Undefined wording in contracts: the cream tea debate

IP Draughts’ friendly colleague Ken Adams has an interesting blog item here about undefined wording in contracts, which includes a link to a recent, New Mexico appeal case on the difficulties of interpreting the phrase “private garage” in a restrictive covenant on land.

shillingford bridge hotel

This prompts me to raise another restrictive-covenant question.  There is a restrictive covenant on our house, not to run a hotel or “temperance hotel” from the site.  The expression “temperance hotel” is not defined in the covenant, and therefore probably carries its everyday meaning.  But the term has fallen into disuse, so what does it mean?

It is also not clear to me who is the beneficiary of this covenant, which dates back to when the land was purchased in the late nineteenth century.  I suspect the beneficiary may be the Shillingford Bridge Hotel, which is a few hundred yards downstream from us on the River Thames, and may be the successor in title to the original seller.

Temperance hotels were mostly a nineteenth century phenomenom in the UK, encouraged by the temperance movement.  One of the movement’s cousins in the US was the Anti-Saloon League, which was influential in the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.

A good site for a cream tea shop?

So my (purely hypothetical!) question is: how would a covenant not to run a temperance hotel from the site be construed today?  Would it prevent me from selling cream teas to passing river traffic, in competition with the Shillingford Bridge Hotel?

1 Comment

Filed under Contract drafting

One response to “Undefined wording in contracts: the cream tea debate

  1. As it happens I’ve stayed in a temperance hotel (in Llandudno), so they do still exist.

    From you description it seems that the covenant is aimed at the classic hotel which puts people up for the night — the inclusion of “temperance hotel” being the drafter’s over-abundance of caution. As a drafter you know the fleeting worry that enters one’s head: in this case “could this be read only to include hotels that sell alcohol?”. I doubt anyone could construe a cafe selling cream teas as a temperance hotel.

    If its obsolete you can always apply to the Lands Tribunal to have it removed.

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