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Things you need to know about the new GST Withholding Laws

BY NATALIE SMYTH

 

The Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 1) Bill 2018 received royal assent on 29 March 2018. The bill amends various tax legislation and requires some purchasers of real property to collect a seller’s GST liability at settlement and remit it directly to the ATO.

The bill was introduced following the 2015 senate enquiry on ‘Insolvency in the Australia construction industry” in an effort to reduce illegal phoenix activity by property developers. “Illegal phoenix activity is when a new company is created to continue the business of a company that has been deliberately liquidated to avoid paying its debts, including taxes, creditors and employee entitlements.”[1]

When did the new GST withholding obligations take effect?

The changes brought about by this new GST withholding legislation primarily affects Contracts entered into from and after 1 July 2018. The GST withholding requirements do not apply to Contracts entered into prior to 1 July 2018 provided that the consideration for the supply (other than a deposit) is first provided before 1 July 2020. Off the plan contracts entered into prior to 1 July 2018 could be affected if construction/plan registration is likely to be completed after the 1 July 2020 deadline.

What types of transactions are affected?

A Purchaser will have a GST withholding obligation if:-

  1. The supply is by way of sale or long-term lease; and
  2. The supply is of New Residential Premises or Potential Residential Land.

The withholding obligation will not apply, however, if the purchaser is registered for GST and acquires the property for a creditable purpose.

What is a Creditable Purpose?

“You acquire or import a thing for a creditable purpose if you acquire or import it in carrying on your enterprise (including acquiring or importing it in the course of the commencement or termination of your enterprise)” [2] If the property is acquired for private or domestic purposes, then it will not be acquired for a creditable purpose.[3]

What types of real property will be classified as New Residential Premises and Potential Residential Land?

Residential Premises will be New Residential Premises if they:

  1. have not been sold previously as a residential premises and have not been previously the subject of a long-term lease; or
  2. have been created through substantial renovations of a building – i.e whereby all (or substantially all) of a building is removed or replaced; or
  3. if they have been built to replace demolished premises on the same land.

Potential Residential Land means “land that it is permissible to use for residential purposes, but that does not contain any buildings that are residential premises.”[4] The withholding obligations only apply to Potential Residential Land if the land is created by a property subdivision plan and the land is zoned for residential use under the local government planning schemes. If the planning schemes permit a number of uses for the land, and one of those uses is residential, then the land will be classified as Potential Residential Land.[5] Potential Residential Land does not include land that contains any buildings for a commercial purpose.

When must the GST withholding amount be paid?

It must be paid to the ATO on or before the day that the consideration for the taxable supply is first provide.[6] Generally, the consideration is first provided on the Settlement Date.

How much is the withholding amount?

The withholding amount is generally 1/11th of the Contract Price, however, if the margin scheme applies, then the withholding amount will be 7% of the Contract Price. The Contract Price is the GST inclusive price stated on the Contract and does not take into account any normal adjustments to the Contract Price (for example, for rates or water).

If the parties had negotiated a reduction in the Contract Price, for example, in exchange for the satisfaction of a building and pest condition, then the Contract Price, for the purposes of calculating the GST withholding amount, would not be discounted by the agreed reduction.

Sellers Notification and Purchaser Notification Obligations  

Seller’s Notice

All sellers of residential property must issue a notice to a purchaser advising the purchaser whether they must make a GST withholding payment. This notice is not required, however, for supplies of New Residential Land or Potential Residential Land if the purchaser is registered for GST and is acquiring the property for a creditable purpose.

Sellers will need to conduct an A.B.N. search of the purchaser to confirm whether or not the purchaser is registered for GST, however, a seller can rely on a purchaser’s statement in the Contract as to whether the purchaser is acquiring the property for a creditable purpose.

If the purchaser is required to withhold the GST amount and pay it directly to the ATO, then the seller’s notice must state:

  1. the seller’s name and ABN;
  2. the dollar amount to be paid by the purchaser;
  3. when the amount must be paid; and
  4. the GST-inclusive market value of any non-monetary consideration.

The notice must be provided by the seller prior to the seller making the taxable supply. Even if the seller fails to notify the purchaser, the purchaser will still have a GST withholding obligation and must withhold the GST amount and remit it to the ATO on or before settlement.

Purchaser Notice

Purchasers also have an obligation to notify the Commissioner of Taxation of the GST amount payable on or before the due date for payment, and this is done via approved forms that are accessible via the ATO website.

What are the main implications for property developers and purchasers?

  • Property Developers will need to consider the cash flow implications resulting from the new GST withholding laws. Previously, developers enjoyed the benefit of retaining the GST component from settlement as cash, as the GST liability was not required to be remitted to the ATO until lodgement of their next BAS.
  • If a purchaser fails to comply with their GST withholding obligation on reliance of a seller’s incorrect notice and the ATO later deems that the supply was a taxable supply and that the purchaser should have withheld the GST and paid it to the ATO at the time of settlement, the purchaser could still be liable to pay the seller’s GST liability. It is therefore important for a purchaser to undertake reasonable enquiries as to whether the withholding obligations apply to the transaction and must not blindly rely on a seller’s notice in circumstances where it is evident that there is a GST withholding obligation.

If you are a property developer requiring assistance with contract drafting to ensure that your sale contracts cover the new GST withholding law notification requirements, then please don’t hesitate to contact our commercial solicitor Natalie via reception@justuslaw.com.

Alternatively, if you are a purchaser or seller of residential or commercial property in Queensland and you require advice with respect to the application of the new GST withholding laws, please don’t hesitate to contact our Residential or Commercial conveyancing departments via email on reception@justuslaw.com.

[1] https://www.ato.gov.au/General/The-fight-against-tax-crime/Our-focus/Illegal-phoenix-activity/

[2] Paragraph 26 of the GSTR 2006/4 Goods and Services Tax Ruling Goods and services tax: determining the extent of creditable purpose for claiming input tax credits and for making adjustments for changes in extent of creditable purpose

[3] Ibid, paragraph 27.

