Posts Tagged Landlord

VCAT loses jurisdiction to hear a dispute where a party is not resident in Victoria

Following last week’s High Court decision in Burns v Corbett [2018] HCA 15 the Victorian Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has lost its jurisdiction to hear and determine a dispute where one of the parties is resident of a State other than Victoria.

This will pose significant problems for VCAT particularly concerning its exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine a “retail tenancy dispute” under the Retail Leases Act 2003 (2003 Act)[1]. Proceedings in the Tribunal where a party is not resident in Victoria will be affected by the decision. Because VCAT never had jurisdiction to hear and determine a matter where a party was not resident in Victoria, Burns is also likely to have consequences for proceedings that have been heard and determined where one party was not a resident of Victoria.

Where a party is not resident in Victoria, disputes under the 2003 Act will have to be heard and determined in a Victorian court, the Federal Court or an interstate court. Where a “retail tenancy dispute” is heard in a court, a significant issue will be whether the cost regime in the 2003 Act applies or whether the awarding of costs will be governed by court rules. Except in limited circumstances, s.92 of the 2003 Act requires each party to bear its own costs.

In Burns the High Court held that provisions of the Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2013 (NSW) were invalid to the extent that they purported to confer jurisdiction upon the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of New South Wales (NCAT) concerning matters between residents of different States.

Chapter III of the Australian Constitution includes ss75 to 77. Section 75(iv) provides that the High Court has original jurisdiction in all matters between residents of different States. Section 76 enables the Commonwealth Parliament to confer additional original jurisdiction on the High Court. Except for the High Court, s.77 permits Parliament to defines the jurisdiction of any federal court including defining the extent to which the jurisdiction of any federal court is exclusive of the jurisdiction of a State court, and gives State courts federal jurisdiction. Section 39 of the Judiciary Act 1903 invests State courts with federal jurisdiction subject to certain conditions and restrictions.

In Burns, Mr Burns complained to the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales about statements made by Ms Corbett and Mr Gaynor which he alleged vilified homosexuals contrary to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)). Mr Burns was a resident of New South Wales, Ms Corbett was a resident of Victoria and Mr Gaynor was a resident of Queensland.

The complaint against Ms Corbett was referred to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal of New South Wales (predecessor to NCAT) which found that Ms Corbett had breached the Act and ordered her to make an apology. Ms Corbett refused to apologise and Mr Burns commenced a proceeding in the Supreme Court charging Ms Corbett with contempt. Ms Corbett contended that neither the ADT nor NCAT had jurisdiction because she was a resident of Victoria. The complaint against Mr Gaynor was dismissed by NCAT. However, Mr Gaynor obtained leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal in respect of an interlocutory costs order on the basis that NCAT had no jurisdiction to determine matters concerning residents of a State other than New South Wales.

The New South Wales Court of Appeal determined the jurisdiction disputes. The Court had to decide whether NCAT could hear and determine a dispute arising under the Act between a resident of New South Wales and a resident of another State. It was common ground that in determining Mr Burns’ complaints, NCAT was exercising the judicial power of the State despite it not being a “court of a State” within the meaning of Chapter III. The Court held that NCAT had no jurisdiction to hear and determine the complaints against Ms Corbett or Mr Gaynor.

The High Court unanimously dismissed the appeals with a majority deciding that Chapter III permitted adjudicative authority concerning the matters in ss 75 and 76 to be exercised only by a State court. Chapter III would be undermined were a State Parliament able to confer adjudicative authority concerning any of the matters referred to in ss 75 and 76 on a State tribunal that was not a State court.

Parties to current litigation in VCAT need to consider whether the proceeding can continue in the Tribunal.

 

 

 

 

[1]See s.89(4) of the Retail Leases Act2003.

