October 2, 2020

0 Comments

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO TENANTS ABOUT THE COMMERCIAL TENANCY RELIEF SCHEME FROM THE VICTORIAN SMALL BUSINESS COMMISSION

An email has been circulating from the Victorian Small Business Commission to tenants about the operation of the Amending Regulations under the CTRS that readers of this blog will be interested in. The text of the VSBC’s email (with hyperlinks from the original email) reads as follows:

 Dear tenant

The Victorian Government has extended the Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme (the Scheme) so that tenants can request rent relief between 29 September to 31 December 2020 (the extended period).

To request rent relief in the extended period you must write to your landlord and provide further information that fully complies with the requirements of the extended Scheme.

During the extended period:

1.         A tenant is only entitled to rent relief from the date they make a written application to their landlord that contains all of the required information. For example, if a tenant requests rent relief on 1 October 2020 but does not provide all of the necessary information until 15 October 2020, then their landlord is only obliged to make a rent relief offer from 15 October 2020. 

2.         If you have already applied to the VSBC or your landlord prior to 29 September for rent relief that spans a period before and after this date, you should consider immediately making another written rent relief application to the landlord ensuring that you provide all the information required under the extended Scheme. This action is strongly advised because it is unlikely that a rent relief application made before 29 September 2020 for a period after this date will have complied with the requirements of the extended Scheme. 

3.         A commercial landlord is required to offer rent relief that is in proportion to the fall in turnover experienced by their eligible tenant. For example, if a tenant’s turnover has fallen by 40 per cent, the required rent relief is to be at least 40 per cent of the tenant’s current rent, with at least 50 per cent of the rent relief made up of a rent waiver. To apply for rent relief for October to December 2020, it is not necessary to wait for turnover information for those months.

The Victorian Small Business Commission’s (VSBC) website includes the information a tenant must provide to their landlord when requesting rent relief and a letter template that tenants can use in making a rent relief request.

If you have any questions,please contact the VSBC. If you have a dispute about rent relief, please apply to the VSBC for help in resolving the matter through free mediation.

September 30, 2020

0 Comments

Consolidated Amending Regulations published

An updated version of the CTRS Regulations have now been published that incorporate the Amending Regulations that were published yesterday. These will be much easier to read. A copy is available here: https://content.legislation.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-09/20-31sra002%20authorised.pdf

Thanks tp Gary Prince for sending me this link.

September 30, 2020

0 Comments

Another article on the Amending Regulations…

Here is a link to another excellent article that readers of this blog may be interested in by Paul Nunan at Eastern Bridge Lawyers discussing the Amending Regulations: https://www.easternbridge.com.au/post/update-9-the-commercial-leases-regulations-amendments

September 29, 2020

0 Comments

Comments on and a summary of the new Regulations extending and amending the CTRS

My last post was a link to the amending Regulations that extend and vary the CTRS.  

The new regulations rejoice in the name COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) (Commercial Leases and Licences) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2020 (Vic).  I’ll just call them the Amending Regulations.

There are a few headline points about the Amending Regulations:

First, as expected, the Amending Regulations extend the CTRS to 31 December 2020.  However, any new applications for rent relief apply only to the period between the new request for rent relief and 31 December 2020.  The upshot is that if you or your client is a tenant who needs rent relief until 31 December 2020, get your request in ASAP.

Secondly, one of the key issues about the implementation and enforcement of the CTRS in Victoria is the lack of a clear express power for the Courts or VCAT to make orders for the grant of rent relief if the parties cannot come to an agreement.  Justice Robb in the NSW Supreme Court recently commented on a similar lack of clear power in the NSW implementation of the Code (see the Sneakerboy case discussed here).  

Disappointingly, the Government has not taken the opportunity to expressly clarify those powers in the Victorian CTRS.  We may need to wait for more litigation before we understand the true nature and extent of the Courts’ and VCAT’s powers under the CTRS.

