PHOTO: Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King
A woman has won the right to evict her sister from their deceased parents’ family home despite her having lived there for more than 15 years.
The sister, Sharon Clarke, argued she should be allowed to stay in the home until she could afford to buy it. However, she only wanted to pay what her sister bought it for more than eight years ago.
A High Court judgment released this week describes how their father Noel Clarke, who died in 2014, left his farm and estate to his four children to divide as they saw fit.
Clarke wanted to buy the property she had been living at since 2006, but was declared bankrupt shortly after her father’s death – preventing her from purchasing the place.
Her sister Jody King instead purchased the farm for just over $1 million, the house for $500,000 and paid out $250,000 to her other two siblings. An agreement was reached that Clarke could live there, unless a third-party buyer could be found.
Clarke’s share of the estate remained tied up in the property until her bankruptcy could be either annulled or discharged and she remained living at the family home.
King now wants to sell the property because she and her husband can no longer afford to service the loans for both it and the farm.
They have had to refinance three times in the past five years and while Clarke pays $1250 a month in rent, they say it is not enough to cover the increased cost of rates and insurance.
But, Clarke is refusing to leave the property so it can be sold.
Her bankruptcy ended in 2019 and last year King offered her the place for $700,000. But Clarke says she should be able to buy it for the same price her sister bought it for in 2014.
Despite initially saying she was interested in buying the property, Clarke made no moves to get the ball rolling and now her sister has taken the matter to the High Court to have her evicted.
Clarke says that if her sister can sell the property for more than she paid for it, it will be a windfall gain for King obtained largely out of Clarke’s share of the estate.
Clarke says she is still entitled to a share in the estate as opposed to just the repayment of a loan and that if that share has increased in value, then she should be entitled to more than the original $250,000 paid out to her siblings.
Associate High Court Judge Peter Andrew said in his decision that Clarke had signed a deed of acknowledgement when her sister had purchased the property, stating that she understood the house may need to be sold to a third party at some point.
“Jody and Steven have taken considerable and generous steps to protect Sharon’s interest,” he said.
“They purchased the Sanson property with a view to Sharon ultimately purchasing it, in circumstances where Sharon was currently unable to do so.”
He said now it would unreasonable and inequitable for Sharon to be able to thwart them from selling the house in order to save the farm, especially when they have sought to negotiate a sale to Clarke on discounted terms.
Judge Andrew noted that there was no evidence that Clarke could afford to buy the property for any price, let alone the $500,000 she claims it should be sold to her for.
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“Nonetheless, Sharon has not taken any steps over the last two to three years to purchase the Sanson Road property from Jody and Steven, despite significant steps taken by Jody and Steven to sell the property to her at a discount from its current market value,” he said.
From Clarke’s point of view she says that she and her sister had a close relationship and an understanding that King would buy the farm and she would buy the property when she was free from bankruptcy.
It was her understanding that they intended to work together to achieve that end.
Clarke also believed – because she had never been told otherwise – that she could purchase the property from King for the same price as it had been purchased for.
She went on to say she expected that as sisters they would deal with each other fairly without taking advantage or profit at the expense of the other.
However, at the end of the day Judge Andrew sided with King and deemed Clarke an unlawful occupier of the Sanson property so it can be sold to a third party.
*This story originally appeared in The New Zealand Herald.
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