News & Events

  • Builders beware - owners given clarity on shoddy building work in off-the-plan apartments

    Builders beware: owners given clarity on shoddy building work in off-the-plan apartments

    A building dispute running for the better half of two decades between the owners of Units Plan 1917 and the developer, Koundouris Projects, appears to have finally come to an end on 16 February 2018 with the High Court refusing Koundouris’ application for leave to appeal against the decision of the ACT Court of Appeal in Koundouris v Owners – Units Plan No 1917 [2017] ACTCA 36.

    Originally heard in 2016, the matter concerns a claim by the owners of Units Plan 1917 against the builder, Mr Koundouris, in relation to the construction of the Lagani apartment complex and the various issues in the complex following its completion, including the existence and ongoing water leaking and damage in units and the cracking of masonry and facades. The matter heard was complex, particularly due to the various changes in legislation having taken place during the construction phase, and turned on the interpretation of the statutory warranties contained in the Building Act 1972 (ACT) (now repealed) and the Building Act 2004 (ACT). Though the primary judge held that Mr Koundouris had indeed breached these statutory warranties, it was the decision of the ACT Court of Appeal that provides greater certainty to unit owners, builders and developers alike as to the application of the statutory warranties in off-the-plan contracts for sale.

    The ACT Court of Appeal largely upheld the primary judge’s decision but made the following important distinctions:

    1. It is not necessary for a builder and developer to have a written contract in place for the statutory warranties to apply;
    1. The statutory warranties extend to the defined parts of the unit titled building, being load bearing walls, columns, footings, slabs and balcony’s;
    1. The statutory warranties operate both during construction and following completion;
    1. The source of an owners rights for breaches of the statutory warranties arise as the successor in title but can also arise for successive owners as the statutory warranties are implied in the contract for sale; and
    1. Unsuccessful repair works (where there is an inherent issue with the construction of the building) throughout the statutory warranty period may lead a builder to breach the statutory warranties repeatedly allowing a claim to be brought against the builder for an extended period of time.

    Though some might suggest that the decision of the ACT Court of Appeal may discourage builders from attempting to repair building defects for fear of inadvertently extending the limitation period under the statutory warranty, the decision makes clear that the intention of the statutory warranties are to protect the consumer from shoddy building work and that the provisions of the legislation should be interpreted accordingly.

    Written by Benjamin Grady. If you require further information or advice in regards to your rights and obligations concerning building defects, please contact us.

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  • Financial Exploitation through Powers of Attorney and the Remedies

    Financial Exploitation through Powers of Attorney and the Remedies

    Thankfully, more people are becoming aware and talking more openly about Elder Abuse and its prevalence among the Australian community. The most common type of elder abuse is the financial exploitation of a close elderly family member (followed by psychological and physical abuse).

    Unfortunately, much of the financial exploitation stems from misuse by an attorney appointed pursuant to a Power of Attorney document.

    This article presents a brief summary on how financial exploitation through a Power of Attorney can take place, and the remedies available against a ‘rogue’ attorney.

    How does Financial Exploitation Take Place

    Putting in place a Power of Attorney has practical advantages – it is a relatively low cost, informal and private appointment by a donor allowing the appointment of a person or persons (the ‘attorney’) to make decisions on the donor’s behalf with regard to their financial and property matters.

    Unfortunately, it is the informal, private and unregulated nature of a Power of Attorney that makes it susceptible to misuse.

    A Financial Management Order by contrast requires a formal application to the relevant State or Territory Guardianship or Financial Management Board or Tribunal (in the ACT, this would be the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal or simply, ‘ACAT’). The Board or Tribunal is then responsible for ensuring a decision is arrived at having regard to all the evidence, including medical evidence, arguments and submissions by interested persons and that a decision is ultimately made in the best interests of the interested person.

    Perhaps one of the most notable cases of financial exploitation was highlighted in the case of Brennan v State of Western Australia[1]. Mr Kopec was a polish migrant living in Western Australia with very few relatives in Australia. He lived by himself on a farm and was suffering from deteriorating physical and mental health. Mr Kopec appointed Damien Brennan, a legal practitioner as his attorney pursuant to an Enduring Power of Attorney. Over the span of the next 8 years, Mr Brennan continued to misappropriate close to $900,000 of Mr Kopec’s estate including continuing to operate the Enduring Power of Attorney well after Mr Brennan had died.

    A more recent case involving the misappropriation of funds by an attorney is the case of Mezzapica v Mezzapica[2] which was handed down in November 2017. This case involved an elderly Italian mother who had appointed her two sons as her attorneys. After the mother’s death, one of the sons (Robert, the Plaintiff) questioned a number of transactions which were entered into by the other son (Renato, the Defendant) including a number of cheques which Renato had drawn from his mother’s Commonwealth Bank account in favour of himself.

    The Court held that the cheques were not actually drawn in the exercise of Renato’s power as his mother’s attorney. The Court did however find that Renato had misappropriated other funds (totalling over $62,000) from a trust account which held in his mother’s name for the benefit of her grandchildren. This misappropriation by Renato constituted a breach of trust by his mother such that the mother’s estate had to account for the loss.

