Unfair term provisions provide tenants with a new weapon

Tenants with less than 20 employees will soon have a new weapon in disputes with landlords as a result of amendments to the Australian Consumer Law: they will be able to challenge a term in a lease that is  “unfair”.

The legislation effecting the changes, the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Act 2015, has received Royal Assent but the changes do not come into force until November 2016. The changes will affect contracts (including leases) entered into or renewed on and from 12 November 2016. The changes will also apply to a provision in a contract that is varied on or after that date.

The legislation extends the existing unfair contract provisions available to consumers in Part 2-3 of the ACL to small businesses with less than 20 employees when the contract is entered into. Similar changes have been made to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission Act 2001.

In determining the number of employees casual employees are not counted unless the employee is employed “on a regular and systematic basis”. To be able to challenge an “unfair” term the “upfront price payable” must not exceed $300,000 (if the lease has a duration of 12 months or less) or $1,000,000 (if the lease has a duration of more than 12 months). Because payments under a lease are usually made monthly it is unclear how the “upfront price payable” is to be calculated.

A term of a lease will be void if the term is “unfair” and the lease is a “standard form contract”. A term is “unfair” only if it:

  • would cause a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations under the contract;
  • is not reasonable necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the advantaged party;
  • it would cause financial or other detriment to the business affected if it were applied or relied on.

A lease will be presumed to be a “standard form contract” if a party to a proceeding makes that allegation unless another party proves otherwise. In determining whether a lease is a standard form contract a court may take into account matters that it considers relevant but must take into account whether one party has all or most of the bargaining power, whether the leased was prepared by one party before any discussions occurred, whether a party was in effect required to accept or reject the terms and whether a party was given an effective opportunity to negotiate the terms.

If a term is declared void the lease will continue to bind the parties if it can operate without the unfair term.

To ensure that the legislation does not apply landlords should consider deleting lease terms that are not reasonably necessary for their protection and avoid “take it or leave it” type negotiations. Where it is unclear whether a prospective tenant is likely to have 20 employees a landlord might also consider including a term in the lease that requires the tenant to declare how many employees it does have.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

, , , , , , ,

  1. #1 by Dezi on February 3, 2016 - 6:27 pm

    Interesting reading as always. I see headaches coming.

  2. #2 by Michael Brodie on February 4, 2016 - 4:42 pm

    Thank you Robert for a very succinct analysis of the change. I have not expressly looked at the issue, but my feeling is that it may well be possible to gain a good degree of certainty as to the meaning of “upfront price payable” with respect to leases. I would think key money precedents would be the starting point. I defer to your expertise. The term “upfront price payable” is perhaps not the best term to use, especially for leases and even in a broader commercial context. Before forming my own view on a likely judicial interpretation, the first question which is actually just as interesting is why were those specific words used? The answer to the latter may decisive in the answer to the former. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Owners Corporation Law

Developments in strata body corporate law in Victoria

The Warne Account

The blog of Dan Warne, Australian tech writer.

Best Practices for Legal Education

A Vision and a Road Map

Tisher Liner FC Law Blog

Legal Updates on Business Law, Property and Litigation

THE NSW BAR -- A COMMENTARY

AN ASSOCIATION OF UNCOMMON PEOPLE

With Compliments

Geoffrey Gibson

CommBar Matters

Commentary and case law from the Commercial Bar Association's finest.

The law of land and sea

Australian law of property and environment

Amicae Curiae

Women. Law. Legal Education. Legal Practice. Career. Work/Life balance

Carrie Rome-Sievers, Barrister

Developments in insolvency and commercial law

Equity, Trusts and More

Travis Mitchell, Barrister at the Victorian Bar

Sam Ure

A Melbourne barrister practising in commercial disputes, tax and administrative law

The Property Law Blog

Robert Hay QC Property and Commercial Law Barrister

%d bloggers like this: