The life interest is the least estate of freehold known to law. This estate gives the owner the right to enjoy the land only for a lifetime, usually his own. At the end of the lifetime, the estate ceases to exist, so that there is nothing which can be inherited by the heirs of the late owner. The two main types of life interest are:
(1) An interest for the life of the tenant himself; and
(2) An interest for the life of someone other than the tenant. For example, to A for the life of B, or where X who is the owner of an interest for his own life, makes over his interest to Y: if this is done, since X cannot grant an interest greater than he holds and he only holds an interest for his own life, Y can only take an interest for X's life.
The Tenant for Life at Common Law
As a tenant for life had such a limited interest in the Jamaican land, he was not permitted by Common Law to treat the land entirely as if it were his own: he had not the absolute powers of enjoyment allowed to the owner of an estate in fee simple or fee tail, because it was considered that he must use the land only in such a way as not to do it any permanent injury which might affect those entitled on his death.
The rights and obligations of a tenant for life may be summed up as follows: He may take the annual profits but must not take or destroy anything that is a permanent part of his inheritance. He is entitled to fruits of all kinds, but must leave unimpaired the source of the fruits. He has certain positive rights and one negative duty which is prescribed by the doctrine of waste.
The profits that arise from the land, whether they arise continuously, periodically or occasionally, belong to the tenant for life. A particular hazard, however, that confronts him is that after he has sown crops his tenancy may end unexpectedly before they are ripe. In this event he is entitled to re-enter the land at harvest time and to reap what he has sown. This is known as the right to emblements. This takes place constantly with foreclosure homes in Jamaica.
The position of the tenant for life on the negative side is governed by the common law doctrine of waste.
Waste at common law consists of any act or omission which alters the nature of the land and is usually considered under these two heads:
1) Voluntary waste
2) Permissive waste
This is any positive act by the tenant which alters the nature of the land. For example:
o opening a mine
o cutting down timber
o pulling down or altering buildings
Technically, any alteration in the nature of land is waste, even though the alteration is an improvement, that is, it might enhance the value. Such voluntary waste which improves the land is known as Ameliorating Waste and no action will lie for its commission.
This consists of an omission to do what requires doing to keep the land in proper condition, such as failure to repair a house.
Equity's Position on Waste
The rule has long been that any tenant who commits wanton or extravagant acts of destruction will be restrained by injunction and ordered to rehabilitate the premises. Wanton acts of destruction are said to constitute equitable waste. Understanding this concept will prepare investors for houses in Kingston Jamaica for rent or sale.