    Fortunately in this case, it was held that the mother did not suffer a loss. At the date of this article it is not clear whether further action will be taken against Renato for his acts as his mother’s attorney.

    Available remedies

    The range of remedies available in circumstances of financial exploitation and misappropriation can be broadly classified into three categories:

    • statutory remedies;
    • common law remedies; and
    • criminal remedies

    A brief overview of each of these is discussed further below:

    Statutory remedies

    Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, the ACT and Tasmania have specifically legislated to impose substantial penalties or allow for compensation for the donor (or their estate) caused by the failure of an attorney to comply with their statutory duties in the exercise of their powers[3]

    The remaining States and Territory (Western Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales) do not provide any legislative right to seek compensation or damages from an attorney where the donors assets have been misappropriated if there has been proof of financial exploitation. The only statutory remedy in Western Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales is that an application can be made to the relevant State and Territory Court or Tribunal (or, the Court or Tribunal can make a decision on their own initiative) to revoke a Power of Attorney if they are satisfied it is in the best interests of the Donor.

    Common Law Remedies

    There are three fundamental equitable grounds upon which a Court can set aside a transaction involving financial exploitation by an attorney:

    • Breach of Fiduciary Duty – an attorney is a fiduciary and where the attorney obtains a profit as a result of a transaction that conflicts with the interests of the donor, the Court has the ability to set aside the transaction
    • Unconscionable conduct – the High Court’s decision in the case of Amadio[4] established the principles with respect to Unconscionability can be established where three elements have been satisfied:
    1. That one party has a ‘special advantage’ (the stronger party);
    2. That the disability is sufficiently evident that the stronger party knew or ought to have known of the weaker party’s special disadvantage; and
    3. the stronger party took unfair advantage of the weaker party’s special disadvantage to obtain a benefit for him/herself.
    • Undue influence – where an attorney has procured a transaction by undue influence, again the transaction can be set aside.

    Criminal Remedies

    At the present time, there is no specific criminal offence in any Australian jurisdiction that deals with financial exploitation of an elderly person, through a Power of Attorney or otherwise. Financial abuse and exploitation can be prosecuted through a variety of property offensive including misappropriation of property, theft or fraud and in some cases, domestic violence or abuse. In the ACT, there is a separate offence for dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception [5]

    In reality however, there has been a noted failure by police to investigate and subsequently prosecute for criminal offences in cases where there has been financial exploitation of an older person generally. There is also typically a strong desire by older persons to maintain family privacy and as a result, financial exploitation is often unreported.

    Written by Golnar Nekoee, Director, Wills and Estate Planning. To create a power of attorney, or review your will and estate plan, please contact us.

    [1] Brennan v The State of Western Australia [2010] WASCA 19

    [2] Mezzapica v Mezzapica [2017] NSWSC 1553

    [3] Powers of Attorney Act 2014 (VIC) s77, Powers of Attorney Act 2006 (ACT) s 50 – time limits apply from when the application must be made to compensate the principal or the estate, Powers of Attorney Act 1998 (Qld) s106-107, Powers of Attorney and Agency Act 1984 (SA) s 7, Powers of Attorney Act 2000(TAS) s32

    [4] Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd v Amadio [1983] HCA 14

    [5] Part 3.3 Division 3.3.2 of the Criminal Code 2002 (ACT)

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  • Has the clock really stopped time?

    Essential Guide to Local Government Law: Stopping the Clock

    Class 1 appeals dominate the Land and Environment Court’s caseload.[1] Many of these are commenced against the ‘deemed refusal’ of a development application. This occurs when the consent authority fails to determine the application within the assessment period prescribed by the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the Act) and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (the Regulation). It is therefore important that applicants and consent authorities understand the correct approach to calculating when a ‘deemed refusal’ will occur, and also know how to extend the development assessment period where necessary. This essential guide will look at when the development assessment clock stops and what events will restart it.

    When does the assessment period start and end?

    Under the Regulation consent authorities have 40, 60 or 90 days to determine a development application, depending on what type of application it is. This is known as the assessment period. ‘Days’ in this context means all days – not just business days. If the consent authority does not determine the application within the assessment period then the application is deemed to have been refused.[2] The applicant then has the right to seek review of that decision in the NSW Land and Environment Court within six months of that date.[3]

    When calculating the length of the assessment period, the day on which the development application is lodged, as well as the following day, are not included.[4] This is to allow the consent authority time to register and check the application for compliance with the requirements of Schedule 1 of the Regulation before the merits assessment is commenced.

    If the application does not identify all relevant integrated development approvals or concurrence requirements then the consent authority might take longer than the two days to check the application. To allow for this, for integrated development or development requiring concurrence, the assessment period starts at the earlier of 14 days after the development application is lodged or the date the application is referred to the relevant concurrence authority or approvals body.[5]

    What stops the clock?

