Jamaica
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Court orders mechanic to leave customer’s house

A St Andrew mechanic, who sued a customer for a 50 per cent stake in her property after claiming they had jointly purchased the land and were romantically involved, has been given three months to vacate the premises.

The judgment was handed down in July.

The claimant, Albert Ritchie, also wanted the court to grant him first preference to purchase the defendant’s supposed 50 per cent interest in the property called Peter’s Rock, on which she had built a two-storey house.

The 66-year-old man had been living on the St Andrew property for more than three decades after the defendant, Rosemary McLeod, migrated to the United States and left him to care for the property in exchange for occupying the premises rent-free.

However, Ritchie sued the defendant for equal share in the property after she filed a recovery of possession plaint in the Civil Court in 2016 to get him off the land, which she bought in 1984. He had refused to vacate the premises after negotiation for an agreed price broke down.

Ritchie, in his claim, alleged that he and McLeod purchased the property jointly, but that it was placed in her name solely. He further alleged that he and McLeod were in a romantic relationship at the time of the purchase and cohabited together until she migrated.

Ritchie also claimed that he and McLeod jointly operated a leather craft business and that the profit was paid to a credit union to facilitate obtaining the mortgage to purchase Peter’s Rock.

In her defence, McLeod, who said she was shocked and repulsed by the allegations, asserted that she solely purchased the property and that her familiarity with Ritchie, who was many years her junior, grew out of a professional relationship and not a romantic one.

She also counterclaimed for recovery of possession and produced a letter which she had sent to her local agent in 1986 detailing the arrangement with Ritchie as well as several letters she had sent the mechanic in which she asserted ownership.

Based primarily on the letters, her lawyer, Mark-Paul Cowan, successfully applied for a summary judgment and, in July, was granted an order for recovery of possession against Ritchie on the counterclaim. McLeod was also awarded costs and a sum of $5,000 per month from July 2007 as mesne profits – damages for trespass – by Master Carla Thomas.

LIKE A MOM

In rebutting Ritchie’s claim about having an intimate relationship with his client, Cowan pointed to a letter in which the claimant had referred to himself as a son to McLeod, whom he described as being like a mother to him.

In assessing the matter, the judge noted that the letters made it clear that the claim to a share in the property on the basis of a common-intention agreement did not have a realistic prospect of success.

“Most telling is the claimant’s statements in his letter of 02.07.05, in which he enquired of the defendant what was her ‘intention toward Peter’s Rock’ and stated that: “You know and I know that I man love Peter’s Rock and I get attach to Peter’s Rock so if you a sell or you a give whey Peters Rock I would like it,” the judge noted.

Speaking on the outcome of the case, Cowan said, “Rosemary was very fortunate that those written communications were available to be put into evidence to obtain summary judgment. In these types of cases, especially where the dispute happens so many years after the initial arrangement, there is [usually] no available documentation to give a clear picture of what happened.

“These cases typically have to go to trial and the parties have to be cross-examined on their testimony ... . There is no guarantee that a judge or master will believe one party’s case over the other. So, the outcome is always unpredictable at the trial stage with these types of casual arrangements,” he added.

The attorney is imploring Jamaicans to take steps to memorialise any casual arrangement concerning property, whether dealing with a close friend or relative.

“You don’t have to necessarily set up a formal contract. An email or WhatsApp message to the other person will suffice in many instances. Even a voicenote can be useful,” he said. “Just ensure that the arrangement is properly captured and that you have it stored somewhere safe, in case you need to rely on it in the future.”

tanesha.mundle@gleanerjm.com