Posts Tagged Damages based on Breach
Landlords often offer incentives to a tenant to encourage the tenant to enter a lease. Common incentives are rent free periods and contributions to the fit out. The logic behind the inducement is that landlord will benefit because the tenant will occupy the premises for the term of the lease. Landlords sometimes require a “claw back” provision in the lease so that if the landlord terminates the lease before the expiry of the term the lease incentive (or part of the lease incentive) must be repaid.
The enforceability of “claw back” clauses has been thrown into doubt by the decision of the Queensland Supreme Court in GWC Property Group Pty Ltd v Higginson  QSC 264.
In GWC the tenant and the landlord entered into a lease and on the same day entered into an incentive deed. The incentive deed was recited to “supplement the lease” and recited that the landlord had agreed, among other things, to contribute to the tenant’s fit-out and grant a rent abatement. The lease did not require the tenant to undertake a fit-out. The incentive deed also provided for repayment of part of the landlord’s contributions if the lease was terminated (other than by expiry of the term or the lessor’s default) or if the tenant parted with possession without the landlord’s consent. The obligation to repay was guaranteed by guarantors.
The landlord terminated the lease after the leased premises were abandoned by the tenant. The court decided that:
- the lease and the incentive deed had to be construed as if they were one document;
- the obligation to repay only arise if there a termination;
- the tenant could be obliged to repay the landlord’s contributions for reasons other than the tenant’s breach – for example where the tenant went into liquidation or following a natural disaster;
- the repayment obligation should not be viewed as a restitutionary payment;
- in addition to contractual damages for breach of the lease, the landlord was entitled, by the repayment clauses, to recover substantial additional payments;
- the repayment obligation were not a genuine pre-estimate of damage.
The court decided that the obligation to repay landlord’s contributions was a penalty and was therefore not enforceable.
The case contains a good discussion about the law of penalties. Thanks to Tony Burke of Burke & Associates Lawyers Pty Ltd for alerting me to GWC.
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What is the effect of a purchaser of land nominating a nominee under a nomination clause contained in the contract: what rights and obligations does the nominee have?
The answer is none: the nominee has no contractual rights and no obligations.
In 428 Little Bourke Street Pty Ltd v Lonsdale Street Cafe Pty Ltd  VSC 133 the vendor misrepresented the lettable area of the property. The purchaser nominated the plaintiff as purchaser. The director of the purchaser was also the director of the nominee. It was alleged that the nominee purchaser relied on the representations. The nominee clause provided as follows:
“If the contract says that the property is sold to a named purchaser ‘and/or nominee’ (or similar words) the named purchaser may, at least 14 days before settlement date, nominate a substitute or additional purchaser, but the named purchaser remains personally liable for the due performance of all the purchaser’s obligations under this contract.”
The contract authorised a substitute or additional purchaser.
The nominee purchaser brought an action for damages based on a breach of s 52 of the Trade Practices Act, s 9 of the Fair Trading Act and for negligent misstatement.
Judd J held that that the nomination did not have the effect of a novation and the plaintiff did not become a party to the contract of sale.
His Honour also found that by the time the plaintiff paid the purchase price and took the conveyance it was aware of the true lettable area of the property.
Thus, the cause of the plaintiff’s loss was either an informed choice to pay a price for the property and take the conveyance or, if the payment was involuntary, it was because the plaintiff was caused by its directors, in full knowledge of the true facts to make the payment in which case but for the nomination it would not have suffered any loss. The loss was caused by the nomination – not the representations. Judd J dismissed the proceeding.
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