The Learning & Resource Section

Legal and Equitable Rights in Land

Legal and Equitable Rights in Land:

There are a wide range of property rights which can exist with respect to land. Most of these property rights are recognised by Common Law. Property rights that are recognised by the Common Law are classified as ‘legal estates’ or ‘legal interests’. However, as Common Law grew, it was clear that it was limited in its remedies as it was rigid and inflexible. Eventually, Courts of Chancery were set up in order to deal with petitions based on the merits of each particular case. This allowed for cases to be decided based on principles of fairness and justice. These rights became known as ‘equitable rights or interests’. In land law, it is the common law that only recognises legal title—any other rights are not recognised. The role of equity was therefore introduced in order to recognise the equitable rights of owners and third parties. The Law of Property Act of 1925 sets out proprietary rights that are recognised by common law, i.e. the legal rights of an owner—anything that is not stated in section 1 of the Act remain as equitable rights and are recognised and enforced by equity. These rights include beneficial interests under a trust of land, restrictive covenants, estoppel rights and estate contracts. The distinction between the two is important as there are consequences that flow from whether the property right is ‘legal’ or ‘equitable’.

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