Ownership of disputed Abeka-Lapaz House: Court saves 86-year-old dad, ejects daughter

"It is hereby ordered that the defendant vacates the portion of the property she is occupying and give the plaintiffs vacant possession forthwith. We have considered the ages of the plaintiffs in determining the period they have to wait to take possession of their property."

Is allowance instantly strangers applauded

The Court of Appeal, Accra has declared an 86-year-old dad, Erasmus Marlai Commodore, owner of House number 7, Mahogany Street at North Abeka-Lapaz.

According to the court, the daughter, Esmeralda Ayele Kuntin-Nuamah had failed to prove her claim that the dad built the house for her thus making her a joint owner.

The plaintiff, Mr. Erasmus, 86, and his wife 75, who is the stepmother of the defendant, had lived in Germany, for the greater part of their lives and jointly acquired the property at North Abeka-Lapaz.

Somewhere in 1993, they permitted the daughter to live in the house temporarily but ended up living there for 18 years.

Later, the man and wife decided to come back home to live in the house but all attempts to get the daughter out of the house proved futile.

Mr. Erasmus and the wife thus instituted an action at the Circuit court in Accra to among others, seek an order to eject the daughter out of the house.

On her part, the daughter averred that she had since her infancy been neglected by the father who never provided for her the necessaries of health and of life.

Due to the above, she said that the dad informed her that he was going to put up a house for her to live in permanently as a way of making up for all the years of neglect.

Further to the above, the daughter indicated that she was the one who procured the services of an experienced building contractor to put up the building and that she made sure that the contract was reduced into writing and that she attested to the same.

Also, she mentioned that she was always on-site to provide for the needs of the workers which made the father and the stepmother put her in permanent occupation of the house and that whiles in possession, she expended her own resources to provide certain facilities which also made the place habitable.

Trial Court

Though the trial court found that the daughter has no legal title to the property and therefore cannot be placed in adverse possession and dismissed her prayer for a declaration that the action is statute-barred, the court concluded that she is entitled to relief in equity and held that she is a gratuitous licensee. 

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims and gave judgment to the defendant on her alternative counterclaims.

Court of Appeal

The father and his wife thus challenged the decision of the trial court.

In the course of the trial, the appellate court made the following findings;

The defendant’s claim that her father neglected her was a mere unproved allegation.

The defendant could not produce any evidence to prove that the father gave her any such promise to build the house for her

The inference that the father intended the property to be owned by him and the daughter had no basis thus mere speculation.

Electrcity and water connection to the house contrary to the daughter’s claim, were borne by the father

Defendant accepted payment for the services performed for the contractor which negated any suggestion that she performed those services in anticipation of a promise that she would own the house.

The defendant further failed to prove that the alleged promise induced her to spend money on the house and that she actually spent money on the house.

Her allegation of connecting water and electricity to the house was proved to be false when the plaintiffs’ evidence of payment of those services to the house were tendered.

Additionally, the court had to make a determination as to the controversy surrounding the content of Exhibit L(a letter) written by the father to the daughter which made mention of “our future house” indicating that the content did not refer to the daughter but his wife.

The court then held that the daughter had failed to prove the essential elements that qualify a party to evoke the equitable principle of license estoppel and thus cannot be granted the relief that goes with successfully evoking the same.

It also noted that granting the defendant a life interest in the property in question is an error on the part of the trial court thus upheld the appeal and ordered the defendant to vacate the portion of the property she is occupying and give the plaintiffs vacant possession forthwith.

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