Archive for the ‘contract’ Category

Failure to pay deposit by stipulated date: the seller did not waive the breach by cashing a cheque for the deposit after communicating an intention to treat the agreements as terminated

February 11, 2017

In Fast Happy Ltd v Lee Chun Pong Bruce ([2017] HKEC 121) the plaintiffs entered into provisional sale and purchase agreements (‘the agreements’) for the sale of land by the plaintiffs to the defendants. The initial deposit was to be paid in two instalments on dates specified in the agreements.

The cheque for the first instalment was not honoured when presented. The cheque for the second instalment was proffered after the date specified in the agreements. Time was of the essence for making the payments.

The sellers’ solicitors sent an email and a letter to the estate agents handling the transactions terminating the agreements on the grounds of the buyers’ breach. The plaintiffs’ bank then re-presented the cheque for the first instalment of the deposit and it was honoured.

The defendants registered the agreements at the Land Registry and the plaintiffs sought the vacation of these registrations. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs had waived the breach by presenting the cheque for the first instalment of the deposits after the defendant’s breach.

The defendant’s argument failed. The sellers were entitled to cash the deposit cheque and to forfeit the deposit without waiving the breach. This was especially the case since the sellers had by then given clear notice of their intention to treat the agreement as having come to an end.

This was a case where the estate agents were acting for both parties and not only for the sellers. Thus notice of termination given to the agents was an effective way of giving notice to the defendants.

Michael Lower

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Misrepresentation as to the identity of the purchaser

November 26, 2016

In Greatland Property Consultants Ltd v Charis Patria Ltd ([2016] HKEC 2518) C signed sale and purchase agreements to sell two floors of a building to P (a company that owned two other floors of the building) for a total consideration of HK$ 6 million. This meant that P owned 80% of the shares in the building and could apply for a compulsory sale of the property under the Land (Compulsory Sale for Redevelopment) Ordinance. The sale was arranged by L, an estate agent. C had made it clear to L that it was prepared to sell for HK$6 million but that the price for a sale to P would be much higher. L represented to C that the buyer was a businessman from the mainland. On this basis, C agreed to sell for HK$ 6 million. The provisional sale and purchase agreements provided for C to pay L HK$60,000 by way of commission (or agreed damages if the sale did not go ahead). When C discovered that P was the purchaser it rescinded the sale and purchase agreements and paid P HK$300,000 by way of liquidated damages.

L brought proceedings against C claiming the HK60,000 she alleged was due under the sale and purchase agreements. C’s defence was that L had misrepresented the identity of the purchasers. To facilitate this, L had written the purchasers’ name in Chinese so that C would not realise that the purchaser was P. Although P’s company chop was placed next to the signature of the authorised signatory, this was only done after C’s representative had signed so that C had no way of seeing it before the contract was entered into. Overturning the finding at first instance that this misrepresentation had not induced the contract, the Court of Appeal (Chu JA giving the main judgment) held that C’s defence was successful. Its counterclaim to recover from L the HK$300,000 it had paid in damages to P was also successful.

Michael Lower

 

Specific performance: ready willing and able; hardship; calculating damages

June 8, 2016

In Siu Wei v Ng Ying Ying ([2016] HKEC 1162, CFI) S and P entered into a provisional sale and purchase agreement for the sale and purchase of property. S later decided that she wanted to keep the property and refused to complete. S admitted that she was in breach of contract. P now sought specific performance.

  1. Was P ready, willing and able to perform his obligations under the contract?
  2. S argued that specific performance would inflict great hardship on her and so should be refused.
  3. P sought damages in addition to specific performance. How should these be calculated?

1 Ready, willing and able?

This must be the case both at the date of the writ and at the date of the decree. Anthony To J. commented that P needed to show:

‘on a balance of probability that he was and is ready, willing and able to perform his obligations at the material times as those obligations fall due in the sense that he is not presently incapacitated from future performance and is not indisposed to do what the contract requires when the time comes. It is all a matter of evidence, a matter of credibility for the court.’ ([33])

P satisfied this test.