    The assessment period ‘clock’ can be stopped by:

    1. The consent authority, concurrence authority or approvals body issuing a request for additional information in accordance with the Act and Regulation; or
    2. The applicant ‘modifying’ the development application within the assessment period, where the amended application is accepted by the consent authority.

    How these two processes operate to stop the assessment clock is set out below.

    Additional information requests

    It is common during the development assessment process for a decision maker to require additional information in order to properly consider an application. The assessment ‘clock’ can be ‘stopped’ if:

    1. the consent authority makes a request for additional information under clause 54 of the Regulation within 25 days from the start of the assessment period;[6] or
    2. a concurrence authority or approvals body makes a request for additional information, within 25 days of the date the authority received the development application from the consent authority[7].

    In practice, the relevant period in which a request for further information can be made that will have the effect of stopping the assessment clock is 27 days (because of the additional two days allowed under clause 106(c) of the Regulation) unless the application is for integrated development or development which requires concurrence or an approval from another body[8]. If the consent authority asks for additional information in this period then the assessment period clock stops on the day of the request. If a concurrence or approvals body makes the request, then the assessment clock stops on the day that the consent authority receives the request from the concurrence or approvals body. If more than one request for additional information is made while the assessment clock is stopped then the clock stays stopped until all requests have been addressed.

    The assessment clock can also be stopped if, in relation to integrated development which requires consent under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, the Chief Executive of the Office of Environment and Heritage is of the opinion that it necessary to consult with an Aboriginal person, land council or other organisation before a decision concerning the general terms of approval can be made and the consultation commences within 25 days after the date on which the development application is forwarded to the Secretary of the Office of Environment and Heritage[9] In this case the clock is paused for the consultation period, provided this is not longer than 46 days from the date on which the development application was lodged with the consent authority.

    To be effective, the request for additional information must be made in writing [10], must inform the applicant that the clock has stopped[11] and must be made within the time allowed in the Regulation. It may also specify a reasonable period within which the information must be provided.[12]

    An authority can ask for additional information outside the period described above; however, this will not have the effect of ‘stopping the clock’ and will not extend the assessment period or delay the deemed refusal date.

    Amending a development application

    Amending a development application under clause 55 of the Regulation can also have the effect of resetting the ‘clock’ for the assessment period. Whilst this in itself is no longer controversial, it can be difficult to determine whether and when a particular development application has been amended.

    This issue was considered in two recent Land and Environment Court decisions: Australian Consulting Architects Pty Ltd v Liverpool City Council [2017] NSWLEC 129 and Lateral Estate Pty Ltd v The Council of the City of Sydney [2017] NSWLEC 6. In both cases the applicant argued that an exchange of correspondence between the applicant and council constituted an amendment of the development application such as to restart the assessment period and push back the deemed refusal date to a date within 6 months of the commencement of the appeal. In each case the Court found that the ‘dribs and drabs’ approach to making changes to the application was insufficient to constitute an amendment to the development application for the purpose of clause 55, and did not restart the clock for assessing the application. In Australian Consulting Architects the Court clarified that, for this to occur, it would be necessary for the applicant to put a settled, composite proposal to the consent authority and for this to be accepted by the authority for assessment and determination.

    When does the ‘clock’ restart?

    The assessment period clock restarts when the applicant:[13]

    1. gives the information requested to the consent authority, or
    2. notifies the consent authority (in writing) that the information will not be provided; or
    3. does not give the information in the reasonable period specified in the notice, or any further period of time which is allowed by the authority.

    If the request for additional information came from a concurrence authority or referral body, then the assessment clock restarts 2 days after the consent authority refers the requested information to that entity (or notifies it that the information will not be provided).

    When identifying when the assessment periods ends, it is also important to remember that s 36 of the Interpretation Act 1987 prevents any assessment period from ending on a Saturday, Sunday, or public holiday. In these cases the next working day is taken to be the last day of the assessment period.

    It may be difficult to work out whether the clocks have restarted where:

    1. the applicant has provided some, but not all of the additional information required, or the information provided is inadequate; or
    2. the consent authority informally extends the time period in which the information is required to be provided.

    When the additional information is inadequate

    If the information provided in response to a request for additional information is inadequate, or if further additional information is required, the consent authority can stop the assessment ‘clock’ again and request further information. If the new request is made within the relevant 27 day period then this subsequent request can also ‘stop the clock’. In calculating the 27 day period in which any subsequent request for additional information may be made, any days for which the assessment clock has already been stopped are not counted.

    When the period for the provision of information is deemed to have been extended

    As noted above, if an applicant does not provide the information within the time specified in the request for additional information/the stop the clock notice, then the clock will generally restart after that date has passed. However, the time for the provision of the additional information can be deemed to have been extended by the authority in certain circumstances.