[4] Section 195-1 A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 (Cth).

[5] Paragraph 24 , LCR 2018/4  Purchaser’s obligations to pay an amount for GST on taxable supplies of certain real property.

[6] Subsection 14–250(4) Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth).


Cyber scams and Conveyancing

By Remy Forster

Recent news of scammers hacking into the software system of PEXA to divert funds from a MasterChef star have made gripping headlines, see Dani Venn: MasterChef star hacked out of $250,000.00. Cyber scams are not a new development – after all, it would be difficult to find a member of Generation Y who hasn’t heard of Nigerian princes. What has emerged over the past few years is a worrying trend of cyber scams targeting the legal arena, and specifically targeting conveyancing transactions. So far 2018 has included numerous incidents of cyber scams affecting conveyancing transactions, including Buyers transferring deposits to incorrect accounts and sale proceeds being deposited into incorrect accounts.

It is an obvious trend that cyber scams which affect law firms and their clients would most often be associated with conveyancing transactions. Conveyancing transactions are easy targets mostly due to:

  1. They comprise the most common legal transactions,
  2. They involve large sums of funds being transferred to multiple parties,
  3. A majority of the communication in the transactions are via email, with little telephone communication or face-to-face contact, and
  4. Online programs for the transactions being relatively new and still in the process of being established.

Fraudsters are now taking advantage of these risks to try to defraud clients in conveyancing transactions through a variety of methods.

The first method used by hackers is to intercept deposit payments made by Buyers to real estate agents. Hackers attempt this by accessing a real estate agent’s emails, waiting until the agent has sent their account details to a potential Buyer, and then sending a “follow up” email to the Buyer advising the original account details were incorrect and supplying alternate account details. The Buyer then transfers the deposit funds to the alternate account, not being aware that they have sent their deposit funds to the fraudster instead of the real estate agent. Cases of this fraud have emerged steadily over the past twelve months [1] and will no doubt continue to rise.

A second method is to intercept settlement payments made by Buyers to their legal representatives. Hackers use the same method described above, but instead access the legal representative’s emails and contact clients following the legal representative requesting their client transfer them funds for their property settlement. Incidents of clients losing funds to these instances of fraud have also increased over the past 12 months [2].

Finally, the third method is to intercept the disbursement of funds from a property settlement. This method is more sophisticated, and generally requires the property settlement to be settled using an online system such as PEXA. Hackers access the legal representative’s emails, use their emails to set up a new user on the representative’s PEXA system, change the entered account details for a PEXA transaction from the Sellers’ account details to the hacker’s account details, and hope that the legal representative doesn’t notice the change in account details prior to the transaction settling [3]. Instances of this type of fraud are becoming more prominent as use of the PEXA system increases.

All three methods rely on some form of access to the emails of the real estate agent or the legal representative, and that the parties involved in the conveyancing transaction won’t verify the information they have received through a secondary method. Law firms do have a responsibility to alleviate as much of the risks with conveyancing transactions as possible by implementing the following: [4]

  1. Requiring staff to delete emails from any suspicious email addresses without opening,
  2. Requiring staff to use secure passwords, and to change these passwords regularly,
  3. Ensuring accounts for any inactive staff are deleted, and monitoring established accounts to ensure no unauthorized accounts have been set up,
  4. Requesting that any potential clients contact the office via telephone before being engaged for legal services,
  5. Warning clients of potential fraud risks, and requesting that clients telephone their office if they receive a request by email to transfer funds,
  6. Where possible, encouraging clients to hand over funds as cheques in place of EFTs,
  7. Requesting clients provide their account details on physical documents instead of emailing account details, and
  8. For PEXA settlements, requiring staff to not enter in client account details in advance of the settlement and to triple check the entered account details match their client’s details before signing off on the property settlement.

Unfortunately, as outlined in the above items, there is also a partial responsibility on clients in conveyancing transactions to remain vigilant throughout their transaction for potential fraud. This by no means implies that clients are entirely to blame if they are the victim of a fraudulent action, and in some cases (such as PEXA fraud), clients have limited or no actions they can complete to prevent these actions. However, for instances of fraud to decrease, all parties involved in conveyancing transactions should complete the transaction with no presumptions and with secondary verification of crucial information.

PEXA settlements are not mandatory in Queensland, and if you are concerned about your transaction proceeding via PEXA we recommend you contact your legal representative no later than 10 business days prior to settlement to request that your settlement proceed via the traditional paper settlement method. Just Us Lawyers are registered for PEXA settlements, but still conduct a majority of their conveyancing transactions using the traditional paper settlement method. For more information on how PEXA settlements work, see PEXA’s website[5] and our previous blogs about our experiences settling through the PEXA system[6]

For the best Conveyancing lawyers in Brisbane call/email Just Us Lawyers or complete our enquiry form for a quote today

[1] https://www.smartcompany.com.au/industries/property/consumer-affairs-victoria-warns-real-estate-agencies-and-buyers-over-new-email-scam/

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-25/scam-targets-conveyancing-clients-in-sa/9086172 and http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-19/elderly-woman-loses-more-than-half-a-million-in-property-scam/8959218

[3] https://www.propertyobserver.com.au/forward-planning/advice-and-hot-topics/85862-pexa-warning-as-conveyancing-fraud-funds-end-up-in-thailand.html

[4] http://www.qls.com.au/Knowledge_centre/Ethics/Resources/Cyber_security

[5] https://www.pexa.com.au/buyers-sellers

[6] https://justuslaw.com/advent-e-conveyancing/ and https://justuslaw.com/e-conveyancing-reality-follow/


Depreciation – The property investor’s friend

By Skye Nicholson

Don’t be another property investor who forgoes thousands of dollars of unclaimed money, simply for being none the wiser! This tax time, we look into claiming depreciation deductions for your investment property.