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‘Ultimate consumer test” remains one of the indicia of the retail provision of services

The CB Cold Storage and IMCC Group saga has ended. This morning the High Court of Australia refused the landlord’s application for special leave to appeal. The consequence is that the Court of Appeal’s decision in IMCC Group (Australia) Pty Ltd v CB Cold Storage Pty Ltd [2017] VSCA 178 stands and practitioners can draft leases and give advice confident that the so-called “the ultimate consumer test” remains one of the main indicia in determining whether premises are “retail premises” and therefore governed by the Retail Leases Act 2003. The saga began as a preliminary question in VCAT – the question being whether the Act applied to the premises. The lease permitted CB Cold Storage to operate the premises as “Cold and cool storage warehouse and transport facility” and also contained a clause that precluded CB Cold Storage from operating the premises as “retail premises”. The prohibition on the tenant operating the premises as “retail premises” was irrelevant because the landlord agreed that that the tenant’s actual use of the premises accorded with the permitted use; this meant that  the only question was the premises should be characterised as “retail premises” under the Act. Premises are “retail premises’ where:

“under the terms of the lease…the premises 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” (s.4(1))

In Wellington v Norwich Union Life Insurance Society Ltd [1991] 1 VR 333 Nathan J said that:

“The essential feature of retailing, is to my mind, the provision of an item or service to the ultimate consumer for fee or reward. The end user may be a member of the public, but not necessarily so.”

His Honour’s statement has been applied many times. Where a service is provided there will be few instances where the service is not “consumed” or used in the leased premises. In CB Cold Storage the service was “consumed” or used in the premises by the ultimate consumer, being the tenant’s customers. While the tenant’s customers ranged from large primary production enterprises to very small owner operated businesses, any person could store goods in the premises. VCAT held that the premises were not ‘retail premises’ on the basis that the tenant’s customers were using the tenant’s service for business purposes rather than for personal use. In CB Cold Storage Pty Ltd v IMCC Group (Australia) Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 23 Justice Croft held that the premises were “retail premises” and the Court of Appeal agreed with His Honour. The Court of Appeal held that the “ultimate consumer test” was one of the indicia of the retail provision of services. In all cases it is necessary to consider whether the premises are “open to the public”  – that is there are no restrictions on access to the service and who can use it. The characteristics of the user – that is whether the use is an individual or a business is not relevant. At [50] the Court of Appeal said:

“In summary, the services were used by the Tenant’s customers who paid a fee. Any person could purchase the services if the fee was paid. The Tenant’s business was open during normal business hours. The Tenant’s customers have not passed on the services to anyone else. They were the ultimate consumers of the Tenant’s services. In isolation, none of these features would suffice to constitute the premises as retail premises. Conversely, the absence of one or more of them, would not necessarily result in a finding that the premises were not retail premises. However, in the circumstances of this case, when all of those features are taken together, the conclusion must be that the premises are retail premises.”

Where the parties intend that premises not be governed by the Act the permitted use should make that clear. A good example is Sofos v Coburn [1994] 2 VR 505 where the permitted use was “wholesale and export fish supply”. The tenant was undertaking retail sales. Nathan J held that the tenant could not rely on what it was actually doing when that contradicted the express terms of the lease.

 

 

 

 

 

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Retail Leases Act 2003 (Vic) likely to apply where tenant provides a service

Where a tenant provides services from leased premises in accordance with the permitted use the lease is likely to be a “retail premises lease” and therefore governed by the Retail Leases Act 2003 (Vic).

In every case it is necessary to identify precisely the service being provided, consider what activity is permitted under the lease and whether the service provided accords with the permitted use.

The Act applies to a “retail premises lease”.  “Retail’ is not defined; however, the expression “retail premises” is defined (s.4(1)):

“….premises, not including any area intended for use as a residence, that under the terms of the lease relating to the premises are used, or are to be used, wholly or predominantly for –

(a)   the sale or hire of goods by retail or the provision of services;”

(underlining added).

The authorities provide strong support for the ‘ultimate consumer’ test as the touchstone of retailing. In Wellington Union Life Insurance Society Limited [1991] 1 VR 333, Nathan J said at 336:

“The essential feature of retailing, is to my mind, the provision of an item or service to the ultimate consumer for fee or reward. The end user may be a member of the public, but not necessarily so.”

Wellington Union concerned the provision of a service: patent attorneys providing advice to large foreign chemical companies from rented premises. In some cases the advice passed through the hands of an intermediary to the ultimate consumer. Nathan J held that the premises were “retail premises”.