    This situation arose in Corbett Constructions P/L v Wollondilly Shire Council [2017] NSWLEC-135. In that case the Council had asked the applicant to provide a substantial amount of additional information within 28 days in relation to a development application for a large medium-density residential development. After the deadline had passed an exchange of emails took place between the applicant and the Council in which the applicant indicated that the additional information would be provided ‘in the coming weeks’ and the Council acknowledged and appeared to accept the delay. The Land and Environment Court found that the Council’s actions effectively amounted to an implied extension of time for the provision of the additional information, thus delaying the restarting of the assessment clock and the date on which the 6 month appeal period started. To avoid this uncertainty, any extensions of time for the provision of the additional information should be given formally in writing by the Council and expressly state that the stop the clock provisions remain in effect.

    Conclusion

    It is important for a development applicant and consent authority to know the date when an application must be determined or will otherwise be deemed to be refused. To be able to do this it is necessary to consider whether, when and for how long the assessment clock was ‘stopped’ in accordance with the principles set out above.

    For further information about, or assistance with, a development application, please contact Alice Menyhart, Alan Bradbury or Andrew Brickhill on (02) 6274 0999.

    The content contained in this guide is, of course, general commentary only. It is not legal advice. Readers should contact us and receive our specific advice on the particular situation that concerns them.

    References:

    [1] Land and Environment Court – Class 1: Environmental Planning and Protection Appeals – Fast Facts at http://www.lec.justice.nsw.gov.au/Pages/types_of_disputes/class_1/class_1.aspx accessed at 9 March 2018

    [2] Section 8.11 of the Act

    [3] Section 8.10 of the Act.

    [4] Clause 107 of the Regulation

    [5] Clause 108 of the Regulation

    [6] Clause 109 of the Regulation

    [7] Clause 110 of the Regulation

    [8] For those applications, the assessment period starts at the earlier of 14 days after the development application is lodged or the date the application is referred to the relevant concurrence authority or approvals body: clause 108 of the Regulation

    [9] Clause 111 of the Regulation

    [10] Clause 54(2)(a) of the Regulation

    [11] Clause 112 of the Regulation

    [12] Clause 54(2)(b) of the Regulation

    [13] Clauses 54 and 109 of the Regulation

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  • wellbeing at work - hr breakfst club march summary

    Wellbeing at work: HR Breakfast Club March Summary

    DEVELOPING A WELLNESS PROGRAM BUSINESS CASE

    This month, guest speaker, Lauren Sayers – Deputy HR Manager at the ANU spoke about the importance of developing a wellbeing program for the workplace, and some tips on how to implement one successfully.

    Lauren is an ACT Australian HR Institute (AHRI) Council member & forum convenor and has 15+ years of management and HR experience across Hospitality, Telecommunications and Tertiary Education sectors. Lauren spoke about:

    What does a wellbeing program include?

    Employee health and wellness programs can include activities that promote good employee health, identify health-related risks in the employee population, and
    look to support any potential health-related problems present in the employee population.

    Why should we invest in wellbeing program?

    Employers should work to create a healthy workplace for a few broad strategic reasons:

    • To control the financial costs associated with an unhealthy workplace
    • and to gain the benefits of;
    • A healthy workforce;
    • To build the organisation’s employer of choice profile; and
    • Possible legal implications – e.g. WHS/workers compensation etc.

    A further example of reasons to invest in employee health and wellbeing and the relationship between employee healthand engagement.

    Example interventions and wellbeing program activities:

    The following examples can be used to build a workplace wellbeing program.

    • Healthy @ work- ergonomic assessments
    • Body and Mind & work
    • Winter wise- flu shots
    • Financial wellness – financial advice
    • Relaxation – complementary therapies
    • Physical Health – health assessments
    • Mental Health – R U OK Day?
    • Rest – sleep foundation
    • Summer Safe – Cancer Council
    • Stretch zone – promote workplace stretching and time away from workstation
    • Rest zone – sun lounger/sleep pod
    • Mindfulness zone- e.g. reading, colouring in, Sudoku

    You can download a copy of the slides from the presentation here.

    The HR Breakfast Club runs on the third Friday of every month at BAL Lawyers. If you would like to be added to the invite list, please contact us. The next HR Breakfast club will be held of 20 April 2018 – for more details, please click here.

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  • Privacy Act and data breaches: Business Breakfast Club March Summary

    Data Breaches and Privacy Act Changes: Business Breakfast Club March Summary

    UPDATE: On 22 February 2018 amendments to the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) took effect to introduce a mandatory notification procedure for eligible data breaches.

    This month at Business Breakfast Club, we discussed the changes to the Privacy Act which introduced a mandatory notification procedure for eligible data breaches. BAL Director, Katie Innes shared some of her insights on the new responsibilities surrounding information and Privacy law. Katie touched on:

    What is an eligible data breach:

    An eligible data breach is either:

    • unauthorised access or disclosure of information that a reasonable person would conclude is likely to result in serious harm to any individuals to whom the information relates; or
    • information that is lost in circumstances where unauthorised access or disclosure of information is likely to occur and it can be reasonably concluded that such an outcome would result in serious harm to any of the individuals to whom the information relates.