2 Relevance of hardship

Specific performance will not be granted if to do so would inflict great hardship on the defendant (S here). Hardship involves a balancing of the position of both parties:

‘A defendant has to show hardship in the sense of relative prejudice. He has to show that he would suffer greater prejudice if an order of specific performance is made against him than that likely to be suffered by the injured party if the order is refused.’ ([38])

This test favoured P; he really wanted to live in the flat while it was merely a commodity for S. He would be put to additional transaction costs (including a higher level of stamp duty) if he had to buy another property([44] – [46]).

Conduct was also relevant and S had not conducted her defence in good faith ([44]).

3 Calculation of damages

‘In the case of delay in conveyance of property, the normal compensation is the value of the user of the property, which will generally be taken as its rental value, for the period from the contractual time for completion to the date of actual completion’ ([48])

P was entitled to the rental value of the property for this period but reduced by the amount of mortgage interest that he would have had to pay, had completion gone ahead, but had been ‘saved’ from by the refusal of S to complete on time ([52]).

Michael Lower

Open contracts in Hong Kong

April 6, 2016

Fong Yin Hing v Fong Kwan Pui ([2016] HKEC 740, CFI) concerned an oral agreement by a brother to sell a flat to his sister. The sister drafted a memorandum of the terms of the agreement and the brother signed it. The brother later refused to complete and the sister sought specific performance. One aspect of the brother’s defence was that, following the Court of Final Appeal decision in Kwan Siu Man v Yaacov Ozer, there could be no contract where there was no express agreement as to the completion date. To J. rejected this interpretation of Kwan Siu Man. It is legally possible to enter into an open contract but the courts should not be too ready to find that this has occurred in the context of Hong Kong’s volatile property market. ‘In my opinion, the test is one of intention, i.e. have the parties reached a binding contract for the sale and purchase of that property at that price. If they have, then the other terms can be implied.’ ([79]). Here there was ample evidence that the parties had the necessary intention to be contractually bound.

Although no completion date was specified, the parties had agreed that completion would not take place until after their mother had died (the brother was joint tenant of the flat with the mother). It was to be implied that completion would take place at a reasonable time after the mother’s death. If completion does not take place within that time, the innocent party could issue a notice fixing a new completion date and making time of the essence ([80] referring to Behzadi v Shaftesbury Hotels Ltd and Lau Suk Ching Peggy v Ma Hing Lam). This was not void for uncertainty since it was certain that the mother would die even though the date of death could not be known ([83]).

The memorandum not only recorded the terms of the oral agreement but also the fact that the sister had paid the agreed deposit under the agreement. This did not mean that it was invalid as a memorandum. This was not a case where additional terms had been included in the memorandum casting doubt on whether it was truly intended to record the existence of an alleged oral agreement ([95]).

The oral agreement had been formed and the memorandum recorded it. The memorandum could even be considered as a written agreement. Specific performance was ordered.

Michael Lower

Agreement to transfer beneficial interest: proprietary estoppel as a way of circumventing a failure to satisfy the formalities

July 1, 2015

In Sum Fan Hung v Chum Mei Diu ([2015] HKEC 1100, CFI) the plaintiff and the defendant were sisters. The plaintiff bought a flat in 1997. Title was in the defendant’s name but there was no dispute that the property was held on trust (presumably a common intention constructive trust) for the plaintiff. In 2000, the plaintiff found she could no longer meet the mortgage payments. She orally agreed with the defendant that the defendant was to become the sole legal and beneficial owner of the property. In return, the defendant would take on all liabilities relating to the property without any right of recourse to the plaintiff.  This agreement was not recorded in writing signed by the plaintiff. This was a problem since section 5(1)(a) of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance requires assignments of equitable interests in land to be in writing and signed by the assignor or an authorized agent. This problem was circumvented by dealing with it as a proprietary estoppel case. The agreement provided the assurance and the plaintiff’s later payments (of mortgage payments and so on) provided the detrimental reliance. The court declared that the defendant became the sole legal and beneficial owner from the time of the agreement. Proprietary estoppel circumvented the failure to satisfy the formality requirements.