In recent data released by SQM Research this week, it is noted that the national vacancy rate sits at 2.1%, with Brisbane specifically siting at 2.9% [1]. This reflects 9,331 rental vacancies, and, as a direct result, tenants are more inclined to request rent reductions. At a time where vacancy rates in investment properties are ever-so-prominent and asking rent is decreasing, investors should be maximising tax breaks where possible.

Every investor has an “Investment Property Strategy”, increasing the amount of return you receive on your investment property at tax time is a crucial element to be included in that strategy. While depreciation tax breaks are predominately greater on newer properties, they are applicable for all investment properties and should be incorporated into your Strategy irrespective of a property’s construction date and construction type. The process of claiming depreciation directly improves your cash flow by reducing your taxable income or assessable income, and accordingly, increases the potential to expand your portfolio further.

The table below highlights the average depreciation deduction for investors who requested schedules during the financial year 2015-2016.

AGE OF RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES SELECTED: 2015-2016 FINANCIAL YEAR [2].

Description: Construction dates: Percentage of total:  Average first full year deduction
Old Pre 1987 22.3% $4,899
Pre 2000 1987 – 2000 16.9% $7,543
Up to 15 years old 2000 – end of 2012 26% $11,303
Fairly new 2012 – 2015 13.3% $12,316
Brand new  Built after 1/3/2015 21.5% $12,680

It is clear that, regardless of the age of the property, it is worthwhile to speak with a specialist quantity surveyor on exactly what can be claimed with respect to your investment property. As demonstrated in the above, residential properties that have been constructed prior to 1987 can receive an average depreciation deduction of $4,899.00 in the first financial year alone. This means investors in those circumstances could pocket roughly $94.00 a week! Even those who have a depreciation schedule set up may be underestimating just how much they could be claiming. We note also, these figures are merely indicative on investors who requested depreciation schedules.

Practical Aspects

Maximising property depreciation requires a thorough understanding of the legislation surrounding depreciation deductions, and how to structure your depreciation report so that deductions are utilised to their full potential. In the following paragraphs, we look into the practical aspects for you.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) sanctions depreciation of assets that have “a limited effective life and can reasonably be expected to decline in value over the time it is used” [3]. Further, the two main types of expenses that can be depreciated for investment properties at tax time are as follows:-

  1. Wear and Tear of Fixtures and fittings – Plant and equipment (Division 40); and
  2. Capital Works expenses – Capital Works Allowance (Division 43).

The ATO recognises that the ageing of investment properties, and items within the property that suffer wear and tear, cause a decline in overall value. In light of same, the ATO allows investors to claim this financial loss as a tax deduction each financial year against their assessable income.

Noting the above, deductions can only be claimed for the period during the financial year that the property is rented or is available for rent. This means that if you live in a property and intend to rent it out in future, investment property depreciation is not available to you until the property is used specifically for the purposes of rent generation, whereby providing an investment return/benefit to you.

1. Plant and equipment depreciating assets (Division 40).

Division 40 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth) (“the Act”) provides that an amount that is equal to the decline in value of the “Depreciating asset” is claimable at tax time. As a result, lowering your assessable income, and which in turn provides you with a greater tax return.

In accordance with section 40-B of the Act, “Depreciating Assets are assets with a limited effective life that are reasonably expected to decline in value” [4]. In other words, depreciating assets are plant and equipment items within the property that have a limited “effective life” as determined by the ATO. The depreciation deduction available on that item is then calculated with respect to said effective life.

These items are removable fixtures generally described as ‘not structural’. Items for example include, carpet, blinds, kitchen appliances, light shades, security systems, elevators, air conditioners, hot water systems, etc.

The depreciation deduction available on these items is calculated with respect to the specified “effective life”.  Accordingly, this forms one significant aspect of an investor’s depreciation schedule. We refer you to section 40-30 of the Act for a more definitive list of the claimable assets.

2. Capital Works Allowance (Division 43).

Division 43 of the Act, more commonly referred to as “Capital Works Allowance” covers deductions available to investors for fixed items/assets and the structural elements of the property. Essentially, this division provides a system of deducting capital expenditure incurred by the investor in respect of the construction of a building, and other capital works, to lower assessable income, similar to the purposes of Division 40 of the Act.

The age and type of fixed assets and construction determine the allowance provided under the Capital Works Allowance division. This can be complex and we recommend you engage a Quantity Surveyor to provide advice over the allowable deductions.

At Just Us Lawyers we strive to understand your investment strategy and to help you fashion legal solutions to achieve your property goals – from discussing and advising on property holding entities, planning issues and objections, and contract design, to helping you with your conveyancing needs.

For the best Conveyancing lawyers in Brisbane call/email Just Us Lawyers or complete our enquiry form for a quote today

[1] Vacancy Rates Steady In May, Asking Rents Dip (2018) Sqmresearch.com.au

[2] Maverick, BMT Quantity Surveyors. 2017. Depreciation data highlights investment trend www.bmtqs.com.au

[3] Guide to depreciating assets 2017, Page 3, Australian Taxation Office, “a limited effective life and can reasonably be expected to decline in value over the time it is used.”

[4] Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 Federal Register of Legislation, Division 40 Capital allowances, Section 40-10, “Depreciating Assets are assets with a limited effective life that are reasonably expected to decline in value.”


Be on time! Or suffer the consequences

Unlike other Jurisdictions, such as New South Wales, those familiar with conveyancing understand that in Brisbane residential property contracts “time is of the essence”.

But what does that actually mean?  

This was considered by the Queensland Supreme Court of Appeal in the matter of Caprice Property Holdings Pty Ltd v McLeay.

The contract involved an expensive Gold Coast property. The contract was due and the parties had nominated 3pm as the time for settlement. The Buyer’s solicitors arrived and were informed that the release of mortgage would not be available for another 15 minutes. The Buyer declined to wait any more than five minutes and left. The Seller’s solicitor contacted the Buyer’s solicitors shortly thereafter and requested that the Buyer return stating that the Sellers had reserved their rights to settle any time up to 5pm. The Buyer’s solicitor did not agree to re-attend settlement nor did the Buyer attempt to make any other arrangements for settlement.

