Choo Han Teck J sitting in the High Court had to decide whether there was a basis for the land register to be rectified to reflect the Plaintiff and the Defendant as tenants in common with the holding of shares proportionate to the Plaintiff’s and the Defendant’s contributions to the purchase price.
The learned Judge made reference to section 53(6) of the Land Titles Act (“LTA”). Section 53(6) of the LTA, as it was last amended in 2014, reads as follows:
“(6) Upon the registration of the instrument of declaration which has been duly served as required by subsection (5), the respective registered estates and interests in the registered land shall be held by the declarant as tenant-in-common with the remaining joint tenants, and the declarant shall be deemed to hold a share that is equal in proportion to each of the remaining joint tenants as if each and every one of them had held the registered land as tenants-in-common in equal shares prior to the severance.”
The learned Judge held that pursuant to the reading of section 53(6) of the LTA, it is clear that unilateral severance of a joint tenancy can only be in equal shares. This is especially so when parties bearing close ties purchase properties in the other’s name. The burden is on the giver to rebut this presumption.
Furthermore, a conscious decision to unilaterally sever a joint tenancy as tenants in common in equal shares may give rise to an inference of fact that the purchaser had always intended to give to the other party a 50% share of the property, even though the party have contributed less to the purchase price.
Choo Han Teck J held that on the facts, it could not be said that the Plaintiff had made a “mistake” when he severed the joint tenancy as tenants in common in equal shares in 2010. To allow the Plaintiff to rectify the land register showing him and the Defendant as tenants in common in unequal shares will unfairly vary the proprietary interest of the Defendant unilaterally, contrary to the express intention of Parliament in enacting section 53 of the LTA.
On the alternative argument on resulting trust, the learned Judge found that there was basis pursuant to section 53(7) of the LTA, which provides as follows:
“(7) Where a joint tenant holds an estate or interest in registered land on trust, the severance of the joint tenancy shall not affect the rights of the beneficiary of the trust or the operation of the law relating to breaches of trust.”
However, the learned Judge recognized that issues arising from the law of trusts can be complicated. The law and evidence between a resulting trust and a constructive trust must be differentiated and ventilated at trial. There were also issues of law to be addressed, in particular, because the dispute is in relation to an HDB flat.
Choo Han Teck J concluded that these issues cannot be swept aside under an application for default judgment. The learned Judge dismissed the Plaintiff’s application for default judgment and held that the action must proceed to trial.