    How and when is notification given?

    Notification relating to an eligible data breach is a written statement to the individuals affected by the breach and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and must include:

    • a description of what occurred;
    • the kinds of information concerned; and
    • the recommended next steps that individuals affected should take in response to the data breach.

    In certain circumstances, the Commissioner may declare that notification and a written statement about the eligible data breach is not necessary. The Commissioner may make this determination having considered factors such as the public interest, advice given to the Commissioner by an enforcement body or any other matters the Commissioner considers relevant.

    When will it not be an eligible data breach?

    1. You ‘take action’ in relation to the access or disclosure before any serious harm and, as a result of the action, a reasonable person would conclude the access or disclosure will not be likely to result in any serious harm; or
    2. You ‘take action’ in relation to any loss of information before any unauthorised access or disclosure and, as a result of the action, there is no unauthorised access or disclosure; or
    3. You ‘take action’ in relation to any loss of information after unauthorised access or disclosure but before any serious harm and, as a result of the action, a reasonable person would conclude the access or disclosure will not be likely to result in any serious harm.

    If you follow one of the above steps, then you may not be required to notify the individual affected by the data breach.

    Q&A Corner

    Q. What if the personal information is held by more than one entity?

    A. Where the breach has occurred by one or more other entities, only one entity is required to undertake the process of investigation and notification. Essentially, compliance by one is compliance by all. You will need to determine how to allocate responsibility for compliance, and establish who has the most direct relationship with the individuals at risk to take the lead in investigation.

    Q. Can mailing lists be used for purposes other than what they were initially gathered for?

    A. In certain circumstances, yes. Organisations that hold personal information about an individual can only use or disclose the information for the purpose or purposes for which it was collected (known as the ‘primary purpose’ of collection). However you can use the information for a ‘secondary purpose’ if:

    (a)  the individual has consented; or

    (b)  the individual would reasonably expect you to use the information for the secondary purpose and the secondary purpose is:

    (i)  directly related to the primary purpose (if it is sensitive information); or

    (ii) related to the primary purpose (if it is any other personal information).

    (c) the use or disclosure is required by law or a Court; or

    (d) a general permitted situation exists.

    In respect of mailing lists, individuals have the right to update their preferences, by asking the organisation to correct their information or ‘opt out’ of the mailing list entirely.

    Q. Do the changes to the Privacy Act affect requests for files for workers compensation, when the injured employee�s lawyer requests personal and workers compensation files?

    A. No. The recent changes to the Privacy Act focus on the obligation to notify the OAIC or the individuals affected if there is an ‘eligible data breach’. Individuals remain entitled to access their own personal information through Australian Privacy Principle 12 (and could exercise that right through a lawyer).

    The recent changes also do not affect any disclosure obligations an organisation may have as part of workplace investigations. An organisation’s rights to disclose personal information about an affected employee will be governed by its existing privacy policy, WHS legislation and whether or not the organisation has obtained the individual’s consent to release their personal information to third party investigators or insurers as part of their terms of employment, or in managing any workplace claim.

    If the organisation disclosed information to a third party (without consent or without the legislative obligation to) then it could be considered a data breach and, depending on the potential risk to the individual affected, may be an eligible data breach.

    The Business Breakfast Club is held on the second Friday of each month, the next one is on 13 April. If you would like to attend, please contact us to be added to the invite list.

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  • Dangerous Cladding: A concern for Buyers of Residential Units

    Dangerous Cladding: A concern for Buyers of Residential Units

    Aluminium Composite Panelling, also known as cladding, fuelled the devastating Melbourne Lacrosse building fire in November 2014 and the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017. Cladding can be combustible when it uses flammable aluminium composite panels with a highly flammable polyethylene core. The polyethylene core is comparable to pouring petrol on a fire – the result is the devastating spread and severity of a fire.

    Combustible cladding has been used on thousands of commercial buildings, shopping centres, government buildings and a number of residential buildings throughout Australia, including the ACT.

    What are the current regulations in place?

    Private building certifiers currently regulate builders, architects and suppliers in the ACT. They determine and regulate the safety of buildings and as such, the approval process is assessed on a case by case basis that is not regulated by the ACT Government. The result has been, at times, a failure by the building industry to self-regulate.

    New legislation to stop the use of unsafe cladding in NSW

    The Building Products (Safety) Bill 2017 was introduced in NSW to help prevent the use of dangerous building products such as dangerous cladding. This Bill delegates power to the Commissioner of Fair Trading to ban building products that may create safety risks in the event of fire. The objective of the Bill is to prohibit builders, building product suppliers, manufactures and importers from using dangerous products by imposing heavy penalties if they do not produce their records of building materials following a request by Fair Trading. The Bill also empowers Councils to order buildings be rectified if dangerous cladding is identified or if banned products have been used.