The Seller’s solicitor then sent a fax to the Buyer’s solicitor at 4.36pm holding the Buyer in breach of the contract as it had not effected settlement by 5pm. This fax was sent prematurely, in that it was not 5pm, and the Buyer was not yet in breach of the contract. The Buyers argued that this facsimile was intimidation because it was sent before 5.00pm, and they were, as a result, excused from having to settle.

The court disagreed with the Buyers. The court held that rather the Buyer’s refusal to return on the settlement date excused the Sellers from performing their obligations under the contract and the Buyer was in breach of the contract in failing to settle because time was of the essence.  As a consequence, the Sellers were fully entitled to terminate the contract after 5.00pm for the Buyer’s failure to comply with the contract.

The lesson to be learnt by the parties to residential conveyancing contracts is that it is always important to look at the terms of the contract before taking rash action – no matter how inconvenient the practices of the other party may be. Most standard contracts for the sale of residential property in Queensland provide that settlement must take place up to 5.00pm on the settlement day. Failure to make yourself available will entitle the other party to avoid the consequences of the contract, even if the failure is caused by the bank’s inability to get it’s act together.

If you are the Buyer, who is at fault, as a minimum you will forfeit your deposit. If you are the Seller, the Buyer can terminate without loss of the deposit and the agent will probably still be able to claim his commission from you.

It is essential that you be ready, willing and able to complete the sale at the time set out in the contract because in Queensland, as the term says, time really is of the essence!

For further information on conveyancing and how we can assist in pre-contract advice please contact our Conveyancing Team based at our Wilston office.  

For the best Conveyancing lawyers in Brisbane call/email Just Us Lawyers or complete our enquiry form for a quote today


When “sufficient to complete” is simply not enough

By Natalie Smyth

Purchasers entering into a Contract for the purchase of residential or commercial property in Queensland may require the Contract to be subject to obtaining satisfactory finance. Such a provision is often an important and essential term of the Contract entitling a purchaser to terminate the Contract in the event that satisfactory finance is not obtained.

In circumstances where the finance condition is vague or uncertain as to be meaningless, it can render the clause unenforceable and purchasers may find themselves in a situation where they are legally bound to complete the Contract in the absence of obtaining finance.

In the Fourteenth Edition of the REIQ Contract for the sale of Houses and Residential Land, in order for the Contract to be subject to the finance condition, all of the “finance amount” “financier” and “finance date” sections in the reference schedule must be completed. It is common practise for real estate agents in Queensland to complete the reference schedule of the Contract, and we often seen the phrase “sufficient to complete” next to the “finance amount” heading, as opposed to an exact dollar figure.

Failure to insert an exact dollar figure could be problematic in circumstances where a purchaser also requires finance to cover:-

  1. any potential transfer duty imposed on the transfer of property;
  2. title registration fees; and
  3. legal fees.

It could be argued that a purchaser who obtains finance for the balance purchase price has obtained an amount that is “sufficient to complete” the purchase. The fact that a purchaser, who requires finance to pay a stamp duty liability or legal fees, has only been able to secure finance for the balance purchase price, may find themselves unable to rely on the finance condition, as technically, those liabilities are extraneous to completion of the Contract.

What is the Court’s view?

In the High Court case of Meehan V Jones & Ors (1982), a purchaser sought specific performance of a contract of sale expressed to be executed subject to “the Purchaser or his nominee receiving approval for finance on satisfactory terms and conditions in an amount sufficient to complete the purchase.”

Facts of Meehan v Jones

The purchaser had obtained finance and had notified the Seller of his intention to proceed with the Contract, however, in the interim the Seller had found another purchaser and did not wish to proceed with the first Contract. Accordingly, the Seller sought to resist the claim for specific performance on the grounds that:-

  1. the finance clause was uncertain and therefore rendered the contract void; and
  2. That the clause, if certain, reserved to the purchaser a discretion or option to elect to carry out the contract, which rendered the contract illusory.

The Court’s decision

The High Court recognised that the finance clause in the Contract was potentially ambiguous in the sense that it failed to define the extent of the purchaser’s obligations with respect to the search for finance and the criteria to be used in the determination of whether such finance was in fact satisfactory, however, ultimately decided that the purchaser was entitled to specific performance of the Contract.

The Court held that the contract was not void for uncertainty because:

  1. “The courts should be astute to adopt a construction which would preserve the validity of the contract” (per Mason and Wilson JJ); and
  2. “It was only if the court was unable to put any definite meaning on the contract that it could be said to be uncertain” (per Gibbs CJ and Murphy J).

The Court was unanimous in holding that “subject to finance” clauses will not generally result in a contract for sale being held void for uncertainty, and the fact that a clause might contain some ambiguity will not preclude a court from ascertaining the intention of the parties with respect to the clause in question.

Further in the case of Clarke v Relstar Pty Ltd (1982), a contract expressed to be subject to the purchaser’s obtaining finance by a given date on terms wholly satisfactory to the purchaser to enable him to complete the transaction was held to be not void for uncertainty.

In the case of York Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (Australasia) Pty Ltd v The Commonwealth , Williams J commented, “If the court comes to the conclusion that parties intended to make a contract, it will if possible give effect to their intention no matter what difficulties of construction arise.”

Does this also apply to commercial contracts?  

Note 7 of the REIQ Contract for the purchase of commercial land and buildings provides: “the dollar amount of the loan being sought must be inserted in item U. Do not insert the words ‘sufficient to complete this purchase ‘or words of a similar effect.”  We understand the reason for this notation, is to avoid the situation described above, whereby a purchase may require an amount of finance that is above that required to complete the Contract.

As far as we are aware there is yet to be decision of  a court determinative of this issue..