Michael Lower

Deposit: where sums are described as a deposit but the ‘escape’ clauses in the provisional agreement have been deleted

February 10, 2015

In Best Linkage Ltd v Marbella Garden Ltd ([2015] HKEC 167, CFI) the parties had entered into a provisional agreement for the sale and purchase of the plaintiff’s property. The agreement required the defendant to pay $200,000 as an initial deposit and then provided for a further deposit (to take the total of the deposits to 10% of the purchase price) on the signing of the formal agreement. Two clauses had been deleted from the standard form of provisional agreement signed by the parties. One was the clause entitling the seller to forfeit the deposit (and still pursue its other remedies) in the event of the buyer’s default. The other was the ‘escape’ clause entitling the seller to terminate the contract by refunding the initial deposit and making a further payment to the buyer of an equivalent amount. The buyer later wrongfully refused to proceed with the purchase. The seller later sold to another party at a very much higher price. The seller sought, and was granted, declarations that the buyer had wrongfully repudiated the agreement and that the seller was entitled to forfeit the initial deposit.

Although the clause expressly entitling the seller to forfeit the deposit had been deleted, the parties still intended the payment to be a deposit and the nature of a deposit is now well settled (see Polyset Ltd v Panhandat Ltd) ([66]). Where there was an ambiguity, deletions have a limited role to play in interpreting a contract but there was no ambiguity here. Even if there were an ambiguity, it is not legitimate to infer from a deletion (of the clause entitling the seller to forfeit the deposit) that the parties intended the reverse proposition to govern their agreement (that the deposit could not be forfeited (see The Golden Leader)).

Michael Lower

Completion: the duties to deliver executed assignment and to pay the completion monies trigger each other (in the absence of a contrary stipulation)

November 3, 2014

In Chong Kai Tai Ringo v Lee Gee Kee ([1997] HKLRD 461, PC) D entered into a provisional sale and purchase agreement to sell a flat in Hong Kong to P. P was at the end of a chain of sub-sales and, as a result, the purchaser under a contract higher up the chain was to execute the assignment to P. Time was of the essence for completion. The contract included a liquidated damages clause in the event of default by either party. P failed to provide the completion monies by the time stipulated for completion. D argued that this was a repudiatory breach and it purported to accept it. P sought specific performance.

The Privy Council (Lord Hutton giving the only full judgment) held that the obligations to pay the purchase price and to deliver the executed assignment are to be carried out simultaneously (in the absence of an express or implied agreement to the contrary). D was not in a position to deliver the executed assignment by the completion date because it had not arranged for the purchaser higher up the chain to execute the assignment (D anticipated dealing with this after completion). Since it was not ready to complete, P’s duty to provide the completion monies was not triggered.

The result was not to bring the contract to an end but that time ceased to be of the essence  and completion was to take place within a reasonable time. D was not entitled to rescind.

D argued that the liquidated damages clause meant that specific performance was no longer available. The Privy Council declined to consider whether this was true as a general proposition. D’s argument failed because it had not offered to pay the liquidated damages. In that case, the liquidated damages clause did not prevent the award of specific performance.

Michael Lower

‘Hong Kong style’ completion and sub-sales

October 27, 2014

In Wellfit Investments Ltd v Commence Ltd ([1997] HKLRD 857, PC) the Privy Council had to consider the impact of an agreement to effect a Hong Kong style completion and the fact that both parties were aware that the transaction was a sub-sale on the construction of the provisions as to completion in the sub-sale agreement.

The agreement was for the sub-sale of an apartment. Time was of the essence in the agreement. The funds from completion of the sub-sale were to be used to finance completion of the head contract. The sub-sale was to be completed by 3pm on the stipulated date and the deadline for completion under the head contract was two and a half hours later. The sub-contract was ‘subject to and with the benefit of’ the head contract. The sub-contract provided that on completion, the seller would execute a ‘proper assurance’ and give vacant possession. The parties agreed to a ‘Hong Kong style’ completion (on completion, the seller gave an undertaking to forward the executed assignment within 17 days of completion). The sub-purchaser had not provided the completion monies by 3pm and the sub-seller rescinded 24 minutes later. The sub-purchaser sought specific performance.

The buyer’s argument that the deadline had been waived or varied  by virtue of a telephone conversation between the solicitors acting for the parties failed. The words used did not amount to a clear representation that the sub-seller would not insist on its contractual rights.

The buyer argued that the seller was in breach since on completion it would not be in a position to execute a proper assurance or give vacant possession (it could only do this when the head contract was completed). This failed since these obligations were to be interpreted in the light of the agreement to complete by undertakings and because both parties were aware of the sub-sale context and had factored this into their contract.

