Archive for April, 2013

Changes to excluded retail premises

The Retail Leases Act 2003 excludes from the definition of “retail premises” premises in respect of which the “occupancy costs” under the lease is more than the amount prescribed by the regulations. See: s.4(2)(a). Before 22 April 2013 the amount prescribed by the regulations was $1,000,000 per annum. From 22 April 2013 the amount prescribed is $1,000,000 per annum “exclusive of GST”. See: regulation 6 in the Retail Leases Regulations 2013. The effect of the change will be to bring more premises within the definition of “retail premises”.

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Be wary of unrepresented parties at mediations

Mediations at which parties are unrepresented or not represented by lawyers are fraught with risk. Even with legal representation mediations are stressful, particularly where the mediation is only fixed for a half day and there is pressure to avoid long winded discussions about the facts. Experienced mediators invariably offer unrepresented parties an adjournment so that legal advice can be obtained. VCAT recently decided case in which landlords sought to set aside terms of settlement agreed at a half day mediation conducted by the Small Business Commissioner. In Wong v Hook Line and Sinker Fish and Chips Pty Ltd [2013] VCAT 263 the landlords sought to have the terms of settlement set aside on the grounds of undue influence or duress by the mediator and a barrister.  At the mediation the parties had been in dispute about whether the tenant was being required to pay “key money” under a lease contrary to s.23 of the Retail Leases Act 2003. The terms of settlement required the parties to appoint a valuer to determine the market rent. The landlords were not represented by a lawyer at the mediation but were represented by an advocate who held himself out as an expert in retail tenancy matters and who prepared written submissions. The mediator was highly experienced and was accompanied by a trainee mediator. The tenant was represented by an experienced barrister. The mediator offered the landlords the opportunity to adjourn the mediation to enable them to obtain legal advice but the offer was declined. The landlords subsequently refused to appoint the valuer to determine the market rent and commenced a proceeding alleging that the terms of settlement had been obtained by undue influence or duress. At the hearing the mediator, the trainee mediator, the tenant’s barrister at the mediation, representatives of the tenant, the landlords and the landlords’ advocate all gave evidence. The Tribunal rejected all of the the landlords’ claims. An application for leave to appeal has been filed.

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Landlord liable to pay compensation under s.54 of Retail Leases Act

Tenants commonly complain about water entering leased premises and affecting their use and enjoyment of a tenancy. In National Hospitality Group Pty Ltd v Regal Hotels Pty Ltd [2013] VCAT 413 a landlord was held to be liable to pay compensation to a tenant under s.54 of the Retail Leases Act 2003 despite there being no defects in the leased premises. The tenant complained on many occasions to the landlord about water entering the premises.  The tenant sued for damages relying, among other provisions, s.54 of the Act. Section 54 implies into a  lease a requirement that the landlord pay reasonable compensation to the tenant for loss or disruption suffered by the tenant because the landlord fails to, among other things, take reasonable steps to prevent or stop signficant disruption with the landlord’s control to the tenant’s trading at the premises.  Despite the cause of the water entering the premises being damage to storm water drains outside the leased area and there being no defects in the premises, the Vice President, Judge Jenkins held that the landlord was liable to pay the tenant damages of  $35,000. Judge Jenkins held that the landlord was liable to pay compensation under s.54(2) of the Act because it had “breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment by failing or refusing to take steps which were reasonably available to it”, the breach being that the landlord had not kept the tenant informed of progress or investigations or provide it with any reports or advice and did not engage its own engineering or plumbing consultant to give advice and undertaken appropriate investigations.  It is  respectfully submitted that the decision shows a misunderstanding of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and imposes obligations on landlords that are not supported by the Act. Pursuant to a provision in the lease the tenant also entitled to an abatement of rent for the period when the premises was unfit for use.

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