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Assignment definition

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assignment meaning legal

Construction notes

Legal terms explained: assignment.

This post is part of the following categories:

Construction Law (Journal) , Legal Terms Explained

What is assignment?

An assignment is the transfer of an interest from one party (“ assignor ”) to another (“ assignee ”). Assignment allows the assignor to transfer the benefit of a contract to the assignee. For example, the tenant of recently built office premises may transfer the benefit of a collateral warranty originally granted in its favour to a subsequent tenant.

Without express words, assignment usually involves an assignment of accrued and future rights. Clear words are required to assign only future rights under a contract ( Energy Works (Hull) Ltd v MW High Tech Projects UK and others [2020] EWHC 2537 (TCC)).

Assignment in a construction context typically refers to a legal or equitable assignment (although assignment can also occur by other means, e.g. operation of law). A key difference between legal and equitable assignments is that, in the case of a legal assignment, the assignee may enforce any assigned rights in its own name. In contrast, following an equitable assignment, the assignee would need to join the assignor in any action brought to enforce its rights.

To take effect as a legal assignment under English law, an assignment must comply with section 136(1) of the Law of Property Act 1925 (“ LPA 1925 “). This requires the assignment to be: (i) in writing; (ii) absolute; and (iii) expressly notified in writing to the other party to the contract (“ debtor “). In practice, parties tend to effect a legal assignment by way of an assignment agreement or deed of assignment to ensure that these requirements are satisfied.

However, if the parties fail to meet any of the requirements set out in LPA 1925 the assignment will usually have equitable effect. Equitable assignments may arise orally or in writing, and whilst recommended, there is no need to notify the debtor, provided a clear intention to assign can be established. Neither legal nor equitable assignments generally require the debtor’s consent.

  Assignment v novation

Although both terms are sometimes used interchangeably, assignment should be distinguished from novation. The most notable difference is that assignment only transfers the benefit of a contract (e.g. a warranty that works have been carried out to the required standard), whereas a novation transfers both the benefit and the burden (e.g. an obligation to pay for a service). As novation also requires the consent of all parties, it will typically be effected by a tripartite agreement between the novating party, the party to whom the contract is to be novated, and the counterparty to the relevant contract.

  Some issues concerning assignment

  • Restrictions on assignment – Unless there is an express prohibition in the contract, the parties will usually be free to assign the benefit of a contract. However, many standard form building contracts, including the JCT Design and Build Contract, prohibit assignment, or allow it only subject to certain conditions. In this regard, a developer may seek to amend the contract to reduce any restrictions on their ability to assign. In contrast, a contractor may seek to limit any rights to assign, for example by specifying the number of permitted assignments. This is often linked to the contractor’s professional indemnity insurance terms which may provide for restricted cover in respect of successive assignments.
  • Ineffective assignment where prohibited – If a party purports to assign a right in contravention of an assignment clause, the assignment will only be effective as between the assignee and the assignor, and will not be enforceable against the debtor.
  • Means of assignment – A clause in a contract permitting assignment is not sufficient to effect an assignment. There must be a separate document or oral agreement to show the assignor’s intention to assign ( Allied Carpets Group Plc v Macfarlane (t/a Whicheloe Macfarlane Partnership) [2002] EWHC 1155 (TCC)).

* This is an updated version of an article originally published as part of the ‘Legal Terms Explained’ series of Construction Law .

For further information, please contact James Doe, David Nitek, Noe Minamikata or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

James Doe

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  • Legal Dictionary

Assignment is a legal definition that refers to the transfer of rights, property, or other benefits between two parties. The party allocating the rights is known as the “assignor”, while the one receiving them is called the “assignee”. The other original party to the contract is known as the “ obligor ”.

A burden, duty, or detriment cannot be transferred as an assignment without the agreement of the assignee . Furthermore, the assignment can be carried out as a gift, or it may be paid for with a contractual consideration .

Keep reading to learn how this important legal term is used both in contract and property law and to see relevant examples.

  • Assignment Examples

A common example of assignment within property law can be seen in rental agreements between landlords and tenants. For example, a tenant may be renting from a landlord but wants another party to take over the property . In this scenario, the tenant may be able to choose between assigning the lease to a new tenant or subleasing it.