In Fitzroy Dental Pty Ltd v Metropole Management Pty Ltd [2013] VSC 344 (which also concerned the provision of a service) Croft J referred to Wellington Union at [16]:

“The fact that the advice of the patent attorneys may pass through the hands of an intermediary to the ultimate consumer or end user was not regarded as significant, provided it came into the hands of that person in a form that could not be amended and hence remained the product of the intellect of the deliverer. More generally, this highlights and emphasises the importance of characterising the nature of the “service” that is being provided. Thus, in the context of Wellington, it would follow that if the position was that the patent attorneys provided advice to, for example, a solicitor who would, in turn, provide advice to his or her client, the ultimate consumer, using the patent attorney’s advice merely as an “input” in his or her advice, wholly or partially with additions and modifications on the basis of his or her professional opinion, the position would be different. In those circumstances the patent attorney’s advice could not, in a relevant sense, be said to pass through the hands of an intermediary to the ultimate consumer. It does not, however, follow that in these circumstances the solicitor may not be regarded as the “ultimate consumer” of the service for the purposes of his or her own practice; as is likely to be the case with other “inputs” for the practice such as, for example, legal research services, stationary and office supplies.”

Most reported cases concern whether goods are being sold by retail. At [17] in Fitzroy Dental Croft J considered whether the sale of goods could be said to be “retail”;

“….. a sale of “widget type A” from premises by A to B who, in turn, “converts” the good “widget type A” to “widget type B for sale to C would not involve the sale of “widget type A” to C as the ultimate consumer of that type of good. Depending on the nature of the goods involved these transactions may involve sale by wholesale to B and a retail sale to C – or, alternatively, two retail sales of different goods, “widget type A” to B and “widget type B” to C.”

And at [18];

“… that the fact that a good or a service is provided to a person who uses the good or service as an “input” in that person’s business for the purpose of producing or providing a different good or service to another person does not detract from the possible characterisation of the first person (and perhaps also the second person, depending on all the circumstances) as the “ultimate consumer” of the original good or service.”

In CB Cold Storage Pty Ltd v IMCC Group Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 23 Croft J had to again consider whether rented premises were “retail premises”. The tenant conducted the business of a cold and cool storage warehouse storage from the premises which accorded with the permitted use under the lease. The tenant’s customers ranged from large primary production enterprises to very small owner operated businesses. VCAT held that the tenant’s rented premises were not “retail premises” on the basis that a “consumer” was a person who used goods or services to satisfy personal needs rather than for a business purpose and therefore the tenant’s customers were not consumers of the tenant’s services. The tenant appealed VCAT’s decision. Croft J allowed the appeal and held that the premises were “retail premises”. The Tribunal erred in holding that customers that used a tenant’s service for a business purpose were not “ultimate consumers”; the Tribunal treated the services provided at the premises as an “input” into the tenant’s customer’s business arrangements with the consequence that the tenant’s customers were not the ultimate consumers of the tenant’s services. The matter was not remitted to VCAT because the Tribunal had been satisfied of all other matters necessary to support a conclusion that the premises were “retail premises”: the premises were being used in accordance with the lease, were “open to the public” and there were no findings to support a conclusion that the premises were not “retail premises”.

CB Cold Storage highlights the importance of identifying the nature of the service being provided and the user or consumer of that service. In most cases the provision of a service will be “retail”.

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AirBnB guests occupied apartment under a lease

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 [2016] 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.

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Valuers must furnish detailed reasons for rental determinations under Retail Leases Act

Valuers determining the “current market rent” rent under leases concerning retail premises must ensure that the valuation:

  • contains “detailed reasons” for the determination; and
  • “specify the matters to which the valuer had regard in making the determination”.

See: s.37(6)(b) and (c) of the Retail Leases Act 2003.

Both requirements must be met; a determination that specified the matters to which the valuer had regard but failed to provide detailed reasons for the determination would not comply with s.37(6).

In Higgins Nine Group Pty Ltd v Ladro Greville St Pty Ltd [2016] VSC 244 Justice Croft had to consider what was required of a valuer in “giving detailed reasons” and “specifying the matters” to which he or she had regard in making the determination. Higgins concerned an application for leave to appeal from a decision given in VCAT.

After reviewing case law concerning provisions in New South Wales similar to s.37(6), His Honour said at [40] that it was not sufficient for a valuer to “leap to a judgment”: the valuation “must disclose the steps of reasoning” and that both the Victorian and NSW provisions “eschew and do not entertain any ‘blinding flash or light’ as satisfying their ‘requirements’”.