Conclusion:-

  1. The courts will attempt to give proper effect to commercial transactions;
  2. If the courts can ascertain the intention of the parties with respect to the clause, and deduce a meaning from the clause, it will likely not be void for uncertainty;
  3. “subject to finance” clauses will not generally result in a contract for sale being held void for uncertainty; and
  4. the fact that a clause might contain some ambiguity will not preclude a court from ascertaining the intention of the parties with respect to the clause in question.

Despite Chief Justice Gibbs’ comment in Meehan v Jones with respect to “subject to finance” clauses, that their “natural effect is to leave it to the purchaser to determine whether or not the available finance is suitable to his needs,” in circumstances where a purchaser obtains finance for the balance purchase price, but requires a finance amount that is above that required to complete the contract (i.e for a stamp duty liability), in the absence of obtaining additional finance, the purchaser may still be bound to complete the Contract.  Accordingly, the phrase “sufficient to complete” is potentially ambiguous, and we therefore recommend that purchasers insert a specific dollar amount  (or a figure expressed as a percentage of the purchase price) next to the “finance amount” heading in the reference schedule that includes not only the balance purchase price, but also stamp duty costs, legal and title registration fees.

We recommend that you seek pre-contract advice from our team at Just Us Lawyers prior to signing any Contract for the Sale and Purchase of residential or commercial property in Queensland.

Just Us Lawyers – for the best Conveyancing lawyers in Brisbane call/email Just Us Lawyers or complete our enquiry form for a quote today


Finance Clauses, a way out or a way in to a legal minefield

By Natalie Smyth

Buyers of property often rely on Finance clauses to give them a way out of a contract to purchase a house they really can’t afford. But for the unwary they can be nothing more than a legal minefield entangling the parties in protracted litigation.

 A recent decision in the District Court of Queensland considered, inter alia, whether a conveyancing contract for the purchase of residential property in Queensland was subject to finance, and whether the Buyer could rely on the finance condition to terminate the Contract.

Whilst the decision was inconclusive (as the matter is still ongoing), it serves as good reminder for purchasers of residential property to obtain independent legal advice prior to entering into a Contract for sale.

Relevant Facts of Mewing v Duncan [2018] QDC 52

  • The parties entered into an REIQ Contract for the sale of a particular residential property on 20 November 2016.
  • On the third page of the schedule to the Contract in the finance section of the reference schedule after the heading “finance amount” were the words “Sufficient to complete”, and after the heading “financer” were the words “Buyer’s choice.”
  • There was no date inserted after the heading “finance date.”

The Fourteenth Edition of the REIQ Contract for the sale of Houses and Residential Land contains a notation next to the finance condition in the reference schedule of the Contract as follows:- “Unless all of ‘finance amount’, ‘financier’ and ‘finance date’ are completed, this contract is not subject to finance and clause 3 does not apply.”

Clause 3.1 of the REIQ Contract provides:- “This contract is conditional upon the Buyer obtaining approval of a loan for the finance amount from the financier by the finance date on terms satisfactory to the Buyer. The Buyer must take all reasonable steps to obtain approval.”

Accordingly, as all three sections in the finance section of the reference schedule of the Contract had not been completed, prima facie, the Contract did not appear to be subject to the finance condition.

Despite the deficiencies in the Contract, did the Court decide that the Contract was subject to finance?

The Buyer argued that she had told the agent (who had prepared the Contract) that it was to be subject to finance, and that she had relied on the agent to have completed the contract in such a way as to make it subject to finance. To this, the court remarked “if the [Buyer] relied on the real estate agent to complete the contract in such a way as to render it subject to finance, the applicants may be estopped from denying that the contract was subject to finance, regardless of the written terms of the document.”

The Court further remarked that “it is at least arguable that the agent was the agent of the applicants for the purposes of making representations as to the effect of the way in which they had completed the contract form, and if such a representation were made and were relied on by the respondent, it would be binding on the applicant.”

Despite the above remarks, the Buyer had not submitted sufficient evidence to the Court to substantiate that the agent had represented to the Buyer that the Contract was subject to finance and that the Buyer relied on that representation. Noting that the Buyer in this case was self-represented, the Court adjourned the matter to allow the Buyer an opportunity to submit further evidence to substantiate her case.

We are advised that the dispute between the Buyer and Seller remains unresolved. No doubt there is a contest regarding what representations the agent is alleged to have made on behalf of the seller.

Key Takeaways

  • It is important for Buyers to remember that real estate agents are appointed by the Seller and accordingly will act in the interests of their client. If an agent has made a representation to you, whether it be with respect to the property condition, or the terms of the Contract, we recommend that such representation be reflected in the Contract as a special condition or a warranty.
  • In the event that a situation arises whereby a Buyer may seek to rely on a representation made by an agent, it may be difficult, in the absence of written documentation, to produce sufficient evidence to substantiate that the representation was in fact made and relied upon by the Buyer.
  • Whilst it may be possible for a purchaser to rely on a representation made by an agent with respect to a particular contractual term, the best course of action is to obtain independent legal advice prior to signing the Contract to ensure that any such representations have been reflected in the Contract.

Had the purchaser in the above mentioned case engaged a solicitor to review the Contract prior to signing same, the deficiency in the contract with respect to the finance particulars could have rectified, and accordingly, the parties could have avoided the dispute as to whether the Contract was or was not subject to finance.

Separate to obtaining pre-contract advice or legal assistance throughout a conveyancing transaction, it is apparent from the facts of this case, that when parties become embroiled in litigation, they will certainly benefit from engaging the services of a solicitor to assist them with preparing evidence sufficient to establish and support their case.

If you would like to read the court’s judgement in detail – you can access the case via:-  https://www.sclqld.org.au/caselaw/QDC/2018/052

Other considerations

Notably in this case, the words “sufficient to complete” were used to describe the “finance amount” required to complete the transaction. In our next blog (due out on Friday 8 June 2018)  “When sufficient to complete is simply not enough”  we examine the Court’s view on the adequacy of this frequently used phrase.

What can we do to help?

