Archive for June, 2014

Parties can agree to higher standard than that imposed by s.52 of Retail Leases Act

 

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Section 52 of the Retail Leases Act 2003 implies into a “retail premises” lease an obligation on landlords to maintain “in a condition consistent with the condition of the premises when the retail premises lease was entered into” things such as the “structure of, and fixtures in” the premises, “plant and equipment at retail premises” and “the appliances, fittings and fixtures provided under the lease by the landlord relating to the gas, electricity, water drainage or other services”.

When is the lease entered into if an option is exercised? Is it the date when the lease commenced or when the new lease arising by reason of the option being exercised commences?

In Ross-Hunt Pty Ltd v Cianjan Pty Ltd[1] the Tribunal held that that the relevant date was the date that the new term commenced following the exercise of an option and not the commencing date of the first term of the lease.

A further question then arose about whether a provision in a lease that imposes a higher standard on a landlord than that imposed by s.52 is void under s.94 on the ground that it is contrary to or inconsistent with s.52.

In Savers INC (ARB 075 452 185) v Herosy Nominees[2][the Tribunal held that if parties wished to contract for more than was provided for under s.52 they were free to do so; in that case the leases (and earlier leases to which the landlords and tenant were parties) contained terms that obliged the landlords to undertake repairs to the premises and imposed obligations that were more onerous than those imposed by s.52.

In the recent decision of Di & Li Australia Pty Ltd v Jin Dun Pty Ltd[3] Senior Member Riegler rejected an argument that lease provisions which imposed more onerous obligations on the landlord than those imposed by s.52 were void. The Senior Member said:

“[20] In my view, s 52 does not prohibit the parties from agreeing to extend the Landlord’s obligations to repair or maintain its installations. The situation might be different if s 52 was expressed as a provision limiting a landlord’s obligation to maintain plant and equipment to a condition consistent with its condition when the lease was entered into. However, the provision does not expressly limit a landlord’s obligations but rather, imposes what I consider to be a minimum obligation on a landlord.

[21] There is nothing inconsistent or contrary to s 52 for the parties to increase that obligation and in the present case, it made eminent sense for the Landlord to continue to have that obligation upon renewal, given that it held the reversionary interest in the plant and equipment.

Further, it is not the case that s 52 is devoid of any limitation. In particular, sub-section (3) sets out various circumstances which limit its operation.

Those circumstances do not include limiting the comparator to the commencement of the Lease.

In my opinion, it was open for Parliament to have limited the operation of s 52(2) of the Act to the current term by stating words to the effect that a lease is not to include a term which requires the landlord to maintain plant and equipment, other than in a condition commensurate with the condition of the plant and equipment at the commencement of the lease.

However, the section is not expressed in such prohibitory terms, nor is it expressed to indicate any intention on the part of the legislature to ‘cover the field’ in respect of a landlord’s repair liability.”

 

[1] [2009] VCAT 829.

[2]2011] VCAT 1160

[3] [2014] VCAT 349

 

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Undertaking as to damages must not be a ritual or a formality

 

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Parties seeking injunctions are required to offer an undertaking as to damages as the price for the injunction. All too often the undertaking is given lightly and without an understanding of the potential consequences.  If the person against whom the injunction is granted succeeds at trial and has suffered loss or damage the consequences can be severe. The inquiry is not whether the actual loss suffered was foreseen at the time the undertaking was given, but is whether loss of a kind actually sustained could have been foreseen.

In Love v Thwaites [2014] VSCA 56 the Court of Appeal upheld a trial judge’s order that the party who obtained an injunction pay damages and interest of more than $5,000,000 pursuant to an undertaking.

This disastrous outcome was the consequence of the appellant seeking and being granted an interlocutory injunction restraining the Roads Corporation from demolishing a property.

The appellant gave the usual undertaking as to damages. During the proceeding the appellant had been asked to consent to the discharge of the injunction but the requests were refused.