    Federal Regulation

    At the Federal level, the Customs Amendment (Safer Cladding) Bill 2017 was introduced in September 2017. It set out in its explanatory memorandum that the cladding issue is a most serious public safety issue that requires urgent action. The Bill prohibits the importation into Australia of polyethylene core aluminium composite panels. The Bill was introduced on an urgent basis due to the Federal and State failure to adequately respond to the requirement for safer cladding. Although it prevents the importation of polyethylene core aluminium panels, it does not prevent the use of polyethylene which has already been imported to Australia or is already used in buildings.

    What if my building has combustible cladding?

    Combustible cladding has been found on a number of buildings. But what does this mean for someone who has purchased a unit in one of these buildings or is a potential purchaser? Two recent cases in the High Court have shown that a builder does not owe a duty of care to the owners corporation or a subsequent buyer for a latent and previously unknown defect in a building. A latent defect is a defect in the property that could not have been discovered by a reasonably thorough inspection. The question of whether dangerous cladding is a latent defect has yet to be considered by the Courts.

    The consequences of the decision of the High Court are that if you discover your building is affected by dangerous cladding, you may not be able to make a claim against the builder, architect or suppliers for the costs of the removal or any damage caused by the dangerous cladding, such as a fire. As such, combustible cladding not only poses a serious health and safety hazard to its occupants but may also expose subsequent buyers and owners corporations to serious liability and costs.

    How can you protect yourself?

    If you are purchasing a new unit or property which uses cladding, we recommend you make an appointment with one of our specialist Real Estate lawyers. Due to the complicated nature of contract negotiation and our extensive experience representing buyers in new developments, we are able to assist you in negotiating the terms of your contract to include warranties that protect you from the risks associated with dangerous cladding.

    For more information or how to protect yourself and your property against dangerous cladding, please contact George Kordis, Special Counsel.

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  • window safety device

    ALERT: Window Safety Devices for NSW Strata Schemes: Important Update for Owners Corporations

    In order to prevent children from falling from windows, new requirements for window safety devices to be installed on windows in strata schemes are set to come into force in NSW.

    What is the deadline for installing safety devices?

    Safety devices must be installed by 13 March 2018. NSW Fair Trading advises that non-compliant Owners Corporations may face fines if safety devices are not installed on all relevant windows by the 13 March deadline.

    Who pays for the safety devices?

    Owners Corporations may be able to pass the cost onto individual unit owners for installing the safety devices. We recommend you contact BAL Lawyers for advice on applicable scenarios.

    What strata schemes does this apply to?

    The new requirements apply to any strata building containing Lots used for residential purposes.

    What windows are required to have safety devices?

    Safety devices must be installed on any openable windows where the floor inside is more than 2m above the ground outside and the lowest part of the window is less than 1.7m above the floor inside. This applies to windows in individual residential units, as well as on Common Property.

    What does the window safety device do?

    Safety devices must be capable of limiting the maximum opening of the window to be less than 12.5cm and be capable of withstanding a certain amount of force (250 Newtons).

    Can the windows still be opened?

    Yes, the safety devices can be temporarily disengaged and windows fully opened, if residents choose.

    Further information is available from the NSW Fair Trading website.

    Written by George Kordis, Special Counsel. If you require advice on your strata law matters, contact us.

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  • bitcoin - what happens to your digital assets when you die

    Bitcoin, Digital Assets, Clouds, and your internet identity: what happens to your Digital Assets when you die?

    Gone are the days when someone’s assets consisted of their house, a car and some black and white photos. A whopping 3.431 billion people are plugged into the internet worldwide as of August 2016[1]and most clients we see have some form of Digital Assets – that is, anything you own or have certain rights over that exists online or are stored on computers or other digital technology.

    Take a moment to consider your digital technology, which may include any one (or perhaps all) of the following:

    • SMS’s on your phone, or messages on instant messaging services (Messenger, Whatsapp, Telegram etc);
    • content on your smart phone handset;
    • emails;
    • social networking content, or licences;
    • e books, streaming content services, digital downloads; and
    • PC’s, laptops, tablets and other computer devices.

    Now take a moment to consider what would happen to your digital technology once you die. Specifically, consider:

    • who can access (and how do they access) your email, social media accounts, dating profiles, online passwords, online banking records, media hosting services (eg Instagram, Flickr) or professional blog when you die;
    • what happens to the documents, files and photos on your cloud Storage (for example, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Microsoft Skydrive);
    • what happens to your online assets (for example, funds in your Paypal account, downloaded music and movies or streaming services, Airline Frequent Flyer points and cryptocurrencies);
    • what happens to the photos, messages and data stored on your phone, laptop or tablet;
    • how can you ensure your ‘digital life’ is removed from the worldwide web once you have died

    The Legal Position – How are digital assets dealt following death

    The digital estate may feature a mix of third party intellectual property, the deceased’s intellectual property and contractual rights in the form of licences and terms of use. It is rarely the case therefore that the deceased ‘owns’ the digital asset or the content, which is a mistaken belief held by many clients.

    A proper Estate Plan therefore requires a consideration of the rights to the asset and/or intellectual property as well as the policies with regard to the service or host provider.

