Contracts for the sale or disposition of land

2 January 2014

A contract for the sale or other disposition of an interest in land can only be made in writing and by incorporating all the terms which the parties have expressly agreed in one document, or where contracts are exchanged, in each. These are the requirements of Section 2(1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. This rule was put into question in the recent case of Yeates and another v Line and another [2012] All ER (D) 140 (Nov).

The Yeates case is one of adverse possession. The appellants in the case applied to the Chief Land Registrar to be registered as proprietors of a small strip of land, claiming they had acquired title by adverse possession. The respondents in the case objected to the adverse possession application and the dispute was referred to an adjudication hearing. It emerged at the hearing that the appellants and respondents met at the land in question to discuss the issue. It was decided between the parties before the hearing that the respondents would fence part of the land in question and leave the appellants in possession of a small portion of the land south of the fence. The adjudicator held that the appellants had acquired title to the strip of land by adverse possession, however because the oral compromise agreement between the parties was a legally binding contract the register would not be altered to reflect the change in title to the land.

The appellants appealed the adjudicators decision on the grounds that the compromise agreement was not a valid contract, as a contract for the sale or other disposition of land must be in writing by virtue of section 2(1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. The Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal.

The Court held that an agreement must be in writing under section 2(1) of the Act if it has a disposing purpose and more than a trivial amount of land is disposed. In this case the amount of land disposed was trivial and the purpose of the agreement was not to dispose of the land but to compromise on boundaries. As a result, although the agreement had a disposing effect, the Court held that the oral agreement between the parties was a valid contract.