Many readers will be familiar with the “ultimate consumer” test that is commonly used to determine whether premises are “retail premises” within the meaning of s.4(1) of the Retail Leases Act 2003. If the premises are “retail premises” the Act applies; if premises are not “retail premises” the Act does not apply. Premises are “retail premises” if “under the terms of the lease relating to the premises” they “are used, or are to be used, wholly or predominantly for…..(a) the sale or hire of goods by retail or the retail provision of services”. See: s.4(1). Nathan J in Wellington v Norwich Union Life Insurance Society Limited  VR 333 held that patent attorneys (and other professional businesses such as solicitors, architects and medical specialists) conducted a business providing retail services. His Honour held that the “essential feature of retailing” was the provision of an item or service “to the ultimate consumer for fee or reward”. The end user might be a member of the public but was not necessarily so. The problem has been to identify the “ultimate consumer”. Nathan J did not regard it as significant that a patent attorney’s advice might pass through the hands of an intermediary on the way to the ultimate consumer. But what would the position be if the patent attorney’s advice was used as “input” into a solicitor’s advice to the solicitor’s client? Would the solicitor be the “ultimate consumer”?
It will be much easier to answer these questions following the recent decision of Fitzroy Dental Pty Ltd v Metropolitan Management Pty Ltd  VSC 344. The effect of the decision is that most tenants whose business provide any sort of service will be engaged in the “retail provision of services” and the Act will apply.
In Fitzroy Dental the landlord leased premises premises comprising a cafe/restaurant and a conference centre and facilities to a tenant who in turn received bookings from conference or function providers to conduct functions and conferences. The cafe/restaurant was used only for the provision of food and drink to the attendees at the functions and conferences. The landlord commenced a proceeding against the tenant in the Supreme Court. The tenant contended that VCAT had exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine the dispute because it was “retail tenancy dispute” within the meaning of s.81(1) of the Act. See: s.89(4). The permitted use under the lease was “Conference Centre, Cafe/Restaurant Area and associated office and storage area”.
Justice Croft held that the dispute between the landlord and the tenant was a “retail tenancy dispute” that had to be determined by VCAT. The conference facilities were open to the public in the sense that a member of the public (ie the conference provider) could approach the tenant to book the conference facilities. After reviewing the authorities His Honour held that conference provider was the “ultimate consumer” of services provided to him by the tenant. Those services were in turn an “input” into the different services provided to the attendees at functions and conferences. Thus, there were two transactions involving the retail provision of services. The transaction between the tenant and the conference organising entity was for monetary consideration while the second transaction with the attendees did not always involve a fee or reward for the provision of services. It did not matter that the bodies organising the conferences and hiring the premises from the tenant were governmental authorities or public bodies such as a university, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the Police Federation or an industry association because such bodies had the capacity to enter into ordinary commercial agreements.
The case contains a helpful analysis of the relevant caselaw.