If assigning it, the new tenant will be given the entire balance of the term, with no reversion to anyone else being possible. In other words, the new tenant would have a legal relationship with the landlord. On the other hand, if subleasing the property, the new tenant would be given a limited term and no legal responsibility towards the property owner, only towards the original tenant.

Another example of assignment can be seen within contract law . Let’s say that a school hires a piano teacher for a monthly employment contract with a salary of $2000 per month. As long as there is consent from all parties, the teacher could assign their contract to another qualified piano instructor.

This would be an assignment both of the piano teacher’s rights to receive $2000 per month, and a delegation of their duty to teach piano lessons. This illustrates the fact that under contract law, assignment always includes a transfer of both rights and duties between the parties. If a breach of contract is made by either party, for example for defective performance, then the new teacher or the school can sue each other accordingly.

  • Legal Requirements for Assignment

For an assignment to be legally valid, it must meet certain requirements . If these are not met, a trial court can determine that the transfer of rights did not occur. The legal requirements for assignment are as follows:

  • All parties must consent and be legally capable to carry out the assignment.
  • The objects, rights, or benefits being transferred must be legal.
  • The assignment is not against public policy or illegal.
  • Some type of consideration is included if necessary.
  • The contract in question must already be in place and doesn’t prohibit assignment.
  • If a duty is being transferred, and it requires a rare genius or skill, then it cannot be delegated.
  • The assignment doesn’t significantly change the expected outcome of a contract.
  • Assignment Steps

To successfully assign a contract, certain steps must be followed to ensure the process is legally valid. The necessary assignment steps are listed below:

  • Ensuring there is no anti-assignment clause in the contract.
  • Executing the assignment by transferring the obligations and rights to a third party.
  • Notifying the obligor of the transfer, which in turn relieves the assignor of any liability.
  • Avoiding Assignment

In certain situations, one of the two parties may not want to allow their counterpart to assign the contract. This can be prevented by setting anti-assignment clauses in the original contract. An example of this is making it necessary for prior written consent to be attained from the other parties before the assignment is approved. Nevertheless, an anti-assignment clause cannot be included in an assignment that was issued or ordered by a court.

  • Assignment vs. Novation

Novation occurs when a party would like to transfer both the benefits and burden of a contract to another party. This is similar to assignment in the sense that the benefits are transferred, but in this case, the burden is also passed on. When novation is finalized, the original contract is deleted and a new one is created, in which a third party becomes responsible for all the obligations and rights of the original contract.

  • Assignment vs. Delegation

Although delegation and assignment are similar in purpose, they are two different concepts. Delegation refers to transferring the obligation to a third party without an assignment contract . While in assignment an entire contract and its rights and benefits can be passed on, in delegation only a particular contractual task or activity is transferred.

Let’s look at an example . Lisa is a homeowner that wants to hire Michael with an independent contractor agreement to remodel her garage. He plans to do all the work himself, but he’s not a painter, so he wants to delegate the painting work to his friend Valentina.

In this example, the contract is between Lisa, the obligor, and Michael, the delegator. Valentina would then be known as a delegatee, she doesn’t assume responsibility for the contract nor does she receive the contractual benefits, which in this case would be monetary compensation. However, Michael may have a separate agreement with Valentina to pay her in return for her work.

It’s also important to note that some duties are so specific in nature that it’s not possible to delegate them. In addition, if a party wants to avoid delegation , it’s recommended to add a clause to prevent the other party from delegating their duties.

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Legal Assignment: Everything You Need to Know

A legal assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. 3 min read

A legal assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. The benefit that the issuing party would have received from the contract is now assigned to the third party. The party appointing their rights is referred to as the assignor, while the party obtaining the rights is the assignee.

Assignment of Contract

A legal assignment occurs when:

  • The rights in personal or real property are transferred from one party to another
  • The transfer also gives the new owner the rights to the property that the prior owner held prior to the transfer occurring

In the Purman Estate case, the court stated that a legal assignment is a transfer of property, or of some right or interest, from one person to another. It also stated that it must be the proper transfer of one whole interest in that property.

An assignment of rights occurs when an assignor gives up or transfers their rights of a future benefit to another party. In other words, an assignment is the act of one party transferring, vesting, or causing to vest their interest in a property to another party. A valid legal assignment only occurs when all underlying elements of a lawfully binding contract are included in it, including intent. A trial court can determine if an assignment has occurred. To prevent disputes or miscommunications, it's important that the subject matter is clearly identified in the assignment.