In Higgins the valuer examined the tenant’s financial records and determined the rent using the “profits method” of valuation for determining the rent. The tenant had a 24 hour liquor licence but traded only to 11pm. The valuer referred to the tenant’s actual sales and determined that an additional $536,782 was achievable in annual turnover for the business, being a 26% increase over the actual sales. The only indicator as to how that figure was arrived at was in comments made by the valuer in a document furnished after the valuation was made where he said the figure was derived:

“Based on the liquor licence in place, and comparable venues in the region which I hold on file.”

No details of the comparable venues were furnished.

The landlord sought to defend the valuation on the basis that it was an opinion of an expert and, given the valuer’s experience, that was sufficient in terms of reasoning for the purpose of s.37(6).

Justice Croft rejected the landlord’s argument and refused refused leave to appeal. His Honour referred to and agreed with the following analysis of the valuation given by the Tribunal:

“One might speculate that the Valuer placed considerable emphasis on the fact that the Tenant traded up until 11 pm in circumstances where the 24 hour liquor licence allowed it to trade well beyond that time. However, having to speculate as to how the Valuer formed his opinion is, in my view, contrary to what is required under s.37(6) of the Act. Moreover, no detail was provided as to what other venues were used as a comparator. That, of itself, raises a number of questions: Did those other venues have similar GLAR? Did they have the same type of liquor licence? Were they also being operated as a restaurant/bar? Was their location proximate or did they cater for the same demographic clientele? Without those details, I consider the reasoning to be deficient and not in accordance with the Act.”

His Honour said at [44] that the valuer’s reference to an undisclosed file of material upon which he had made an assessment was “worse than a mere ‘blinding flash of light’” and that the reasoning process was “entirely opaque”.

When a valuer is engaged the parties should refer the valuer to the requirement in s.37(6) to both provide detailed reasons and specify the matters to which the valuer had regard. A determination based on an opinion that does not disclose the valuer’s reasoning will not comply with s.37(6).

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Rent reviews – mandatory or at the landlord’s discretion?

The issue of whether a lease requires a rent review or whether the review is at the discretion of the landlord often arises. The problem can avoided by clear drafting. In Growthpoint Properties Australian Limited v Austalia Pacific Airports [2014] VSC 556 the court had to decide whether a rent review was mandatory under the lease or whether the review was at the discretion of the landlord.

Clause 4.2 of the lease provided that:

“On each Market Review Date, the Rent is to be adjusted by a market review in accordance with the Market Review Method….”

Part B of the Lease provided:

“On each Market Review Date, the Rent will be adjusted by a market review if:

(a) APAM gives written notice to the Tenant (“Rent Review Notice”) setting out APAM’s opinion of the market rent for the Premises as at the Market Review Date; and

(b) the Rent Review Notice is given to the Tenant in the period between 6 months before and 6 months after the Market Review Date.

New Rent applies unless a dispute notice is served.

The Rent stated in the Rent Review Notice applies from the Market Review Date unless the Tenant gives APAM a notice disputing the specified Rent (“Dispute Notice”) within 21 days after the Rent Review Notice is given.”

The controversy between the tenant and the landlord arose from the imperative language in clause 4.2 (“is to be adjusted”) and the use of the conditional language in Part B (“will be adjusted”).

The tenant contended that the clauses, when read together were ambiguous and that there was a conflict between the clauses. On the tenant’s construction of the lease the landlord was obliged to initiate a rent review.

The landlord submitted that the rent provisions gave the landlord an entitlement, but not an obligation, to give the lessee a rent review notice.

The court held that the rent provisions gave the landlord an entitlement, but not an obligation, to give the lessee a rent review notice.

The case is useful because it discusses in detail the principles governing the construction of leases and rent review clauses and highlights the need to examine the lease as a whole. Of particular interest is the discussion about the purpose of rent review clauses: the House of Lords in United Scientific Holdings Ltd v Burnley Borough Council [1978] AC 904 viewed the benefit of a rent review to the landlord as being the ability to adjust rent market with the benefit to the tenant being seen as the security of a long lease.

The lease in Growthpoint was a commercial lease. If the lease is a “retail premises lease” a tenant may initiate a rent review if the landlord fails to do so within 90 days after the period provided for in the lease for the review. See: s.35(5) of the Retail Leases Act 2003.

