Rent-Free Occupation for Life – The Law Will Enforce a Binding Promise


If you make a promise to someone who relies on it to their detriment, then it must be kept. The County Court powerfully made that point in coming to the aid of a woman whose son and daughter-in-law gave her their word that she could live in a property they owned, rent free and for the rest of her life.

The woman moved into a house that her son and daughter-in-law had recently purchased and that was next door to their own. There was no dispute that the couple promised her that she could occupy the house on a rent-free basis for life. She remained living there for about 10 years but, after her relationship with the couple broke down, she moved to a property owned by her daughter.

After she launched proceedings against the couple, the Court found it more likely than not that she had intended to return to the house in due course. Only having moved out temporarily, she remained in occupation of the property at all relevant times. The couple had probably convinced themselves that she had moved out permanently but were no doubt influenced by a strong desire to have it so.

The couple were, in effect, her landlords and, in taking possession of the house in her absence, they had deprived her of her right of occupation, contrary to Section 27 of the Housing Act 1988. Under that head, they were ordered to pay her £148,000 in damages, that sum representing the difference between the property’s value with vacant possession and its value with her in occupation of it for life.

In reliance on the couple’s promise, she had spent £73,000 on renovating and redecorating the house. Awarding her further compensation in that sum, the Court was satisfied that she would not have invested money in the property had she not been given a binding assurance that she could occupy it for life at no rent. The couple were, in total, ordered to pay her £221,000.

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