A contract assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. The benefit the issuing party would have received from the contract is now assigned to the third party. The party appointing their rights is referred to as the assignor, while the party obtaining the rights is the assignee. Essentially, the assignor prefers that the assignee reverses roles and assumes the contractual rights and obligations as stated in the contract. Before this can occur, all parties to the original contract must be notified.

How Assignments Work

The specific language used in the contract will determine how the assignment plays out. For example , one contract may prohibit assignment, while another contract may require that all parties involved agree to it before proceeding. Remember, an assignment of contract does not necessarily alleviate an assignor from all liability. Many contracts include an assurance clause guaranteeing performance. In other words, the initial parties to the contract guarantee that the assignee will achieve the desired goal.

When Assignments Will Not Be Enforced

The following situations indicate when an assignment of a contract is not enforced:

  • The contract specifically prohibits assignment
  • The assignment drastically changes the expected outcome
  • The assignment is against public policy or illegal

Delegation vs. Assignment

Occasionally, one party in a contract will desire to pass on or delegate their responsibility to a third party without creating an assignment contract. Some duties are so specific in nature that they cannot be delegated. Adding a clause in the contract to prevent a party from delegating their responsibilities and duties is highly recommended.

Three Steps to Follow if You Want to Assign a Contract

There are three main steps to take if you're looking to assign a contract:

  • Make sure the current contract does not contain an anti-assignment clause
  • Officially execute the assignment by transferring the parties' obligations and rights
  • Notify the obligor of the changes made

Once the obligor is notified, the assignor will effectively be relieved of liability.

Anti-Assignment Clauses

If you'd prefer not to allow the party you're doing business with to assign a contract, you may be able to prevent this from occurring by clearly stating anti-assignment clauses in the original contract. The three most common anti-assignment clauses are:

  • Consent required for assignment
  • Consent not needed for new owners or affiliates
  • Consent not unreasonably withheld

Based on these three clauses, no party in the contract is allowed to delegate or assign any obligations or rights without prior written consent from the other parties. Any delegation or assignment in violation of this passage shall be deemed void. It is not possible to write an anti-assignment clause that goes against an assignment that is issued or ordered by a court.

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The Law Dictionary

Your Free Online Legal Dictionary • Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.

ASSIGNMENT Definition & Legal Meaning

Definition & citations:.

In contracts. 1. The act by which one person transfers to another, or causes to vest in that other, the whole of the right, interest, or property which he has in any realty or personalty, in possession or in action, or any share, interest, or subsidiary estate therein. Seventh Nat. Bank v. Iron Co. (C. C.) 35 Fed. 440; Haug v. Riley, 101 Ga. 372, 29 S. E. 44, 40 L It A. 244. More particularly, a written transfer of property, as distinguished from a transfer by mere delivery. 2. In a narrower sense, the transfer or making over of the estate, right, or title which one has in lands and tenements; and, in an especially technical sense, the transfer of the unexpired residue of a term or estate for life or years. Assignment does not include testamentary transfers. The idea of an assignment is essentially that of a transfer by one existing party to another existing party of some species of property or valuable interest, except in the case of an executor. Ilight v. Sackett, 34 N. Y. 447. 3. A transfer or making over by a debtor of all his property and effects to one or more assignees in trust for the benefit of his creditors. 2 Story, Eq. Jur.

This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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Assignment in Law

In law, an assignment refers to the transfer of a right, claim, or interest in property from one person or entity (the assignor) to another (the assignee). An assignment can involve a wide range of legal rights and interests, including contractual rights, intellectual property rights, real property interests, and other types of legal claims.

Assignments typically require a written agreement between the assignor and the assignee, which specifies the terms of the transfer, including the rights being transferred, the consideration (payment or other compensation) being provided, and any conditions or limitations on the assignment. Once the assignment is complete, the assignee assumes all of the rights and responsibilities associated with the assigned property or claim, and the assignor no longer has any legal interest in it.

Assignments can be a valuable tool for individuals and businesses seeking to transfer ownership of property or rights, or to monetise a legal claim or interest. However, they can also be complex and require careful attention to legal requirements and potential risks. As such, it is generally advisable to seek legal advice before entering into an assignment agreement.

You can learn more about this topic and relevant case law with our Property Law (Land Law) notes.

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