Option not exercised because of default
Happy 2013 to you all. This blog has been quiet in recent times but that will change this year.
In Computer & Parts Land Pty Ltd v Property Sunrise Pty Ltd  VCAT 1522 the Tribunal was asked to determine whether an option contained in a lease was not exercisable by the tenant because of breaches of the lease that enlivened s.27(2) of the Retail Leases Act 2003.
Section 27(2) provides that the "only circumstances" in which an option is not exercisable is if the "tenant has not remedied any defaults under the lease about which the landlord has given the tenant written notice" (s.27(2)(a)) or " the tenant has persistently defaulted under the lease throughout its term and the landlord has given the tenant written notice of the defaults" (s.27(2)(b)). Section 27(2)(b) is ambigous: what is meant by "persistently", what is meant by "throughout its term", does a landlord have to give notice of each default or is one notice that describes all the defaults adequate? There have been a number of cases concerning s.27(2) all of which have avoided giving any definitive answers to these questions. See: for example, Westgate Battery Company Pty Ltd v GCA Pty Ltd  VCAT 2080 and Westside Real Estate Investments Pty Ltd  VCAT 1830. In this case the term of the lease was four years with two options for four year terms.
The landlord relied on s.27(2)(a) and (b) in alleging that the option had not been exercised because at the time of the purported exercise the tenant had not remedied a default and the tenant had persistently defaulted under the lease throughout the four year term of the first option period. Firstly, the Tribunal held that s.27(2) prevailed over the provisions contained in the lease concerning the exercise of the option. There had been nine occasions “over two stretches” when the rent was not paid on time and the rent had never been more than five weeks’ late. The Tribunal held that in those circumstances it was not “persuaded that the late payments could be described as ‘persistent’ (in the sense of ‘persevering’ or ‘constantly repeated’)" and that the late repayments had not occurred “throughout” the term of the lease. Nevertheless, the Tribunal held that the option had not been exercised because when the tenant exercised the option it had failed to provide a bank guarantee as required by the lease and the landlord had given written notice of the default (s. 27(2)(a)). Rectification of the default after the purported exercise of the option did not alter the position.
The tenant sought relief against forfeiture of the option. The Tribunal followed the decision of Dixon J in Lontav Pty Ltd v Pineross Custodial Services Pty Ltd (No. 2)  VSC 485 in holding that VCAT had no power to grant relief against forfeiture of an option.