Archive for category Greens List
VCAT recently held that a tenant had not breached a lease by permitting users of AirBnB to stay in the tenant’s apartment. The landlord argued that the tenant had breached the lease by subletting the apartment in breach of the lease. The landlord sought possession of the apartment. The cornerstone of a lease is that the tenant has “exclusive possession” of the premises. The landlord’s case failed in VCAT because the Tribunal held that the AirBnB guests did not have exclusive possession of the apartment and therefore did not occupy the apartment under a sublease. VCAT held that the nature of the legal relationship between the tenant and the AirBnB guests was a licence to occupy, rather than a lease.
The landlord applied for leave to appeal. The application was determined this morning by Justice Croft. See: Swan v Ueker and Greaves  VSC 313. Justice Croft granted leave to appeal and granted the landlord’s appeal. His Honour held that VCAT either identified the wrong legal test concerning exclusive possession or applied the correct legal test wrongly. The judgment contains a detailed analysis of what is meant by “exclusive possession”.
Justice Croft said that this was not a case about the merits of AirBnB’s arrangements but rather the legal character of the arrangement. His Honour also said that a broad prohibition in the lease on sub-leasing, assigning the lease, granting any licence to occupy all or part of the premises or otherwise parting with possession without the landlord’s prior consent would avoid the need to characterise the nature of the arrangement as a sub-lease or a licence.
I will be writing further about this judgment.
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.
Today I commented on an advisory opinion given by the President of VCAT, Justice Garde, in which His Honour decided that:
(a) a landlord could not recover from a tenant the costs of complying with essential safety measure requirements imposed on the landlord under the Building Act 1993 and its regulations;
(b) a landlord could not recover from a tenant as outgoings the costs that the landlord incurs in complying with s.52 of the Retail Leases Act 2003.
The effect of the decision is that landlords are likely to require tenants to enter into ‘gross leases’. Landlords are also likely to ask tenants to apply for a certificate from the Small Business Commissioner under s.21(5) of the RLA; the giving of a certificate enables a retail premises lease to have a term of less than five years.
That part of the opinion concerning the recovery of the cost of complying with essential safety measures will prevent a landlord under both a retail premises lease and a commercial lease from recovering the costs incurred in complying with the essential safety measure requirements.
A vendor who has terminated a contract for the sale of land should be wary of serving a second notice to complete because the second notice revives the agreement that has been terminated.
In Rona v Shimden  NSWSC 818 a vendor under a contract of sale claiming to have terminated the contract, gave notice to complete which was expressed to be without prejudice to its contention that the contract was terminated. White J at  analysed the position as follows:
The giving of a notice to complete may give rise to an estoppel which precludes the party giving the notice from asserting that the contract has been terminated. Here, the purchaser did not do anything consequent upon the service of the notice which could create such an estoppel. Estoppel aside, the service of a notice to complete without prejudice to a prior notice of termination takes effect as an offer to revive the agreement, capable of being accepted by performance in accordance with the terms of the notice to complete: Lohar Corporation Pty Ltd v Dibu Pty Ltd (1976) 1 BPR 9177 at 9184, 9187.
In Naval and Military Club v Southraw  VSC 593 Byrne J accepted this analysis. See: also Portbury Development Co Pty Ltd v Ottedin Investments Pty Ltd & Ors  VSC 57.
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Section 118 of the Transfer of Land Act 1958 and s.74P of the Real Property Act 1900 (NSW) provide for payment of compensation to a party who has suffered “damage” (TLA) or “pecuniary loss” (RPA) where a person lodges a caveat “without reasonable cause”. In New South Wales s.74P also extends to a caveator who, without reasonable cause, refuses or fails to withdraw a caveat after being requested to do so. See: s.74P(1)(c).
As to the meaning of “reasonable cause” in Bedford Properties Pty Ltd v Surgo  1 NSWLR 106 Wootton J said at 109:
The drastic nature of the power is relevant in considering what is “reasonable cause” for its use, just as the dangerous character of a thing is relevant to deciding what is reasonable care in handling it. Before exercising such a power, a person can reasonably be expected to get proper advice, and be reasonably sure of his ground. If he does not, he may find that he has acted at his peril. This is all the more so when he knows, as Mr Richards knew, and indeed intended, that his action will prevent an important transaction involving a large sum of money.
In the recent case of Arkbay Investments Pty Ltd v Tripod Funds Management Pty Ltd  NSWSC 1003 Robb J said that it was “salutary to record” Wootton J’s observations in deciding that a caveat had been lodged without reasonable cause and had caused pecuniary loss.
In Arkbay there was no evidence that when the caveator lodged the caveat it had an honest belief on reasonable grounds that it had an interest in the relevant property. His Honour held that the lodging of the caveat had caused loss by reason of a delay in the settlement date for sale of the property.
At  Robb J said:
“The onus is on the plaintiffs to show that the caveator acted without reasonable cause. For there to be reasonable cause it is not necessary that the caveator actually have a caveatable interest, but it is necessary that the caveator have an honest belief based upon reasonable grounds that the caveator has such an interest. Wootton J in Bedford Properties noted at 108 that an honest belief on the part of the caveator based on reasonable grounds may not be sufficient to provide a reasonable cause for lodging or maintaining a caveat, if the caveat is lodged “not for the protection of his interest but for an ulterior motive and without regard to its effect on transactions to which the caveator had agreed.”
My clerk can be contacted via this link http://www.greenslist.com.au/
From 31 July 2014, liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
Re-entry and Relief from Forfeiture in Commercial Leases
Robert Hay – Greens List
My clerk can be contacted via this link http://www.greenslist.com.au/
I recently presented a short paper at the Law Institute of Victoria’s Property Law Conference on the topical question of :
“Whether a landlord can recover from a tenant the costs of complying with the Building Act”
The paper is attached for your download ease.
There is a translation key (widget) on the mirrored blog for ease of reading for non-English speaking members of the public or professionals. The mirrored blog can be found at http://roberthaybarrister.blogspot.com.au/
Section 52 of the Retail Leases Act 2003 implies into a 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 structure of, and fixtures in, the retail premises; and
(b) plant and equipment at the retail premises; and
(c) the appliances, fittings and fixtures provided under the lease by the landlord relating to the gas, electricity, water, drainage or other services.
The section was considered in Computers & Parts Land Pty Ltd  VCAT 2054 where it was held that a landlord was not required to maintain premises in “state of disrepair” that was “identical” to the state of disrepair when the lease was entered into; the state of repair “need not be any better than at the commencement of the lease” but had to be “the same benefit to the lessee as was agreed to be provided by the demise” (para ). Section 52 was a “keep in repair” obligation as opposed to a “put in and keep in repair” obligation (paras  and ). The expression “keep in repair”:
“…could mean, in extreme circumstances, that the only course open to a landlord is to replace some aspect of rented premises, but only to the degree that it is necessary to give the tenant the same conditions as at the commencement of the tenancy.”
If parts failed they had to be replaced with replacement parts that “in the absence of adequate second hand parts, might need to be new” (para ). While s 52 did not mandate compliance with any legislative standard, a landlord could not contravene “a building or related law or regulation” and if there were an “aspect of the building that was legal at the date of its construction but is no longer legal, repair of that aspect of the building would not be a betterment for the Tenant.”(para ).
The Tribunal rejected contentions that a landlord had to re-design an air conditioning system to remove design flaws or anomalies (para ) and replace the system with one that operated better than the original system (para ) but accepted that there might be circumstances where a roof had to be replaced rather than repaired if it were to survive the duration of the tenancy (para ).
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