After the appellant’s proceeding was dismissed and the injunction discharged there was then a trial to determine the damages suffered by the Roads Corporation resulting from the granting of the injunction. The trial judge[1] set out the principles governing the assessment of damages as follows:

“30. In Davinski Nominees Pty Ltd v I&A Bowler Holdings Limited, Kaye J described the basis for the assessment of damages on an undertaking to the court as uncontroversial: damages flowing directly from the injunction and which could have been foreseen when the injunction was granted, following the decisions of the High Court in Air Express Limited v Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd and European Bank Limited and Robb Evans of Robb Evans & Associates.

31.  In Air Express, Aickin J held that in a proceeding of an equitable nature ‘the damages should be those that flow directly from the injunction and which could have been foreseen when the injunction was granted’.

On appeal, Barwick CJ agreed with the reasoning of Aickin J. Gibbs J identified the generally accepted view to be that ‘the damages must be confined to loss which is the natural consequence of the injunction under the circumstances of which the party obtaining the injunction has notice’ adding that the party seeking to enforce the undertaking must show that the making of the order was a cause without which the damage would not have been suffered’.

Stephen J referred to the court having the power, as far as monetary compensation allows, to make good the harm of which the grant of the injunction was a cause and that but for it he would not have suffered. Mason J said generally speaking, so long as the claim for damages is not trivial or trifling, an enquiry should be directed and the defendant will be entitled to recover the loss which is the natural consequence of the grant of the injunction.

The causal connection between the damage and the injunction is to be identified from the purpose for which the undertaking as to damages is designed to serve. That object is to protect a party from damage sustained in the event that it emerges that the plaintiff is not entitled to the relief sought. Its purpose is not to protect the defendant from damage otherwise sustained.

32.  In European Bank, the High Court, in a joint judgment, affirmed Air Express, restating the significance of the nature of the undertaking. It is not a contract between parties or some other cause of action upon which a party could sue, but is given to the court for enforcement by the court. The joint judgment emphasised the phrase ‘which could have been foreseen’.

It is well established that for damage to be reasonably foreseeable it need only be damage of a type or character that is foreseeable or damage of a type or character that could not be considered unlikely.Roads Corporation submitted that the tortious concept ‘reasonable foreseeability’ is a wider concept than the contractual ‘reasonable contemplation’.

The High Court in European Bank makes it clear that the inquiry is not whether the actual loss suffered was foreseen at the time the undertaking was given, but is whether loss of a kind actually sustained could have been foreseen. “

(citations omitted)

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The Court accepted that the concept of mitigation of damage applied (at least by analogy) in this case.

Tate JA said at [62]:

“While there is no suggestion that the usual undertaking was here given lightly, the consequences that have flowed from the failure of Mr Love to make out his case at trial have been significant. In my view, these consequences provide a salutary lesson to practitioners and their clients to appreciate the conditions governing the grant of an interlocutory injunction. The usual undertaking carries serious risks; it would be wholly erroneous to view it as no more than a ritual or a formality.”

[1] Love v Thwaites (No. 4) [2012] VSC 521

 

 

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Mortgagor fails in last minute bid to stop auction

