This case involved a couple who separated in 2005.
The appeal was heard in October this year. Originally the boyfriend Stephen Mark Condappa (Stephen) had purchased a property in October 1986 with a previous girlfriend and he had bought out her share when their relationship ended.
He then began a relationship with another girlfriend and has a child with her. She lived at the property from 1989 to 1990. She claimed a beneficial interest and managed to have him removed from the property but did not succeed in her claim. He regained possession of his house in September 1992.
He knew the claimant Yvonne Slater (Yvonne) since they were teenagers. She was married and divorced and she had a council flat which Stephen moved into when he was excluded from his house.
Not having learnt his lesson, Yvonne then moved into the property in 1994 with her daughter.
The couple then ran a computer business together. Yvonne never gave up her council tenancy, despite living full time at Steven’s property. This was a key fact in the case. She lied to the council to retain the flat and filed a witness statement claiming it was her main residence and successfully defended a possession order. She also claimed she lived there in order to receive income support and housing benefit. This despite her running a company which was mainly trading in cash and never declared to the Inland Revenue.
Their relationship ended in January 2005 and she moved out of the property
The relationship broke down because Steven had a relationship with another woman which had been going on since 1999.
Yvonne admitted to her dishonesty but claimed that Stephen was also dishonest, having been unfaithful throughout the relationship and involved in the cash business. He also had his mother’s property transferred to him to enable her to obtain legal aid.
Yvonne was not represented at the hearing and expected the court to believe that Steven had promised her a 50% share of the property. He was the sole legal owner and she had no legal claim but was seeking a beneficial claim based on common intention.
The judge refused to believe her stating her claim was fanciful. He accepted that Steven was dishonest but her level of dishonesty was far worse he regarded her as “habitually dishonest”.
Paragraph 65 of his judgement:
“I have also, of course had the opportunity of assessing both the Claimant and the Defendant whilst giving evidence and one thing which struck me about the Claimant was how she supposedly admitted her various deceits and perjuries and so on, but in so doing looked me straight in the eye without a flicker of regret, remorse or contrition about what she had done done or, indeed, of what she was still doing. In my view, she so-called came clean to this court but has not come clean to anybody else or any other agencies who, in fact, suffered a loss, and the reason she has done so to this court is because it suits her to do so to me but it does not suit her in respect of any other of these matters”.
There was also an issue about potential forged letters from a previous employer to increase a personal injury claim of Yvonne’s. The judge stated that her dishonesty did not mean she was lying about the agreed share in the property but it meant he had to be ultra-cautious about her evidence.
Yvonne had to establish an agreement which she had relied on to her detriment. She had not done so. Neither had she suffered the loss as her contribution of the cash from the computer company was used to supplement family life not meet mortgage payments and other expenses relating to the property.
In order to prove an interest in a property owned by one party the other party has to show that there was an agreement or a common decision, or a promise or some other such oral declaration that the property will although legally held in one party’s sole name was held for the benefit of both beneficially. This is a difficult hurdle to jump. Typically there will be no written agreement and a verbal agreement is down to the believability of the witnesses. Where both are dishonest and evidence is shown to prove their dishonesty against other parties and Government Agencies the claimant cannot expect the court to support such a claim.
The legal terminology is come to equity with clean hands.
It is wholly possible that what Yvonne was claiming was true. She stated that he offered her a share which the judge regarded as implausible however couples do act in implausible ways. She also stated that he reiterated his promise in order to try to reignite the relationship once his adultery had been discovered. She failed because she was not a believable witness.
This case highlights how different cohabitation law is to matrimonial law. If they were married she would have had a claim of at least 50% of the property. The court could have disregarded any gain prior to the relationship and made an award based upon her need.
Unfortunately many people believe that if they cohabit they acquire common law rights. They do not. This problem will become worse in the future as more people are choosing to cohabit.