If you are considering purchasing or selling a property in Queensland, in addition to acting in the conveyance, Just Us Lawyers can provide you with pre-contract advice, review a Contract that has been prepared by a third party to ensure its accuracy, and formalise representations made by a Seller or agent into special conditions or warranties that will form part of the Contract.

Just Us Lawyers – for the best Conveyancing lawyers in Brisbane call/email Just Us Lawyers or complete our enquiry form for a quote today

 


New Data Breach Laws and your responsibilities

BY SARAH CAMM

 

Amendments to the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) are now in effect, introducing a mandatory notification scheme for data breaches.

 

What are the changes?

The scheme imposes notification and reporting obligations upon APP entities where they know or suspect there has been an eligible data breach, that is, a data breach involving personal information that is likely to result in serious harm to any individual affected.

So let’s unpack this a little.

 

Reporting obligations

The obligation imposed is to prepare a statement to report the breach to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and notify any individual affected. If it is not practical to notify individuals, the statement must be published on the entity’s website.

 

APP entities

Organisations and federal government agencies subject to the Privacy Act, which include:

  • NGOs, Government Agencies and Businesses with an annual turnover of $3 million;
  • Credit reporting bodies that hold credit information;
  • Health service providers who hold personal information; and
  • Tax file number recipients.

 

Know or suspect

The obligations under the amendments arise when the entity has reasonable grounds to suspect that there may have been an eligible data breach, even if there are not reasonable grounds to believe that the circumstances amount to an eligible data breach. The obligation on the entity in these circumstances is to commence and carry out an assessment within thirty days.

 

Data Breach

There are three main circumstances:

  1. Unauthorised disclosure: where an entity (including by its employee) makes information accessible or visible to a third party, whether intentionally or not.
  2. Unauthorised access: may be where a third party contractor or other person accesses information they are not permitted to access. This includes instances of hacking.
  3. Loss: for example where a phone, USB, file or hard drive is left on a bus, particularly if there is no password or encryption on the device where unauthorised disclosure/access is likely.

 

Likely to result

The risk of serious harm must be higher than a possible risk; it must be more probable than not.

This criteria is considered objectively, and the decision is whether a ‘reasonable person’ standing in the position of the entity, with the knowledge of the entity (not of the affected person) would consider that serious harm is more probable than not.

This depends on the nature of the information, and in a broad sense, the type of person the information may relate to. The entity is not however required to make external enquiries of the individuals affected.

For example, if the addresses of clients of a domestic violence victims support group are involved in a data breach, the entity would be aware that the persons involved are likely to be victims of domestic violence and therefore are likely to be at risk of serious harm where this information is disclosed.

 

Serious harm

While not defined in the Act, the phrase is likely to include physical, psychological, emotional, financial or reputational harm.

The Act contains a list of relevant matters to assist an entity in evaluating whether serious harm is likely, including:

  • The type/sensitivity of information involved;
    • Health/person information;
    • Documents used for identity fraud;
    • Location/contact information.
  • Whether there are any security measures protecting the information (such as encryption, passwords on phones and devices, codes), and the likelihood of these security measures being overcome;
  • The identity or class of persons who have obtained / might obtain the information and the likelihood that they want to cause harm;
  • The nature of possible harm; and
  • Any other relevant matters.

 

Any individual affected

As discussed above the entity is not required to look into the particular circumstances of the persons whose information may be compromised, however it is expected to make general enquiries to determine the matters outlined above. All of these matters, including the type of information, how long it was available and who accessed it are relevant.

The more people whose information was accessed and who may be affected by the breach, the higher the likelihood that one person will suffer serious harm.

 

Are there any exceptions?

There are a number of exemptions, most importantly that notification will not be required if the entity takes action to prevent serious harm before it is caused.

 

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Failure to comply is considered an interference with the privacy of an individual and substantial penalties apply for entities who fail to comply with their reporting obligations. The OAIC can investigate complaints and, in the case of serious or repeated instances of non-compliance, apply to the Court for civil penalties of up to $2.1 million.

 

Is your business ready for the new Data Breach Notification laws? Do you need help evaluating a breach or drafting a compliant Statement to notify the OAIC and affected individuals? Just Us Lawyers can help your business organisation put policies into place to reduce the likelihood of Data Breaches and to help you evaluate and respond to a Data Breach if it occurs.


Second Marriages and Pre-Nups: A Cautionary Tale

BY SARAH CAMM

Some people think that they can have their wedding cake and eat it too.

The most common way of protecting assets for people entering new relationships after the break down of a previous one, particularly where there are children from a former relationship,  is to enter a “Pre- Nup” or Binding Financial Agreements (“BFAs”) as they are more correctly known. 

On 8 November 2017 the High Court of Australia handed down its decision in the case of Thorne v Kennedy. The decision has been hailed by some commentators as a landmark case, which spells the “death knell” for BFA’s.

However, in our view this is an overstatement.  Binding Financial Agreements will continue to be an important means of protecting family assets for the children of previous relationships. However, the decision provides a salutary warning for those intent upon imposing one sided agreements on their prospective partner with little consideration of their future needs and the capacity to properly provide for them in the event that the relationship breakdown.

The case revolves around the couple of “Ms Thorne” and “Mr Kennedy”. This is not their real names.

The couple met online. Ms Thorne was 36 years old at the time, lived in the Middle East, and had no substantial assets. About seven months into the relationship she moved to Australia to be with Mr Kennedy, a 67 year old property developer whose approximate wealth was between 18 and 24 million dollars.

Under the Family Law Act a BFA is only binding if each party receives independent advice. Nine months after moving to Australia and ten days before the wedding Mr Kennedy took Ms Thorne to see a solicitor regarding the pre-nup. Mr Kennedy waited in the car outside. This was the first time Ms Thorne was made aware of the contents of the agreement she was expected to sign. The solicitor provided written advice to Ms Thorne regarding the agreement. Her advice was that it was “the worst agreement that she had ever seen”, that it was “entirely inappropriate” and that “Ms Thorne should not sign it.”

