Queensland's Parliament has introduced more amendments to the state's property legislation that aim to streamline the sale of property, especially for the sale of lots 'off-the-plan'. The amendments will benefit developers.
The LandSales Act (LSA) has been under review by the Queensland Government since 2010. The Act governs the sale and purchase of land that does not have its own separate title (both strata and non-strata). The Act was introduced in 1984 as a piece of consumer protection designed to protect buyers. The Land Sales & Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (the Act), passed by the Queensland Parliament in September 2014, is the result of a government review committee which considered responses to a public consultation paper in 2012. Johnson Winter & Slattery submitted a position paper to the Government which suggested that 30 per cent deposits should be permitted, and the Act goes some way to meeting that position.
In addition to sensible amendments to the LSA, the Act also amends the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997(BCCM) and crucially, the instalment contract provisions of the Property Law Act 1974(PLA). The critical amendment allows for an increase in deposits on off-the-plan contracts to 20 per cent without triggering the instalment contract provisions.
When the deposit exceeds 10 per cent of the purchase price, a contract becomes an instalment contract. The threat of an 'off-the-plan' contract being classified as an instalment contract has always been a major headache for developers. The Act amends the PLA in respect of 'off-the-plan' contracts, so that a deposit can now be up to 20 per cent of the purchase price without classifying the contract as an instalment contract. So, where the contract is terminated based on the buyer's breach and the deposit is forfeited, the vendor can retain a deposit of up to 20 per cent.
The change to 20 per cent will only apply to contracts entered into after the Act came into effect.
The BCCM governs the sale of strata lots, but the LSA covered both strata and non-strata. The disclosure requirements relating to the sale of proposed strata lots, have now been transferred from the LSA to the BCCM. In summary, the disclosure requirements are:
Further statements must now be given at least 21 days before settlement of the contract. And the requirement that they be given within 14 days after a seller becomes aware of any inaccuracies has been removed, so this removes another termination risk for vendors.
The disclosure requirements have been clarified so that a disclosure statement only needs to be given once in respect of an option (ie not when a contract is entered into upon the exercise of an option), so long as the buyer under the contract is the buyer under the option. Where a new buyer is nominated as buyer under the contract entered into upon exercise of the option, the nominee must be given a new disclosure statement.
Another welcome innovation for developers allows sellers to nominate a five-and-a-half year sunset date for settlement. If they fail to do that, settlement must occur within three-and-a-half years after the contract is entered into. This change removes the existing unwieldy process to have a statutory regulation passed to extend the three-and-a-half year sunset date.
For the first time, bank guarantees and similar securities are specifically dealt with in the Act. The bank guarantee must be returned in exchange for the amount it secures and otherwise be held by the deposit holder in the same way as a cash deposit.
The BUGTA regulated the creation of strata lots. The amendments to the BCCM have, where necessary, been duplicated in the BUGTA so there will now be consistency between the two Acts.
Litigation plagued developers wanting to access forfeited deposits. Previously, a buyer merely had to raise a dispute in respect of a deposit, and this effectively prevented the deposit holder from releasing the deposit. The only remedy was litigation. Now, where a deposit is disputed, if a law practice reasonably believes one of the parties is entitled to the deposit, it can give a 60-day notice to the parties stating how it intends to pay out the deposit. Unless legal proceedings are issued, or the parties agree to a disbursement of the money within that 60-day period, the money can be paid out as indicated in the notice. This will streamline the forfeiture and pay out of deposits where one party is clearly in default and the other party should receive the deposit.
If the law practice distributes the money after following the procedure, it will not be liable to a party for inappropriate disbursement of the money. However, the disbursement of the money does not prevent a party pursuing a claim against the recipient of the payment.
Similar and consistent amendments are proposed to apply to real estate agents.
The Act contains sensible and practical amendments. It addresses many of the outdated consumer protection elements in the amended legislation which will streamline and improve the highly regulated property sale process. Developers will welcome the changes as redressing some draconian provisions which unfairly favoured purchasers. The Act is a very good step in the right direction.
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