Thirdly, as expected, the VSBC now has the power to make a binding determination of the rent relief that a landlord is required to provide.  This foreshadowed power has been a source of significant consternation in the legal and leasing communities, as it vests quite an extraordinary power in a non-judicial body (in fact, the power to amend the parties’ contract is extraordinary even for a Court, as highlighted by Robb J in the Sneakerboy case).

The power that has been provided to the VSBC is limited.  The Commission can only make an order on the application of a tenant where the Commission is satisfied that the landlord has either not responded to the tenant’s application for rent relief or has not negotiated in good faith and proceedings have not been issued in a Court or VCAT.  

Also:

  • the Regulations already have a self-enforcement mechanism built into them for tenants – a landlord cannot terminate the lease for non-payment of rent (and now outgoings) during the operation of the Regulations (subject to a few conditions).  Consequently, if the landlord is not responding and/or not negotiating in good faith, the tenant can withhold the appropriate amount of rent while being protected from re-entry.  That means that the landlord (not the tenant) has an incentive to mediate and negotiate built into the Regulations;  and
  • the Amending Regulations provide VCAT with the power to review the Commission’s decision to make a binding determination, so the outcome of a binding determination may be the same as issuing proceedings at VCAT in any event.

The result is that we may not see that many applications for a binding order actually being made.  

Fourthly, one of the features that distinguished the Victorian CTRS from some other states’ implementation of the Code was Victoria’s ‘de-coupling’ of rent relief from the downturn in the tenant’s trade.  This has been addressed in the Regulations by: 

  • requiring the landlord’s offer of rent relief to now be ‘at a minimum, proportional to the decline in the tenant’s turnover associated with the premises’ (see reg 10(4)(ba)); and 
  • deleting the requirement that the landlord’s offer of rent relief take into account the landlord’s financial ability to offer rent relief (formerly in reg 10(4)(d)(iv)).

Fifthly, a tenant can make another application for rent relief if an agreement for rent relief has already reached but that agreement does not comply with reg 10(4)(ba) (ie it does not give rent relief proportionate to the tenant’s decline in trade) or does not extend to 31 December 2020.  

However, that request and any new agreement for rent relief will only from the date of the new request to 31 December 2020 and will not apply retrospectively.

Sixthly, the landlord’s offer of rent relief in Victoria was required to take into account the reduction in the tenant’s trade ‘associated with the premises’, whereas the NSW model takes into account all of the tenant’s revenue (see discussion here).  This has now been amplified because the tenant is required to provide in its request for rent relief a statement ‘setting out the tenant’s decline in turnover that is associated with only the premises’ (see reg 10(2)(a)(iii)). 

This causes problems for landlords seeking to take internet sales or sales from interstate stores into account when negotiating rent relief.  On the other hand, it also means that a landlord only has to share the pain for losses associated with premises it leases and not for the decline in sale in other stores that may have incurred greater losses.

An excellent summary of and comment on the operation of the amendments is provided by Paul Nunan and Jack Kelly from Eastern Bridge Lawyers here.

A more detailed roadmap to the Amending Regulations follows.  I have highlighted the numbered paragraphs below that I think will be of interest to most readers:

