Tenants need the protection of s.146 of the Property Law Act

I have had a number of queries about a recent post concerning N.C.Reid & Co v Pencarl Pty Ltd [2011] VCAT 2241. In Reid Judge O’Neill held that before re-entering leased premises the landlord did not have to serve a notice that complied with s.146 of the Property Law Act 1958. The lease permitted the landlord to re-enter if the guarantor became bankrupt.  Section 146 requires service of a notice where a right of re-entry or forfeiture under any proviso or stipulation in a lease or otherwise arising by operation of law for “a breach of any covenant or condition in the lease, including a breach amounting to a repudiation”. Judge O’Neill held that there was no “breach” and therefore a notice under s.146 was not required. If Reid stands it has major implications for tenants who will lose the protection afforded by s.146. Judge O’Neill does not appear to have been referred to authorities that might have persuaded him to adopt a different interpretation of s.146. For example, the application of the reasoning applied by McLelland J in Della Imports Pty Ltd v Birkenhead Investments Pty Ltd (1987) NSW Conv R 55-538 might have resulted in a different outcome.  McLelland J had to consider a lease that permitted the lessor to enter premises and determine the lease without notice if the lessee entered into liquidation or was wound up. His Honour held that the right of re-entry under the lease was a “right of re-entry or forfeiture under any proviso or stipulation in a lease, for a breach of any….condition in the lease”, within the meaning of s.129 of the Conveyancing Act 1919 (being the NSW equivalent of s.146) which could not be enforced unless and until the lessor gave notice  under s.129 and in respect of which the tenant could apply for relief against forfeiture. His Honour held that a provision in a lease that provided for re-entry on the happening of an event, regardless of whether or not there was any obligation on the lessee to prevent that even happening, was a “condition” within the meaning of s.129 and that the word  “breach” in s.129 was equivalent to non-fulfilment”.  His Honour held that this interpretation was supported “by the evident policy of the provision [ie s.129 in NSW or s.146 in Victoria] which would otherwise be manifestly inadequate for the protection of lessees which it obviously is intended to confer”.  If Reid is the law in Victoria s.146 will need to be amended.

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