Bill Stark has posted an interesting article on his blog about a case concerning a defaulting mortgagor’s last minute unsuccessful attempt to prevent the sale of the mortgaged land. See: Melbourne Property Law Blog.  Attempts by mortgagors to prevent  sales proceeding are rarely successful and the price for an injunction preventing a sale proceeding is usually payment of the amount owing into court. In the case analysed by Bill (Pearl Beach Property Administration Pty Ltd v Wisewoulds Nominees Limited [2014] VSC 113)  the mortgagee advertised the property for sale at an auction with an expected price range of $3,900,00 – $4,200,000. The day before the auction the borrower “sold” the land for $5,000,000; however, the mortgagee did not consent to the proposed sale preferring to go to auction. The borrower sought an injunction on the day of the auction alleging that the mortgagee had breached its duty to act “in good faith and having regard to the interests of the mortgagor” under s.77(1) of the Transfer of Land Act 1958 and/or its obligations to the mortgagor under s.420A of the Corporations Act. The alleged bad faith was the mortgagee marketing the property for sale in a price range that was less than the valuation of $4,800,000 allegedly obtained by it. Despite the mortgagee not appearing at the hearing of the injunction  the injunction was refused.  Justice Dixon  held at [21] that “It was not properly open to infer a want of good faith or want of reasonable care in the conduct of the proposed sale from the fact that the property has been advertised as available within a range that is below the sworn valuation”.  His Honour said that under quoting did not mean that the property was likely to be sold at an undervalue at auction.  There is authority that a mortgagee is  not bound to withdraw a property from auction merely because private offers are made  See: Southern Goldfields Ltd v General Credits Ltd (1991) 4 WAR 138. See also Qorum Pty Ltd v Younger (1995) NSW Conv R 55-738 (BC9504362).  While it is usual for a mortgagee to sell mortgaged property by auction it is not a breach of duty by the mortgagee if property is sold by private contract. See: s77(1) of the TLA. However, where land is sold by private contract it is desirable for the mortgagee to obtain one or more estimates of the value of the mortgaged property from competent estate agents. See: Croft and Hay The Mortgagee’s Power of Sale, 2012, para 6.2. It is not a breach of duty merely because land is sold by private contract without advertising: the question is always whether the land sold in good faith and for a fair price. See: Vasiliou v Westpac Banking Corporation (2007 19 VR 229. The critical issue is the price obtained and not the presence or absence of advertising. See: Vasiliou at [63]. A mortgagee may also not be acting in bad faith by proceeding with an auction despite the existence of a lucrative offer for private sale if there is no evidence that the purchaser will be able to perform its obligations under the contract. See: Esanda Finance Corporation Ltd v C Conti (unreported, Supreme Court of Queensland, 15 January 1993, BC9303066).

 

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Landlord’s consideration of proposed assignment must be “reasonable”

 

There is a translation key(widget)  on this blog for ease of reading for non-English speaking members of the public or professionals. http://roberthaybarrister.blogspot.com.au/

 

Section 60 of the Retail Leases Act 2003 prescribes when a landlord can withhold consent to a proposed assignment of a retail premises lease. The most significant provision is sub-section 60(1)(b) which provides that:

“(1)           A landlord is only entitled to withhold consent to the assignment of a retail premises lease if one or more of the following applies –

….

(b)             the landlord considers that the proposed assignee does not have sufficient financial resources or business experience to meet the obligations under the lease;”

 

On its face s.60(1)(b) appears to give the landlord unfettered power to withhold consent – that is the landlord’s subjective view is all that matters. Despite the wording of the section VCAT has implied a requirement that the landlord must act “reasonably” in undertaking its consideration. In AAMR Hospitality Group Pty Ltd v Goodpar Pty Ltd [2009] VCAT 2782 Deputy President Macnamara held at [45] that:

“With the utmost hesitation however I consider that the words ‘reasonably’ or ‘acting reasonably’ should be read into section 60(1)(b)……. The overriding policy evident in the Retail Leases Act is to provide special protection to a limited class of commercial tenants, namely those who are tenants of small retail tenancies and do not have the clout that say a listed corporation would have. The provisions of the statute are aimed at providing protection to this class of tenant and constraining and restricting a largely unrestricted power which landlords of these premises at common law and before the enactment of special retail tenancies legislation had available. To construe a provision such as section 60(1)(b) such that one of the protected class of tenants was to be at the mercy of the purely subjective determination of a lessor would not be conducive to the statute’s overall policy, per contra it would tend to subvert the wider policy of the statute, …”

In a recent decision Member Farrelly said  that he agreed with Deputy President Macnamara’s reasoning and construed s.60(1)(b) as if it the word “reasonably” appeared before “considers”. See: Villa v Emaan Pty Ltd [2014] VCAT 274 at [47]- [48].

 

My clerk can be contacted via this link for bookings  http://www.greenslist.com.au/

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