    Let’s run through some of the most commonly used platforms and assets:

    Social Media eg Facebook , Instagram, Youtube – the basis of most social media sites is to provide free content hosting in exchange for the user granting the site a licence to use the content. The Terms of Service set out the terms of the licence.

    It is a well-known fact these days that a Facebook user for example, has no ownership in the content of the material they upload onto their social media account. The Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities specifically states that ‘you grant us (Facebook) a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook’.

    If the user does not ‘own’ the content posted on these social media sites, neither does their executor of their estate. Using the example of Facebook, once you die, a friend, family member, or your executor can request to have your user account memorialised or permanently removed from Facebook. Even if an account is permanently deleted, Facebook is entitled to retain the rights and sublicense to everything that has ever been uploaded onto the user account.

    Apple ID Account – The Apple Media Services Terms and Conditions generally states that once media is downloaded, you do not actually own or obtain legal title to the media – you simply obtain a licence to use the media. Licences are generally not transferable to your executor or beneficiaries. Generally speaking therefore, your Apple ID account and downloaded content will not form part of the estate. There is the option however with family sharing to transfer material from one computer to the next, and therefore that might be the solution to ensuring the digital library is accessible after death.

    Google Account – your Google Account is perhaps the most important account to access after you die. Google offers a number of online services including Gmail, Google Drive, Picasa and Google Plus. The Google Terms of Service that’s that the user retains ownership in the intellectual property, but (similar to most social media sites) when content is uploaded onto any Google product, google is given a worldwide licence to use the content and that licence continues indefinitely.

    If your Executor wants access to your Google Account, they will need to contact Google administrators and seek access, which may not always be granted (as per the Terms of Service).

    Cryptocurrencies – Cryptocurrencies are not backed by any government regulator. Instead people often store their Bitcoins in an encrypted ‘digital wallet’, usually via an app on their phone or laptop. Digital wallets often use two keys to allow the owner access – a public key that anyone can see and a private key. If your Executor or Beneficiaries do not know this key, there is almost no way they can access your Bitcoin. On the other hand, providing this information to your Executors or Beneficiaries during your lifetime may compromise the security of the Cryptocurrency.

    How should I deal with my digital assets

    Once our digital assets are identified, they are treated much the same as any other asset. From a practical sense, what should you do to assist your family, next of kin or executor in dealing with or even erasing your ‘digital footprint’ once you have died?

    This question is very personal and specific to many. In some cases, it would be appropriate to leave a list of your usernames, passwords and ‘keys’ to the online assets so they can be dealt with. But perhaps not always.

    A holistic review of your Estate Plan should involve a consideration of your digital assets, Intellectual Property laws, an understanding of common platforms and a sensible approach in managing these assets after you are gone. To create or review your will and estate plan, please contact us.

    [1] www.internetlivestatts.com/internet-uses

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  • guide to assignment of lease timeframes for landlords in the ACT and NSW

    Hidden risks: A guide to assignment of lease timeframes for landlords in the ACT and NSW

    Assignments of lease are common, but even experienced landlords might be caught by surprise by the strict timeframes legislation imposes for responding to a request for assignment. The process for dealing with a request for consent to the assignment of a lease contains many potential pitfalls for a landlord, and failure to address such a request properly can have dire consequences.

    Assignments of Lease in the ACT

    A tenant wishing to assign its lease under the Leases (Commercial and Retail) Act 2001 (ACT) (LCRA) must first provide a disclosure statement to the prospective assignee and then make a request in writing for the landlord’s consent to the assignment.

    Once the tenant has requested consent, the landlord has 14 days to request further information. The LCRA limits the information that can be requested, however it includes information about the financial standing of the assignee and/or guarantor, a certificate of occupancy for the premises, information about the business skills of the prospective assignee, information about the proposed use of the premises by the assignee and references relating to the ability of the prospective assignee to operate the business on the premises.

    The landlord must respond to the tenant’s request by either providing or withholding consent within 28 days after receiving the request, or within 21 days of receiving any information requested. If the landlord does not provide a response within that timeframe, the landlord is deemed to have consented to the assignment.

    A landlord can only withhold consent to an assignment of the lease where it is reasonable in all the circumstances to do so. There are certain grounds where refusal is taken to be reasonable, such as if the proposed use of the premises is for a purpose not allowed under the lease or if the proposed use of the premises will not be compatible with other tenants in the building or if the existing tenant is in breach, but otherwise the landlord has the burden of proving it was reasonable. The reasonableness of a decision to withhold consent can be difficult to determine. Under the LCRA a landlord may recover the legal costs of making the decision about whether to consent, so it is worth seeking professional advice.

    Assignment of Leases in NSW

    In NSW the governing legislation is the Retail Leases Act 1994 (NSW) (RLA). The request for landlord consent must be made in writing and the tenant must first provide the assignee with an up to date disclosure statement.

    The tenant must also provide the landlord with such information as the landlord may reasonably require about the finances and retail skills of the assignee. Unlike the ACT however, there are not clear timeframes for seeking and providing this information.

