Posts Tagged Termination of Lease

Lessor’s purpose for demolishing leased building is irrelevant

Leases commonly permit a landlord to terminate a lease if the landlord intends to demolish the building located on the leased premises. Section 56 of the Retail Leases Act 2003 (Vic) implies terms into a retail premises lease that provides for the termination of lease on the grounds that the building is to be demolished. Section 56(2) of the Act says:

The landlord cannot terminate the lease  on that ground unless the landlord has—

(a)        provided the tenant with details of the proposed demolition that are sufficient to indicate a genuine proposal to demolish the building within a reasonably practicable time after the lease is to be terminated; and

(b)       given the tenant at least 6 months’ written notice of the termination date.

Tenants often claim that a proposal is not a “genuine proposal” because the landlord intends to demolish the building so that the new building constructed on the site can be used for the landlord’s own purpose or for the purpose of leasing to a new party. However, the claim is misconceived because the purpose for which a landlord wishes to “demolish” leased premises is irrelevant to the question of whether there is a “genuine proposal”.

Assuming that enough detail is provided in the notice of termination concerning the proposed demolition, the only question is whether there is a genuine proposal to demolish. The term “demolish” is widely defined in s.56(7). In Blackler v Felpure Pty Ltd (1999) 9 BPR 17,259 Bryson J said at [31] that the lessor “should have a genuine proposal to demolish the building within a reasonably practical time after the lease is to be terminated.” Blackler concerned s.35 of the Retail Leases Act 1994 (NSW) which contained a demolition clause in similar terms to s.56 of the Act. Bryson J identified the question for determination as whether the notice itself provided sufficient details to indicate a genuine proposal.

At [37] His Honour said:

The requirement to provide details is not merely a formal step imposed in the lessor’s path, but the details are to be provided so that the lessee can come to a conclusion about whether the termination will be effective, and whether the lessee should accept that it will be effective or dispute it. The sufficiency of details provided should be tested in relation to that purpose. The question is whether the details provided are sufficient to indicate a genuine proposal to demolish the building; if they are not the termination cannot take place and if they are it will be effective no matter what other details of the proposed demolition exist or could have been provided.

And at [61]:

It is not in my view open to contention by the lessee whether the lessor’s decision to demolish, repair, renovate or reconstruct the building is reasonable or appropriate; it is sufficient if there is a genuine proposal. Nor in my opinion is it open to debate whether the lessor could in some way modify the lessor’s proposal so as to continue to accommodate the lessee after the premises have been demolished, repaired, renovated or reconstructed. The opportunity to break a lease, retake possession of take advantage of the demolition clause is a contractual opportunity made available to the lessor by the terms of the lease itself, ……, it is not injurious to the lessor’s position whether the lessor has decided to take advantage, and it is not relevant that the lessor has in view occupying the premises itself, or selling them after reconstruction, or leasing them again, even if the lease should be a business similar to the lessee’s. The demolition clause is a reality of the party’s relationship, and so is its potential operation to end the lease.

See also [62].

In Skiwing Pty Ltd v Trust Company of Australia [2006] NSWCA 276 the Court of Appeal held that a proposed “refurbishment redevelopment or extension” did not lose the character of a “genuine proposal” because the commercial motivation of the lessor was to attract a tenant or particular kind of tenant. See: Skiwing at [22] (Spigelman CJ (with whom Hodgson JA and Bryson JA agreed). Skiwing concerned a relocation notice given under s.34A of the Retail Leases Act 1994 (NSW) which provision was described at [22] as a “parallel formulation” to that considered by Bryson J in Blackler. The Court of Appeal at [22] said that Bryson J in Blackler was “correct”.

In Blackler Bryson J also accepted at [32] that there was an implied duty of good faith in the exercise of the contractual right to terminate the lease. However, the duty of good faith was not breached where the landlord had an intention to occupy the premises itself or lease them out to an identified person after the works had been carried out. His Honour said at [32]:

The defendant can exercise its power to terminate the lease with a view to its own advantage; it is for purposes of that kind that contractual entitlements generally exist.

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“Claw back” of lease incentives thrown into doubt

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 [2014] 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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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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