Probing into the lives of unmarried tenants may be necessary to decipher succession cases, says Sarah Pearson
The Court of Appeal has ruled, in the case of Amicus Horizon v estate of Judy Mabbott and Anthony Brand, that an unmarried couple who lived together for 10 years, had not done so as husband and wife. Consequently, there was no right of succession.
Ms Mabbott had been the sole assured tenant of a flat for 12 years, until her death. She’d lived there with her daughter, and for the last decade of her life, Mr Brand also lived there. On her death, Amicus sought possession of the flat, but Mr Brand claimed he had succeeded to the tenancy.
The judge found that, although the couple had a loving and lasting relationship, Ms Mabbott had been keen to preserve her independence. Mr Brand appealed, claiming the judge had applied a subjective, rather than objective, test when deciding if they had lived as husband and wife and had placed too much weight on Ms Mabbott’s desire to remain independent. Mr Brand admitted during cross-examination that Ms Mabbott, from the start of their relationship, had wanted to preserve her independence because of ‘past experiences’ and there was no display of a lifetime commitment.
The Court of Appeal upheld the decision, because, although outwardly the couple gave the impression they had an important and lasting relationship, Ms Mabbott could not commit to Mr Brand in a way characterised by a husband and wife relationship. They had also claimed benefits separately.
This decision asserts that cohabitees are not necessarily living as husband and wife and this is for the would-be successor to prove. The question for social landlords is how much they may need to probe into the lives of unmarried joint tenants to establish whether they had been living together as husband and wife.
Sarah Pearson is an associate at Blake Lapthorn email@example.com