Parties can agree to higher standard than that imposed by s.52 of Retail Leases Act

  • Author : Robert Hay QC - 17-06-2014

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

About the Author

Robert Hay QC

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