  1. The definition of an ‘eligible lease’ has been changed.  The tenant is still required to be an SME and to be on JobKeeper, but the requirement to be an employer has been removed (see reg 4A).
  2. The definition of ‘turnover’ in the Regulations is clarified so that a coronavirus economic response payment (which includes a JobKeeper payment) is not part of the tenant’s turnover (see reg 5(2) and (3)).
  3. The moratorium on termination during the operation of the CTRS has been expanded to prevent landlords terminating for non-payment of outgoings (see reg 9).
  4. A tenant’s request for rent relief must now be accompanied by additional documents evidencing the tenant’s participation in JobKeeper and evidencing the decline in the tenant’s turnover and other information (see reg 10(2) and 10(2A)). 
  5. The tenant’s application for rent relief must include a statement setting out the tenant’s decline in turnover ‘that is associated with only the premises’ (see reg 10(2)(a)(iii).
  6. A landlord’s offer of rent relief must now apply to the period starting on the date of the tenant’s request for rent relief and ending on 31 December 2020 (see reg 10(4)(a) and (c)).
  7. The landlord’s offer of rent relief must be at a minimum proportionate to the decline in a tenant’s turnover associated with the premises (see reg 10(4)(ba)).
  8. The requirement that the landlord’s offer of rent relief take into account the landlord’s financial ability to offer rent relief (formerly in reg 10(4)(d)(iv)) has been deleted.  However, the offer of rent relief must still be ‘based on all the circumstances of the eligible lease’ (see reg 10(4)).
  9. The Regulations clarify that rent relief applies to gross rent and that outgoings are not ‘backed out’ of gross rent before rent relief is applied (see reg 10(4A)).
  10. A tenant is entitled to apply for subsequent rent relief if:
    1. the tenant’s financial circumstances materially change (reg 11(1)(a));
    2. an agreement for rent relief was made prior to the commencement of the Amending Regulations that does not allow for, at a minimum, proportionate rent relief (reg 11(1)(b));  or
    3. the agreement does not apply to the period ending 31 December 2020 (reg 11(1)(c)).
  11. Landlords cannot request the payment of deferred rent until 31 December 2020 (see reg 16(2)(a) and (5)).
  12. The procedures for applying for mediation of an eligible lease dispute under the Regulations have been expanded and new application forms are to be posted on the VSBC’s website (see reg 20). 
  13.  The procedures for the provision of a certificate if mediation has failed or is unlikely to resolve the eligible lease dispute have been expanded (see reg 20).  Importantly, the Commission can now record in the certificate that the landlord has failed to respond to the tenant’s application to the VSBC or has not engaged in mediation in good faith (see reg 20A(3)).  
  14. There are quite lengthy provisions that give to the VSBC the power to make a binding order.  In summary, those provisions are as follows:
    1. ‘binding order’ is defined in the Omnibus Act as an order ‘directing landlords under eligible leases to give or agree to give specified rent relief to tenants under eligible leases’ (s 15(1)(na) of the Omnibus Act);
    2. a tenant can apply to the VSBC for a binding order if the Commission’s certificate shows that the landlord has failed to respond to the application for mediation as required by the Regulations or has not negotiated in good faith, and proceedings have not been issued in Court or VCAT (see reg 21A(1) and (5));
    3. the tenant is required to complete the required form (see reg 21A(2));
    4. the landlord must be notified of the application and both the tenant and the landlord can make written submissions to the VSBC (see reg 21A(3) and 21B);
    5. there is no hearing of the application (see reg 21D), so it must be determined by the VSBC ‘on the papers’;
    6. the VSBC can make a binding order that complies with reg 10(4), discussed above (see reg 21G);
    7. procedures are established for revoking or amending a binding order, although this is generally limited to revoking the order because the parties have reached agreement or amendment under the slip rule (see regs 21H to 21P);  and
    8. VCAT is given power to review the VSBC’s decision to make a binding order on application by either the landlord or the tenant (see reg 21Q) and to enforce compliance with a binding order on application by a tenant (see reg 21R).
  15. The VSBC has the power to sever, divide or combine matters that are the subject of an eligible lease dispute (see reg 21S).
  16. The evidentiary status of statements made during mediation and binding order process are generally not admissible at VCAT, unless the Tribunal otherwise orders (see reg 21T).
  17. The matters to which VCAT must have regard in a proceeding relating to an eligible lease dispute have been expanded to facilitate review of a binding order (see reg 22(2)(c) to (f)).  It is not clear why some of these items have been included in the Regulations.  For example, the Tribunal is required to have regard to the conduct of the landlord since the binding order took effect and it is not clear how or why the parties’ conduct after the binding order took effect is relevant to a review of the binding order.
  18. The Amending Regulations address the effect of a tenant ceasing to be on JobKeeper. Generally, if the tenant was on JobKeeper when made its request for rent relief or agreed on rent relief with its landlord, then the lease remains eligible (see regs 24B and 24C).

