Central London Property Trust v High Trees House (1947) Part payment of a debt - the position in equity


In September 1937, the claimants let a block of flats in London to the defendants for a term of 99 years at a rent of £2,500 a year. In 1940, owing to the wartime conditions and bombing raids (p. 163) over London, only a few of the flats were actually let to tenants, and it became apparent that the defendants would not be able to pay the rent under the main lease. Following discussions, the claimants agreed to reduce the rent from £2,500 to £1,250, and thereafter the defendants paid the reduced rent. By the beginning of 1945, all of the flats were let, but the defendants continued to pay the reduced rent. In September 1945, the claimants wrote to the defendants claiming rent at the rate of £2,500 a year and brought an action claiming the full rent for the last two quarters of 1945.

Held: Since the claimants knew that their promise would be acted upon and it had been acted upon, it was enforceable despite the absence of consideration while the conditions giving rise to it continued to exist—but since they had ceased to do so in 1945, the claimants were entitled to claim the full rent from that time.

DENNING J: If I were to consider this matter without regard to recent developments in the law, there is no doubt that had the plaintiffs claimed it, they would have been entitled to recover ground rent at the rate of 2,500/. a year from the beginning of the term, since the lease under which it was payable was a lease under seal which, according to the old common law, could not be varied by an agreement by parol (whether in writing or not), but only by deed. Equity, however stepped in, and said that if there has been a variation of a deed by a simple contract (which in the case of a lease required to be in writing would have to be evidenced by writing), the courts may give effect to it ... That equitable doctrine, however, could hardly apply in the present case because the variation here might be said to have been made without consideration. With regard to estoppel, the representation made in relation to reducing the rent, was not a representation of an existing fact. It was a representation, in effect, as to the future, namely, that payment of the rent would not be enforced at the full rate but only at the reduced rate. Such a representation would not give rise to an estoppel, because, as was said in Jorden v Money (1854) 5 HL 185, 10 ER 868, a representation as to the future must be embodied as a contract or be nothing.

But what is the position in view of developments in the law in recent years? The law has not been standing still since Jorden v Money. There has been a series of decisions over the last fifty years which, although they are said to be cases of estoppel


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