 

 

 

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NSW Court departs from general rule on drawing down of bank guarantees

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/

Courts have traditionally treated an interlocutory application to restrain the calling upon or use of money secured by a bank guarantee or other performance bond as being in a special category.

The authorities were summarised in Cerasola TLS AG v Thiess Pty Ltd & John Hollandd [2011] QSC 115 as follows:

On the basis of those authorities, it is sufficient for present purposes to note that the general rule is that a court will not enjoin the issuer of a performance guarantee from performing its unconditional obligation to make payment. A number of exceptions to that general rule have been identified. They are identified in Clough Engineering at [77] as:

(1)       An injunction will issue to prevent a party in whose favour the performance guarantee has been given from acting fraudulently.

(2)       An injunction will issue to prevent a party in whose favour the performance guarantee has been given from acting unconscionably in contravention of the Trade Practice Act 1974 (Cth).

(3)       While the Court will not restrain the issuer of a performance guarantee from acting on an unqualified promise to pay if the party in whose favour the guarantee has been given has made a contractual promise not to call upon the bond, breach of that contractual promise may be enjoined on normal principles relating to the enforcement by injunction of negative stipulations in contracts.

See: also Otter Group Pty Ltd v Wylaars [2013] VSC 98 at [16] where the summary was referred to with approval.

This general rule is the product of appellate authorities. See: Wood Hall Ltd v Pipeline Authority (1979) 141 CLR 443, Fletcher Construction Australia Ltd v Varnsdorf Pty Ltd [1983] 3 VR 812; Bachmann Pty Ltd v BHP Power New Zealand Ltd (1999] 1 VR 420 and Clough Engineering Ltd v Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd & Ors (2000) 249 ALR 458.

The rationale for the general rule is that by providing for security to be given, the parties implicitly agree that the party giving the security deposit shall be out of pocket pending resolution of the underlying dispute.

In Clough, the Full Federal Court said at [83] that “clear words will be required to support a construction which inhibits a beneficiary from calling on a performance guarantee where a breach is alleged in good faith, that is, non-fraudulently.”

The Supreme Court of New South Wales in Universal Publishers Pty Ltd v Australian Executor Trustees [2013] NSWSC 2012 appears to have departed from the general rule in circumstances where there were no clear words preventing the landlord calling on the bank guarantee and there was no issue that the landlord was acting in good faith. The lease did not contain any negative stipulations on the landlord’s right to call on the guarantee. The tenant disputed that there was any breach. The landlord submitted that the authorities referred to above made it clear that the existence of a dispute as to whether there was an actual breach was not an answer to an invocation of the guarantee. See: para [21].

In Universal the tenant obtained an ex parte injunction restraining the landlord from drawing on the bank guarantee. The proceeding then concerned whether the injunction should be discharged.

Clause 19.1 of the lease required the tenant to provide an “unconditional” bank guarantee to “secure the Lessee’s obligations under this Lease”.

Clause 19.4 provided that:

19.4. In the event that the lessee:

19.4.1.1 defaults in the payment of Rent or in the performance or compliance of any other obligations under this Lease; or

19.4.1.2 breaches any other obligation, term, condition or covenant under this Lease,

the Lessor is hereby authorised to demand that the guaranteeing bank pay to the Lessor such amount that (in the reasonable opinion of the Lessor) may be due to the Lessor as a result of such default, breach or non-observance by the Lessee or termination of the Lease pursuant to it.

The Court determined that there had to be an actual breach before the landlord could form an opinion as to the amount that might be due. See: para [25]. As to whether there was an actual breach did not depend on a judicial determination but on whether the tenant could establish that there was a serious question to be tried about whether there was a breach. See: paras [27] and [71].

The Court held that clause 19.1 did not provide for an allocation of the risk as to who should be out of pocket while a dispute as to the lessee’s asserted breach was determined. See: para [60].

The lesson from Universal is that the parties to a lease should ensure that the provisions concerning the drawing down of the guarantee specifically define the circumstances when the landlord can draw down on the guarantee. In particular, solicitors acting for landlords should, rather than relying on the general rule referred to above, ensure that the lease refers to the landlord’s entitlement to draw down on a guarantee where the landlord believes in good faith that the tenant has breached the lease.

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

From 31 July 2014, liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

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

 

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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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