Pettitt v Pettitt [1970] AC 777

Cottage in wife’s sole name; whether husband’s renovation work entitled him to a beneficial interest

Facts

Mrs Pettitt inherited a cottage and the title was in her sole name. Mr Pettitt conducted renovation work on the property at a cost to him of approximately £730, and these works were estimated to have increased the value of the property by approximately £1000. Mr Pettitt claimed a beneficial interest in the cottage because of the renovations and sought an order under s17 Married Woman’s Property Act 1882.

Issues

Mr Pettitt contended that Mrs Pettitt must have intended some beneficial interest in the cottage would pass to her husband when he completed renovation works which increased the value of the property. Mrs Pettitt denied any such intention, and argued that s17 Married Woman’s Property Act 1882 did not empower a court to amend existing property rights. She also argued that a volunteer who carries out renovations to a property does not thereby acquire a beneficial interest in it. Mr Pettitt had not contributed to the purchase price because the cottage was inherited and he, therefore, could not claim an interest on resulting trust principles either.

Held

Mr Pettitt’s claim failed. The improvements he had made to the property were not significant enough to confer a beneficial interest in the cottage. The works were considered repairs and maintenance which would not qualify as expenditure directed at the acquisition of beneficial interests in land. A resulting trust would only arise if there had been a contribution to the purchase price or significant financial contributions to the property itself.