Can your Landlord terminate the Lease under a demolition clause to refit the Premises for a larger tenant?

Entering into a retail lease can seem like a risky business. Leases are often drafted in favour of the Landlord. One common example is the ability of a Landlord to terminate the lease to demolish or renovate the leased premises. But what is to prevent a landlord using a demolition clause to terminate the lease purely because a more commercially advantageous tenant is found?

The Act

The Retail Leases Act 1994 (NSW) (‘the Act’) provides some protection for tenants when a landlord seeks to exercise its rights under a demolition clause. Section 35 of the Act limits the operation of demolition clauses to provide security against an invalid termination.

Section 35 relevantly provides that:

  • the Landlord must provide the Tenant with detail of the demolition proposal sufficient to indicate it is a genuine proposal;
  • the lease cannot be terminated unless the demolition cannot be carried out without vacant possession of the premises; and
  • the lease cannot be terminated without at least 6 months written notice being provided to the Tenant.

Wynne Avenue Property Pty Ltd v MJHQ Pty Ltd

Despite the protections provided by the Act, disputes often arise where Landlords seek to terminate a lease due to an impending demolition of the premises. This occurred in the recent NSW case of Wynne Avenue Property Pty Ltd v MJHQ Pty Ltd [2019] NSWCATAP 41 where the Landlord sought to create larger premises to be leased to a tenant with more commercial potential. Indeed, the Landlord had signed a Heads of Agreement in respect of the larger premises with the prospective tenant prior to serving a demolition notice on the Tenant.

The case turned on whether the Landlord had provided a genuine proposal and is indicative of how similar circumstances will be dealt with in the ACT. In the ACT, Section 78(a) of the Leases (Retail and Commercial) Act 2001 (ACT) also provides that a Landlord is unable to terminate a lease under a demolition clause unless the Landlord gives the Tenant notice of a genuine proposal to demolish the building within a reasonable time after the lease is terminated.

In Wynne Avenue Property, the Tenant argued that the notice was not valid as there was no genuine proposal to demolish the premises. Rather the motive behind the demolition was to accommodate a more commercial advantageous tenant. On appeal, the Tribunal ruled that in accordance with Blackler v Felpure Pty Ltd [1999] NSWSC 958, the motivation of the Landlord is mostly irrelevant when determining whether a genuine proposal exists (unless it shows that there is no genuine proposal).

Conclusion

While the Act safeguards tenants from arbitrary termination, these protections only extend so far. As Wynne Avenue Property Pty Ltd v MJHQ Pty Ltd shows, tenants can find themselves at a disadvantage due to the drafting terms of the lease. Tenants in any Australian jurisdiction should seek legal advice on the terms of any lease prior to entering into the Lease, particularly when a demolition clause is contained within the lease terms.

If you have any questions about your rights under a demolition clause, please contact the Real Estate Team at BAL Lawyers.