Despite this, four days before the wedding Ms Thorne signed the agreement.

A second agreement was signed approximately four weeks after the wedding, which was in substantially the same terms and to which Ms Thorne’s solicitor gave the same advice, urging her not to sign it.

Just under four years after the wedding, Mr Kennedy separated from Ms Thorne.

Under the agreement, as they had separated after three years without children, Ms Thorne was entitled only to a lump sum of $50,000. After receiving advice by chance from someone at a hairdressers, Ms Thorne commenced proceedings. Mr Kennedy died during the trial and the trustees of his estate, his two children, were substituted as parties.

Ms Thorne was successful at trial, lost the Full Court appeal, and has now had her appeal upheld and the original decision reinstated.

The High Court held that the agreements were void because they were signed under circumstances of undue influence and unconscionable conduct. Both concepts are wide, and difficult to define, particularly as they overlap quite substantially. In general however, undue influence looks at the quality of the weaker person’s consent, while unconscionable conduct looks at the behaviour of the stronger party.

The majority found that terms which are “grossly unreasonable, even for agreements of this nature” which usually contain some imbalance, are an indicator of the presence of undue influence. However, this may not mean the death of all BFAs as some commentators have claimed.

The majority noted that the primary judge found, in this case, that the inequality of bargaining power went beyond merely a difference in financial circumstances, and included:

  • Ms Thorne’s visa status;
  • Ms Thorne’s reliance on Mr Kennedy for all things;
  • Ms Thorne’s emotional connection to the relationship, which she did not envision would end in separation;
  • Ms Thorne’s desire for motherhood;
  • Ms Thorne’s wish for her marriage to succeed;
  • The time pressure; and
  • The “publicness” of the upcoming wedding.

They held that undue influence involves pressure which deprives a person of their free choice, and that here Ms Thorne, for the above reasons, felt “powerless” and that she had “no choice” but to sign, and the agreements should therefore be set aside.

The majority and Nettle J went on to say that the agreements could also be set aside for unconscionable conduct, as Ms Thorne was at a special disadvantage in signing the agreements which Mr Kennedy not only was aware and took advantage of, but that he had partially created in particular through the timeframe he had imposed on her understanding and signing the agreements before the marriage.

Gordon J agreed that the agreements should be set aside but found that this could be on the basis of unconscionable conduct only. She said that undue influence did not exist here as Ms Thorne’s will was not overborne. Ms Thorne made a decision to enter into the marriage and was aware that in order to enter into the marriage she had to sign the agreement. The fact that her options were limited (sign the agreement and get married or do not sign the agreement and do not get married) does not mean she did not make a free choice to (a) get married, and (b) in order to have that marriage, sign the agreement.

The news stories shouting that this decision signals the “death knell” for BFAs are in our view both over-stating and over-simplifying the decision. The High Court expressly stated that fiancé-fiancée relationships do not give rise to a presumption of undue influence. In cases with less extreme circumstances, for instance, if Ms Thorne was aware of the contents of the pre-nup before moving to Australia and the agreement to distribute the property of the marriage was more even handed, a BFA or pre-nup may be upheld by a Court if challenged.

This article is not designed to act as or replace the provision of legal advice. To review the terms of your pre-nup or for specialist advice regarding the validity of your BFA contact Just Us Lawyers  for a quote today.


Additional Foreign Acquirer Duty: Foreign Buyers Beware!

BY SAM RYALL

Foreign buyers beware!  Coming into legislative force as of 1 October 2016, the Queensland Government through the Department of Treasury, has implemented a three (3) percent duty surcharge on all foreign purchases of residential property in Queensland. [1]  The surcharge will apply to foreign purchases taking place on or after 1 October 2016 (any contracts or agreements signed by a foreign purchaser or ‘acquirer’ before 1 October 2016 are not liable).

What is AFAD duty and how is it calculated?

Colloquially dubbed the ‘Foreign Investor Tax’ [2], Additional Foreign Acquirer Duty or ‘AFAD’, it is a three (3) percent surcharge on foreign purchases in addition to the standard stamp duty that a foreign purchaser normally pays.

Who does AFAD apply to?

So you may be wondering, am I or aren’t I a foreign purchaser or ‘acquirer’ for the purposes of the legislation?  Good question!  Part 2 of the Duties Act classifies foreign acquirers into three (3) separate categories, namely:

  1. Foreign persons – An individual other than an Australian citizen or permanent resident. [3]  Please note that the exemption on who is classified as a foreign person as part of the Federal Government’s Foreign Investment Review Board (‘FIRB’) approval differs to State AFAD duty. That is, under the FIRB scheme a ‘foreign person’ who buys property as a joint tenant with their spouse who is an Australian citizen/ permanent resident or New Zealand citizen is exempt from FIRB approval. However, a foreign acquirer under the Duties Act is not afforded the same treatment i.e. a foreign acquirer will need to pay AFAD on their interest on the purchase property regardless of their spouse’s citizenship or residency status.
  2. Foreign Corporation – A corporation incorporated outside Australia or subject to a foreign person having a controlling interest of 50% or more. [4]
  3. A Trustee of a Foreign Trust – A trust where at least 50% of the trust beneficiaries are foreign interests. [5]

What type of purchases or acquisitions does AFAD duty apply to?

Broadly speaking, AFAD applies to ‘AFAD Residential Land’ consisting of land which is used for residential purposes and is (but not limited to) an established building or dwelling [6], vacant land where development will be undertaken or a commercial building converted into residential purposes.  AFAD Residential Land does not apply to short term accommodation such as hotels, dormitories, motels [7] or commercial/business buildings.

