Washington Law Review


Stuart G. Oles


The persistence with which our court clings to the unfortunate language of the leading case of Ashford v. Reese has given rise to considerable confusion in the local practice. This comment is written with the hope that it may aid in dispelling that confusion. The overwhelming weight of authority in this country has been to the effect that the vendee under an executory contract to purchase land is the equitable owner. The early cases in this jurisdiction adhered closely to the prevailing view, which in essence simply states the eminently practical attitude that such a vendee has certain equities in the land which should be protected. It should be noted that this elementary doctrine is not properly synonymous with that of "equitable conversion." The latter is an attempt to systematize the doctrine of equitable ownership by considering the contract of purchase as a magical rite which converts the vendor's interest into personalty and the purchaser's interest into realty Like many legal fictions this one is open to over-literal interpretation. Thus Lord Eldon employed the fiction to place the risk of loss of the property on the purchaser where the loss occurs subsequent to the execution of the contract. This heavy-handed application of the "equitable conversion" doctrine is generally the law today, and frequently a purchaser finds himself compelled to specifically perform his obligations under a contract for subject matter which has been partially or wholly destroyed.

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