Thanks to Jamie Bedelis and Alan Wein for their input on this post.

September 29, 2020

0 Comments

CTRS extension Regulations passed and available on the Parliamentary website

The new Regulations that extend the CTRS have been passed and are now available on the Victorian Parliamentary website.

A copy of the Regulations is available here: https://content.legislation.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-09/20-107sra%20authorised.pdf

I will post my summary of and comments on the new Regulations shortly.

September 23, 2020

0 Comments

Royal assent to Retail Leases Amendment Act 2020 and the CTRS extension Act given yesterday

Royal assent to the following bills was provided yesterday:

•  the COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Extension) Act 2020 (Vic); and

• the Retail Leases Amendment Act 2020 (Vic).

As a result, both Acts came into effect as of yesterday, 23 September 2020.

I will post a summary of the effects of the Retail Leases Amendment Act 2020 (Vic) in the next few days.

We are still waiting on a copy of the Regulations that extend the CTRS for the purposes of the COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Extension) Act 2020 (Vic). I will publish a note (or, more probably, many notes) about those Regulations when they come to hand.

September 16, 2020

0 Comments

Retail Leases Amendment Bill 2019 and the CTRS extension bill have passed through Parliament and are awaiting Royal Assent

For those watching this closely, both the Retail Leases Amendment Bill 2019 (Vic) and the COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Extension) Bill 2020 which extends and modifies the CTRS have passed through Parliament and are awaiting Royal assent before they become law. See: https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/legislation/343-legislation-and-bills/articles/1824-bills-this-week

I expect that we will see the new Regulations extending the CTRS once the Bill receives Royal assents.

As usual, I will post updates as they come to hand.

Thanks to both Paul Nunan and Peter Lowenstern for the updates on these bills.

September 10, 2020

0 Comments

Extracts from the second reading speech for the COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Extension) Bill 2020

The ever-diligent Abilene Singh has sent me a copy of the second reading speech for the Bill that allows for the extension of the CTRS in Victoria. The real action will be in the Regulations when they are published, but the second reading speech gives a few more clues about what the Regs are likely to say. I have extracted the key parts of the speech below, with the most interesting bits in bold:

… The extension of [the provisions of the Omnibus Act facilitating the CTRS in] Part 2.2 of the Act will permit the extension and amending of the current regulations to 31 December 2020 and the capacity to extend up to 26 April 2021 if required

It is intended that the provisions will continue to apply in respect of all eligible commercial leases where the tenant qualifies for (and is a participant in) the Commonwealth’s JobKeeper program and has an annual turnover of up to $50 million. As originally intended, this includes but is not limited to eligible sole traders, not for profit businesses and franchisees. This Bill will amend the Omnibus Act to enable the eligibility requirements for rent relief to be determined under the regulations, which will allow for the removal of the requirement that tenants must be employing businesses. This will confirm the Government’s intent that sole traders are eligible to participate if they are participating in JobKeeper and will increase flexibility for the Government to adjust as the JobKeeper program evolves. 

It is our expectation that most commercial tenants and landlords will continue to work together to reach agreements that will best assist the ongoing survival of businesses. Where the landlord or tenant cannot reach agreement, either party may refer the matter for free mediation by the Victorian Small Business Commission. 

It is disappointing that the Government continues to receive reports that good faith negotiations are not happening in all instances, and it is important to note that both tenants and landlords have obligations under the Omnibus Act and the CTRS regulations. Tenants that are eligible have an obligation to request rent relief in the form prescribed in the CTRS regulations. Rent relief is not automatic. The Government has endeavoured to make the application process as streamlined as possible, noting that information requests to tenants should be as minimal as possible to support their applications, in most part mirroring information they will have already provided for their JobKeeper application

It is important to note that compliance with the regulations is mandatory, and landlords have obligations to respond to requests for rent relief. To address this issue, this Bill also enables the making of regulations to enable the VSBC to make an order where this is considered fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. It is intended that the VSBC would use these additional powers to resolve disputes between the parties, in particular, where a landlord is consistently failing to respond to VSBC pre-mediation requests to negotiate in good faith.

