extremely unpleasant allegations about his character as an explanation for why she signed them.
We advised him to make a TOLATA claim and agreed to work on a no win, no fee basis. We made numerous attempts to negotiate an out of court settlement with our client’s ex-partner but she refused to cooperate and wouldn’t even take part in mediation. Undaunted, Hayley therefore meticulously prepared the case for a contested trial.
The ex-partner claimed that she would be seeking to “break new ground” with her defence to his TOLATA claim, seeking to set a form of precedent in civil law analogous to recent criminal case law surrounding coercive control. However, the trial judge at the London County Court was not prepared to entertain such arguments.
Our client won his TOLATA claim on all findings of fact. His ex-partner was found to have lied on oath about being pressured into signing the documents, her allegations concerning our client’s character and her reasons for stopping the payments from the lodger. The judge also concluded that her father lied on oath when he denied that a promise had been made about our client’s entitlement to a share of the property.
Accordingly, our client was awarded his 50% of the net proceeds of sale of the property, plus his legal costs. His ex-partner was ordered to pay a larger share of the legal costs than would otherwise have been the case because she refused to mediate or accept our client’s offers to settle.
At a subsequent hearing the judge rejected her submissions that she needed a year to sell the house, ordering it to be marketed for sale immediately. He also specified that our client (through ourselves) should have conduct of the sale to make sure there were no delays.
The case was complicated by the fact that the property had been transferred by the parents into a discretionary trust for tax-saving purposes. Some years later it was transferred out of trust into his ex-partner’s sole name. This raised some complex legal issues at trial about the extent to which a constructive trust could apply in such circumstances as the documents were signed by the ex-partner while the property was held on trust, when she was not a vested beneficiary of an interest.