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Willmott v Barber (1880)


  • Barber, the lessee of some land, purported to grant a sub-lease to Willmott, in breach of covenant
  • Willmott, the purported sub-lessee, in reliance on an option to purchase Barber’s head lease (interest), laid out the foundations for a timber yard
  • Barber’s lessor, the landowner, did nothing to stop Willmott from laying out foundations, and purported to terminate Willmott’s (and Barber’s) leases


  • Could Willmott, by way of declaration for specific performance, be allowed to exercise his option, irrespective of the tenancy terminations?


  • No


  • A court would not force a defendant (Barber) to act in breach of covenant
  • There are 5 ingredients for proprietary estoppel:
    1. The claimant must have made a mistake as to his legal rights
    2. The claimant must have performed acts in reliance on this mistake
    3. The defendant must know of the existence of his own right (which is inconsistent with the claimant’s mistake)
    4. The defendant must know of the claimant’s mistake
    5. The defendant must have encouraged the claimant’s mistake or abstained from asserting his legal rights
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