Further elaborations on s.52 of the Retail Leases Act

Section 52 of the Retail Leases Act 2003 implies into a retail premises lease a term that:

“The landlord is responsible for maintaining in a condition consistent with the condition of the premises when the retail premises lease was entered into –

(a)     the structures of, and fixtures in, the retal premises lease; and

(b)     plant and equipment at the retail premises; and

…..” (s.52(2))

In Savers INC (ARB 075 452 185) v Herosy Nominees [2011] VCAT 1160 the  tenant claimed that the landlords of two premises that the tenant operated as a single shop had failed to maintain the premises in good repair: in particular it was alleged that the roof, drainage and floors had fallen into poor repair and caused consequential damage within the premises. Breaches of the leases and s.52 of the Retail Leases Act 2003 were alleged. The tenant sought orders that the landlords undertake repairs.   The leases (and earlier leases to which the landlords and tenant were parties) contained terms that obliged the landlords to undertake certain repairs to the premises; these terms were more onerous than those imposed by s.52 (“the good repair and condition terms”). The landlords contended that s.52 limited their obligations – that is because of  s.94 of the Act it was not possible to “contract out” of s.52 and the good repair and condition terms were either contrary to or inconsistent with s.52 and therefore void. The Tribunal rejected this argument. It was also argued that s.52 did not extend to that that part of a building “including common areas (such as the roof or perhaps the sub-floor) that is not part of the premises demised to the lessee”. The Tribunal rejected this submission on the basis that a “canny landlord”  could attempt to get around s.52 by expressly excluding areas such as the external structure from the definition of demised premises but at the same time impose a separate obligation upon the tenant to maintain those exterior parts of the building which did not form part of the demise. Because the good repair and condition terms had appeared in earlier leases the Tribunal was able to determine what state the premises should have been in and it was this standard that was applied in determining what the condition of the premises were when the lease was entered into for the purpose of s.52; the landlords could not take advantage of their failure to comply with the good repair and conditions terms by seeking to rely on the condition the premises were in fact in when the lease was entered into. The Tribunal also held that an agreement to settle a dispute between a landlord and a tenant was not “contemplated by section 94”; it appears that the Tribunal was saying that s.94 cannot be relied upon to void a provision in terms of settlement.

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