Rhone v Stephens 1994

March 05, 2024
Micheal James

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Case Summary:

Rhone v Stephens (1994) is a significant land law case in England and Wales, exploring the enforceability of positive covenants against successors in title. It delves into the concept of privity of contract and its limitations, raising questions about burdens running with the land and balancing fairness with legal requirements.

Facts of the Case:

  • In 1958, the owners of two adjoining properties sold one, Walford House, with a covenant in the conveyance.
  • This covenant obliged the owner of Walford House to maintain the part of the roof above an attached cottage (owned by the other vendor) in good condition.
  • Both properties changed hands several times over the years.
  • In 1988, the current owners of the cottage sued the current owners of Walford House, claiming a breach of the covenant and seeking repairs.


  1. Enforceability of Positive Covenants: Can a positive covenant (requiring an act to be done) run with the land and bind successors in title who were not party to the original contract?
  2. Privity of Contract: Does the legal principle of privity of contract, limiting enforcement to parties directly involved in an agreement, apply to burdens on land?
  3. Balancing Interests: How can the court balance the competing interests of enforcing covenants to uphold agreements with upholding the principle of free alienability of land?


The House of Lords held:

  • In general, the burden of a positive covenant does not automatically run with the land and bind successors in title.
  • The exception would be if the covenant touched and concerned the land, benefiting the burdened property and sufficiently identified in the conveyance.
  • In this case, the covenant lacked these characteristics and could not be enforced against the current owners of Walford House.

Significance of the Case:

This case clarified the enforceability of positive covenants in land law:

  • Limited Scope: Generally, positive covenants do not bind successors in title, restricting their use in land transactions.
  • Emphasis on Clarity: Covenants must be clear and specifically linked to the land to create enforceable burdens.
  • Balancing Act: The court weighed competing interests, upholding free alienability while acknowledging the need for some enforceability of covenants.

Additional Points:

  • Consider analyzing arguments from dissenting judges for a more nuanced understanding of the legal debate.
  • Discuss the impact of this case on specific legislation, like the Law of Property Act 1925, and potential reforms.
  • Explore the ongoing challenges and future directions in enforcing positive covenants in land transactions.


Rhone v Stephens (1994) stands as a landmark case, shaping the landscape of positive covenants in English land law. It emphasizes the need for clarity and specific conditions for enforcing such burdens on land, balancing fairness with legal principles. While the case provides valuable guidance, the debate on ensuring enforceability while protecting property rights continues to evolve.

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"Rhone v Stephens 1994." MyLawTutor.net. 9 2012. All Answers Ltd. 04 2024 <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/rhone-v-stephens-1994>.
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MyLawTutor. September 2012. Rhone v Stephens 1994. [online]. Available from: https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/rhone-v-stephens-1994 [Accessed 23 April 2024].
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<ref>{{cite web|last=Tutor |first=MyLaw |url=https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/rhone-v-stephens-1994 |title=Rhone v Stephens 1994 |publisher=MyLawTutor.net |date=September 2012 |accessdate=23 April 2024 |location=UK, USA}}</ref>

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