Which case won?

The case for the parents
  • When we met with our daughter at the family home in June 2013, she proposed that she should purchase the property. She explicitly promised us that if she did so, we would be able to reside there until we died.
  • We built the family home with our own hands, raised our five daughters there, and have lived there for over 30 years. When we agreed to this arrangement with our daughter, we were in our late sixties and one of us had a heart condition. Clearly, staying in the family home was a top priority for us and our daughter knew that. That’s why she made the promise that she made.
  • Our daughter re-affirmed her promise to us in a meeting with our conveyancer in July 2013. The conveyancer acted for both us and our daughter, and she undertook to draw up a document to the effect that we could stay in the home for the rest of our lives. We do not know why she never followed through with this.
  • Although the promise made by our daughter was not documented in writing, our daughter’s promise amounted to a contractual agreement which we are legally entitled to enforce.
  • Even if the court concludes that the promise is not contractual in nature, our daughter’s conduct in making the promise and allowing us to live there with her for the last five years, led us to believe that we could reside there for life. Under the law of proprietary estoppel, our daughter is therefore estopped (or prevented) from denying this promise to our detriment.
  • The court should order that we are entitled to live at the property for the remainder of our lives.
The case for the daughter
  • My parents are correct that when we met in June 2013, we discussed the family home. However, I did not propose that I should purchase my parents’ property. My father did. During that conversation, we did explore the possibility of them residing in the house for the rest of their lives if I purchased the property. However, this was our first conversation on the subject and it was exploratory in nature only.
  • I never made a promise to my parents, contractual or otherwise, that they could live in the house for life. In fact, prior to signing the contract for sale I was very explicit that I would not agree to a lifetime arrangement. I told them we would “see how it goes”. My father had quite a chequered career as a builder, and at the time of this transaction, I did not fully trust him. So, I wasn’t prepared to agree to him and my mother living with me until they died, which could be many years.
  • Even the draft licence agreement that the conveyancer prepared for my parents to sign made it clear that there was no lifetime arrangement on the table. Rather, it stipulated that my parents could reside in the home for a year and then month to month after that.
  • If, nevertheless, the court concludes that I did promise my parents a life arrangement, such a promise would not be contractually binding, since agreements relating to land must be in writing. There was no written agreement.
  • As for proprietary estoppel, even if the court concludes that I am prevented from denying making a promise, the court has discretion as to whether to grant relief to my parents. The court should exercise that discretion in my favour, since to do otherwise would perpetuate a situation that has become untenable.
  • My father is openly hostile to my husband and children. He calls my husband humiliating nicknames and has broken into my son’s shed and destroyed his artwork. The police have been called to our home on numerous occasions. Recently my father was convicted of assault after an altercation with my husband in which he sprayed my husband with a garden hose.
  • My parents also continue to take an inappropriate proprietary interest in the property. When council required me to install shutters for bushfire purposes, my father interfered with this, saying that I couldn’t do this on “his property”.
  • The court should make an order giving me possession of the property and requiring my parents to vacate the property.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out
Case A Case B

Case B won. You were right!

How people voted
case a38%
case b62%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

“This case highlights the importance of always ensuring agreements are made in writing and signed by all parties, even if those agreements are with family members. In addition, always obtain truly independent legal advice before entering into agreements involving your valuable assets, even if those agreements are with family members.”
Supreme Court rules in favour of daughter

In Wallis v Rudek [2020] NSWSC 162, the NSW Supreme Court ruled in favour of the daughter, Mrs Rudek. The court found that she had not promised her parents, Mr and Mrs Wallis, that they could live in the house for the rest of their lives.

As a result, the court ordered that Mrs Rudek was entitled to possession of the home and that Mr and Mrs Wallis must vacate the property by 2 April 2020.

Mr and Mrs Wallis were also ordered to pay their daughter’s legal costs, which were significant.

Evidence before court supports factual finding that no promise was made

The court’s conclusion that no promise was made was a factual finding based on the evidence.

Ultimately the court accepted Mr and Mrs Rudek’s evidence over that of Mr and Mrs Wallis.

The court stated that it had reservations about Mr Wallis’s credibility and also found that Mrs Rudek’s account was more consistent with the circumstances.

Of particular significance was the contemporaneous written evidence of the conveyancer. The draft licence agreement that she prepared clearly showed that she did not understand there to be a life interest contemplated.

Court chooses not to exercise its discretion in favour of parents

Given the court’s finding that no promise was made, it was not necessary for the court to consider whether any such promise gave rise to a proprietary estoppel.

However, the court did note that had it been necessary to do so, it would not have exercised its discretion to grant relief to the Wallises.