    The landlord must deal with a request ‘expeditiously’ and if the landlord has not responded within 28 days, the landlord is deemed to have given consent.

    A landlord may, in the provisions of the lease, reserve the right to refuse to consent to the tenant assigning the lease. However, absent of any specific provision in the lease, a landlord may only withhold consent in specific circumstances, including if the assignee proposes to change the use of the premises, has inferior finances or retail skills to the tenant, or the tenant has not complied with the legislated process for assignment, including providing requested information.

    Conclusion

    Disputes often arise in the course of a request for consent to assignment of a lease, particularly over whether information has been requested in time, whether adequate information has been provided, and whether the request for information conforms to the legislation. If a landlord mistakenly believed it was waiting on further information on the proposed assignee and failed to respond to the tenant’s request within 28 days, the landlord would be deemed to have consented to the assignment. In such a situation, not only would the landlord have a new tenant it may not have wanted, but the lease will no longer be enforceable against the original tenant should any issues arise (s.103 LCRA and s.41A RLA).

    The key lesson is being aware of timeframes for responding to requests for assignment of a lease and understanding the complexity surrounding requests for further information and grounds for refusal. Correctly responding to a request for consent to assignment of a lease is a process that requires expert guidance. Failure to respond in the correct time period can result in a landlord being deemed to have consented to a transfer. In order to reduce the risk, landlords should contact their legal advisors as soon as they receive a request for assignment.

    If you require expert advice in your commercial leasing matters, contact BAL Lawyers.

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  • Agreements for lease Preparing to sell your business

    Agreements for lease: what to look out for - heads of agreement and more

    Following on from our introduction to the Agreement for Lease (AFL), there are a number of matters that prospective landlords and tenants need to watch out for when negotiating an AFL. We provide the following tips so that you can know your rights and the associated risks, to ensure your agreements reflect your interests.

    How do I protect my interests while negotiating an AFL and Lease?

    As we have noted, an AFL is often more complicated that the eventual Lease, and negotiations for both these documents can last upwards of several months, depending on the complexities. An option that parties often turn to is entering into a shorter, less formal document setting out their agreement in brief terms. This is often referred to as a Heads of Agreement (HOA).

    Is a HOA always binding?

    A distinct advantage of an AFL is that it is enforceable, including by way of specific performance. A party disadvantaged by a non-complying party can seek relief by way of Court orders that the other party perform their side of the bargain. However, does a HOA give rise to the same level of protection?

    This depends. The Court will seek to uphold the bargain reached by the parties, so the first issue it faces is to work out what the parties actually intended. The options for parties when negotiating an AFL are to enter into a HOA that will:

    1. set out the terms of the preliminary agreement, without any intention to be bound unless and until an AFL is signed;
    1. set out agreed terms, with performance conditional upon entry into a formal agreement;
    1. set out agreed terms, with the intention to be bound to continue negotiations to see if a final agreement can be reached;
    1. set out agreed terms with the intention of entering into a binding agreement encompassing those specified terms and such other terms as may be subsequently agreed; or
    1. agree certain terms and to enter into an AFL and Lease containing those terms, with the intention that the parties are immediately bound to do so.

    What is required to be agreed for a binding HOA or AFL?

    Ideally, your AFL will contain a greater amount of detail than a HOA; however, both documents may be enforceable provided agreement is reached on the following fundamental criteria:

    1. Parties – who are the parties to the agreement?
    1. Premises – what land is the subject of the agreement?
    1. Period – how long is the term of the lease?
    1. Price – what is the rent?

    Beyond the “four P’s” above, a Court may imply standard terms required to make an AFL and Lease, particularly if there is evidence as to the parties’ intentions (for example, a reference to entry into a landlord’s standard leasing documents). In this case, a detailed HOA may contain enough agreed terms to operate as an AFL.

    If the four Ps are not agreed, there is insufficient certainty for a HOA or AFL to be enforced.

    What to look out for

    Consider your needs carefully. Is the property/tenant a rare opportunity, such that you are willing to enter into an immediately binding agreement, notwithstanding the fact that your negotiations are not finalised? In circumstances where parties agree to be immediately bound, a Court will enforce that agreement by determining (where possible) additional terms required for performance.

    Alternatively, you may wish to secure the property for a period of time, without yet locking yourself into an AFL and a binding commitment to enter into a lease. In this case, you have the option of agreeing to continue negotiations in an exclusive dealing period, without a binding obligation to enter into an AFL.

    There are risks regardless of whether or not you choose to be bound at this preliminary stage. If you are unsure as to the most suitable option for you, we recommend that you seek advice. In all respects, remember that whether or not a binding agreement exists depends on the intention of the parties, as can be inferred from the agreement itself. Whether you are negotiating a HOA or an AFL, ensure that it clearly sets out what you understand to be the agreement, and what you are willing to perform.

    For advice on negotiating an Agreement for Lease, please contact Laura Scotton.

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