Exemptions from AFAD Duty

In certain circumstances, foreign acquirers may be exempt from AFAD or apply for ‘ex gratia relief’.  However, the eligibility criteria for such discretionary relief is strict and onerous.  Essentially, the foreign acquirer or ‘entity’ must satisfy all the following conditions [8]:

  1. The foreign acquirer must be ‘Australian-based’; and
  2. The foreign acquirer must have complied with the FIRB requirements for the purchase; and
  3. The foreign acquirer must meet regulatory standards most notably regarding corporations law and taxation law; and
  4. The development that the foreign acquirer is involved with must be ‘significant’; and
  5. The foreign acquirer must make use of Australian goods, services and personnel in the development of the AFAD residential land.

A Final Word

By bringing in AFAD, the Queensland Government is clearly seeking to minimise the impact of foreign investment on domestic first home buyers and investors in Queensland.  However, AFAD is still in its legislative infancy and not without criticism, most notably from the Property Council of Australia [9] who contend that it could increase the cost of newly constructed homes and equate to less jobs due to additional costs imposed on development projects.

If you are a foreign purchaser and are concerned as to the implications of AFAD on your purchase of property in Queensland, do not hesitate to contact either our Kelvin Grove or Wilston offices. If you, or someone else you know, needs help with this process, why not fill out an enquiry form, we would be happy to assist and advise over your rights and obligations with respect to AFAD.

[1] This legislative amendment is indicated in Section 244(2) of the Duties Act 2001 (Qld).

[2] Marland, Brad, ‘Queensland Treasurer Announces Relief from Additional Foreign Acquirer Duty’, Gadens, 26 September 2016.

[3] Section 245 of the Duties Act 2001 (Qld)

[4] Sections 236 (1)(2) of the Duties Act 2001 (Qld).

[5]Section 237 of Duties Act 2001 (Qld).

[6]Section 232 of the Duties Act 2001 (Qld).

[7]Rostron Carlyle Lawyers, 20 October 2016, ‘Additional Foreign Acquirer Duty’ Queensland OSR Release Ruling<http://rostroncarlyle.com/additional-foreign-acquirer-duty-queensland-osr-releases-ruling/>.

[8]For further guidance on these conditions please consult ‘DA000.15.1—Additional foreign acquirer duty—ex gratia relief for significant development’,28 September 2016 Office of State Revenue Public Ruling – Queensland Treasury.

[9]Property Law Council of Australia, Queensland Government Ignores Repeated Warnings about Poorly Conceived Legislation http://www.propertycouncil.com.au/Web/Content/Media_Release/QLD/2016/Queensland_Government_rushes_through_high_risk_tax.aspx,17 June 2016, Property Law Council of Australia, Media Release.


“Sign the dotted line” – Indigenous Land Use Agreements after the McGlade decision

By Ted Besley

The Federal Court has found a $1.3b native title deal with the Noongar people cannot be registered. With four of the represented claimants refusing to put their names to five of the agreements, the court held that all named applicants are required to execute the agreement, even where members of the applicant group have died or lost mental capacity.

What did the Court do?

The Full Court’s decision in McGlade v Registrar National Native Title Tribunal [2017] FCAFC 10 has overturned practices regarding the execution of Indigenous Land Use Agreements (“ILUAs”) that have developed since 2010 in reliance upon the judgments of Justice Reeves in the Bygrave decisions.

In effect, the Court in McGlade found that agreements negotiated as part of a broad settlement of native title in the S/W corner of Western Australia were actually not ILUAs as defined in the Native Title Act (NTA) because they were not signed by all of the named applicants.

The Court held that resolutions passed at the relevant authorisation meetings were not competent to deal with the issue of deceased, incapacitated and “recalcitrant” applicants. It was found that the proper course for dealing with these issues is to replace applicants under section 66B of the NTA.

See the Federal Court decision here: http://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/full/2017/2017fcafc0010

McGlade’s Implications

The decision clearly has direct consequences for the S/W settlement deal. Predictably, Premier Barnett has since made comments to the media expressing his government’s frustration with the delays McGlade will cause to the finalisation of what has been a long negotiation.

Many commentators believe that the decision puts in jeopardy ILUAs that were not signed by all applicants but have already been registered (in reliance upon Bygrave). This concerns proponents because such ILUAs often contained consents to the grant of mining tenements for their projects. If the relevant agreement is not an ILUA, the tenements may not have been validly granted. The Federal Attorney General has acted quickly to introduce a bill to parliament aimed at addressing perceived issues caused by the decision. This is somewhat surprising as there has been no detailed analysis by the government of the impacts of the McGlade decision on existing ILUAs.

Other ILUAs to which state governments must be a party often contain consents to the surrender or extinguishment of native title. Such agreements generally contain provisions dealing with compensation for extinguishment/surrender of native title. Liability for compensation under the NTA is generally borne by government. Consequently, governments are concerned that the decision calls into question the reliability of commitments made in respect of compensation for agreed acts underpinning many major resource projects and land dealings.

Lastly, the decision highlights the critical role that applicants play in key areas of the native title system – in agreement making but also in progressing underlying native title claims. It is a reminder to all claim groups to carefully consider who they choose to represent them and to craft resolutions at meetings which deal with the myriad of outcomes that might follow.

Agreement making in the future

Given the track record of governments legislating changes to the NTA that address the concerns of sectoral interests, it is unlikely that the implications of McGlade will be as far reaching as many commentators have predicted.

For now, parties to agreements over areas that have not been determined will have to obtain the signatures of all applicants. Those that have passed away or refuse to sign will need to be replaced. Dealing with these issues in a cost effective and timely way poses challenges to both proponents and native title groups alike.

Proponents will inevitably turn their minds to whether applications are required to replace applicants who are not executing agreements. This is properly a decision for the claim group. Obvious conflicts arise when proponents become involved in such considerations. No doubt more time and resources will be brought to getting “recalcitrant” applicants to “sign the dotted line”.

Is it the system or is it Just Us?

Just Us Lawyers act for many native title groups and proponents directly affected by McGlade. Being at the forefront of Native Title, our team of recognised experts will get you through the native title system, whatever side you are on.

Watch this space! Look out for more blogs in the future about the passage of the bill currently before the parliament.


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