Given the past relationship between the Wallises and their daughter, the court was not satisfied that the Wallises could be trusted to change their ways if allowed to live in the house for life.

Court grants parents compensation for underpayment of purchase price

Mr and Mrs Wallis also asked the court to order that they be financially compensated. This was on the basis that the transaction with their daughter resulted in her holding the title to the property, without paying the full value to acquire it.

The Wallises argued that the home was acquired by their daughter with a common intention (the shared occupation of the home) which had broken down. It would be inequitable for their daughter to retain the benefit of the whole of the home.

The Wallises said that there was a constructive trust over the home. This trust secured their contribution to the home, namely the equity that they had in the home immediately before it was purchased by Mrs Rudek.

The court agreed with this argument and awarded the Wallises equitable compensation.

The compensation was calculated as the difference between the value of the home and the amount actually paid by Mrs Rudek. The bank valuation was taken to be $950,000. $840,000 was actually paid by Mrs Rudek. Therefore, the compensation to be paid was $110,000, indexed for inflation.

The court suggested that Mr and Mrs Wallis could instead have sued Mrs Rudek under the contract for sale of land for the unpaid purchase price, namely $210,000.00 plus interest. They refused to do so. The court confessed to being mystified.

Court highlights poor judgement of conveyancer

The court noted that the conveyancer had put herself in an impossible position by seeking to act for both parties. The parties’ interests were clearly in conflict and they had not reached agreement on a pivotal element of the deal.

The daughter and parents should have had separate legal representation.

Always get independent legal advice and make agreements in writing

This case highlights the importance of always ensuring agreements are made in writing and signed by all parties, even if those agreements are with family members.

In addition, always obtain truly independent legal advice before entering into agreements involving your valuable assets, even if those agreements are with family members.

Parents apply for stay of order to vacate due to Covid-19

Mr and Mrs Wallis have lodged an appeal of the Supreme Court’s decision and continue to seek an order that they can live in the home for life.

In the meantime, they were required by the initial judgement to vacate the premises by 2 April 2020.

Rather than organise themselves for this eventuality, they applied to the Supreme Court for a stay of the order to vacate (Wallis v Rudek (No 3) [2020] NSWSC 338).

The Wallises, who are elderly and suffering from various health conditions, argued that they had to continue living in the home in order to self-isolate and protect themselves from Covid-19.

They also argued that irrespective of Covid-19, they should be able to stay in the house while they await the hearing of the appeal.

The court rejected the Wallises’ application for a stay. The court also ordered them to pay their daughter’s legal costs.

The court’s reasons included that there was alternative accommodation available.

Also, the Wallises were taking risks in relation to Covid-19 in going shopping, to church and to court. These risks were no different to the risks taken by searching for alternative accommodation.

In addition, the Wallises had taken no steps to comply with the court order to vacate the premises, despite having had ample time to do so.

Neither were they prepared to pay any compensation to Mrs Rudek should they continue occupying the property while the appeal is pending.

The court also had concerns that the parents’ behaviour towards Mrs Rudek and her family continued to be hostile and unacceptable.

Court is expensive, risky and public

There are several things we can learn from this case. One is that Covid-19 alone will not excuse you from having to comply with court orders.

A second point worth making is that contested court proceedings are expensive and involve some element of risk. There is no guarantee you will win.

It is also important to bear in mind that contested court proceedings in the Supreme Court will lead to personal matters being available for the public to view in all their detail.

Parents make second application for stay of order to vacate

On 2 April 2020, the day the Wallises were supposed to vacate the premises, they made a further application to the Court of Appeal for a stay of the order to vacate (Wallis v Rudek [2020] NSWCA 61).

This time, the Wallises offered an undertaking to the court that in the event they were unsuccessful on appeal against the original ruling, they would pay Mrs Rudek an amount for lodging. The amount would be $300 per week for the number of weeks they remained in possession of the property beyond 2 April.

The Wallises also undertook that until the appeal was determined, they would not remove the $124,287.75 that Mrs Rudek had paid into the court as compensation ordered in the original ruling.

Unlike the first court they asked, this court granted the Wallises’ application for a stay. The court’s reasons included the giving of the undertakings and the fact that there was a court order requiring the Wallises not to harass, intimidate, stalk or assault Mrs Rudek or her family.

It remains to be seen who will win the appeal. This will determine whether the Wallises gain a right to live in Mrs Rudek’s house for life, or whether she succeeds in having them evicted.

NOTICE: This article is accurate as at the time of publication and does not constitute legal advice. Please see our legal notices page for more information. Information related to coronavirus can be outdated very quickly.

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