A copy of the full second reading speech with my highlighting is available here:

September 3, 2020

0 Comments

COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Extension) Bill 2020 now available

A Bill is now available on the Parliamentary website that will allow the extension of the CTRS.

The purpose of the Bill is stated as:

(a) to amend the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020— 

(i) to extend the operation of Part 2.2 of that Act under which regulations may be made to modify the law relating to retail leases and non-retail commercial leases and licences until 26 April 2021; and 

(ii) to make further provision in relation to the subject matter of regulations which may be made under Part 2.2 of that Act, 5 including the making of orders directing landlords under eligible leases to give or agree to give specified rent relief to tenants under eligible leases and conferring jurisdiction on VCAT to 10 enforce such orders; and 

This Bill was expected in light of the Premier’s announcement, discussed here.

It is necessary to extend the Omnibus Act, because it automatically expires on 29 September 2020.

The contents of the Bill is largely what we expected following the Premier’s announcement, but it has a few surprises.

The operation of commercial tenancy parts of the Omnibus Act is to be extended to 26 April 2021. The reason for that date is unclear, given that the Premier’s announcement suggested an extension of the CTRS only to 31 December 2020.

The Bill also changes the definition of ‘eligible lease‘. Currently the Act defines an eligible lease in s 13 (basically the tenant has to be an SME and an employer that is eligible for and a participant in JobKeeper). The Bill allows the definition of ‘eligible lease’ to be prescribed by the Regulations. This could be used to address some or all of the following issues:

  • the requirement that the tenant be an employer, which has been causing problems for sole traders and tenants who operate a service company; and
  • the requirement that the tenant itself be a participant in JobKeeper, which has also been creating problems for tenants that use a service company.

I have also read in the news that there has been lobbying to reduce the $50M threshold for an eligible lease.

The Bill also allows the new/amended Regulations to allow for the making of orders for:

(na) the making of orders directing landlords under eligible leases to give or agree to give specified rent relief to tenants under eligible leases (binding orders) and the content of such orders;

(nb) the process for applications by tenants under eligible leases for binding orders (rent relief applications) including the content of rent relief applications and documents that may accompany rent relief applications; 

These are, presumably, the orders for rent relief that can be made by the VSBC that were referred to in the Premier’s announcement.

The Bill also allows for the review and enforcement of binding orders by VCAT.

The Bill only provides for tenants applying for binding orders. There is no equivalent provision for a landlord to seek a binding order. However, it should be noted that reg 9 of the current Regulations only protect a tenant from re-entry if it complies with regs 10(1) to (5), which requires the tenant to make an application for rent relief and to negotiate in good faith.

I have not seen the new regulations yet and will publish a post as soon as I can.

A copy of the Bill is available here (with the relevant parts highlighted):

September 1, 2020

0 Comments

Article on the Retail Leases Amendment Bill 2019 and update on RFC v Verraty appeal

The Retail Leases Amendment Bill 2019 remains before the Upper House and on the list for debate. To the best of my knowledge, the Bill has not yet been passed.

For those who are following this area of law, the Law Institute Journal has published an excellent article by Paul Snow and Nicholas D’Arcy that summarises the changes expected by the Bill (sorry for omitting your name earlier Nick!). The article is available here. Go to pp 60-61 of the .pdf to find the article. Thanks to Alan Wein for passing this to me.

Also, some of you might remember the decision in Richmond Football Club Ltd v Verraty Pty Ltd [2019] VSC 597, discussed in an earlier post here, in which Croft J held that a lease could not ‘jump out’ of the RLA 2003 during its term. An appeal from that decision was argued today in the Court of Appeal and a decision is expected in the next month or two. I will post a summary of the decision when it is handed down.