The sub-purchaser sought relief in equity. This judgment was handed down a few months before Union Eagle. The Privy Council expressed no view as to whether such jurisdiction existed. We had to wait for Union Eagle to learn the answer to this. The Privy Council held that it would not grant such relief even if it had the power to do so. Given the linkage between the sub-contract and the head contract, there was nothing unconscionable in the sub-seller’s insistence on its strict contractual rights.

Michael Lower

Seller entitled to rescind and recover deposit where deposit cheque is accidentally dishonoured and time is of the essence?

October 20, 2014

In Howarth Cheung Natalie Jane YS v Tsang Hong Kwang Ok ([2014] HKEC 1683, CA) S entered into a preliminary agreement for the sale of property to P. The agreement provided for P to pay a deposit of just under 5% of the purchase price. The cheque was not honoured as the bank thought that there was a discrepancy between the signature on the cheque and the specimen signature that they had. S accepted the repudiatory breach and P sought specific performance. S counter-claimed for payment of the deposit.

It was accepted by both parties that time for payment of the deposit is of the essence in Hong Kong even in the absence of an express stipulation to this effect. So the delay in paying the deposit was a repudiatory breach ([4.1] – [4.5] per Cheung JA). P argued, however, that the contract included an implied term to the effect that the stipulation as to time was suspended because the extraordinary event that had happened was beyond P’s control. This failed. The obligation was specified in clear terms ([5.9]); S should not be affected by disputes between P and her agent ([5.10]); the term was not needed to give business efficacy to the contract ([5.11]); nor was it capable of clear expression ([5.12]).

P argued that she should be granted equitable relief from termination of the agreement. This was rejected. First, the point had already been dealt with by the Privy Council in Union Eagle ([6.1]). The Australian courts took a different approach and granted equitable relief where the delay was occasioned by fraud, mistake, accident or surprise (and the High Court of Australia considered the ambit of these exceptions in Tanwar Enterprises Pty Ltd v Cauchi (2003) 201 ALR 359). Even if the Australian approach were followed, it would not allow for relief in the present case:

‘The parties themselves have stipulated the time for payment which is of the essence of the contract. The purchaser had chosen to pay by cheque which in law is in the nature of payment by cash. This by itself precludes any argument on suspension of this obligation. Further, the possibility of the bank not honouring the cheque is not beyond the reasonable contemplation of the parties as mishaps do happen. Hence payment of the deposit can be subject to an exculpatory provision which has not been sought for by the purchaser in the first place. As presently drafted, the payment term is not subject to the purchaser tendering another payment upon discovering that the cheque has not been made. In any event, HSBC is not a third party in the strict sense of the term but an agent of the purchaser. To decree relief will deprive the vendor of an essential right of the agreement. The whole circumstances just do not come within the ambit of the requirement for relief that, although the accident was not occasioned by the vendors who were innocent, it was sufficient of itself to render it unconscionable or inequitable for the vendors to insist upon its legal rights.’ ([6.20] per Cheung JA).

Finally, S could recover the unpaid deposit from P. Contractual damages aim to put S in the position that he would have been in had the contract been performed (and in that event the deposit would have been paid). Alternatively, the effect of the acceptance of a repudiatory breach is to discharge the parties from all executory obligations but does not affect rights and obligations that have already accrued (Damon Compania Naviera S.A. v. Hapag Lloyd International S.A. [1985] 1 WLR 435). This approach has been taken by the Hong Kong courts (for example, Sun Lee Kyoung Sil v Jia Weili [2010] 2 HKLRD 30).

Michael Lower

 

 

Ownership of roof voids depends on proper construction of the relevant deeds

May 5, 2014

Hong Kong Mansion, Causeway Bay (IO) v Bothlink Ltd ([2014] 2 HKLRD 78, CA) concerned the ownership of roof voids. The incorporated owners argued that they were common parts and sought to recover them from the defendant (B) who argued that they had been assigned to his predecessor in title. The voids were in the roof space and were the lower portion of a space, the upper portion of which housed the maintenance platform for the lifts.

The Court of Appeal looked at the question as being one that turned on the construction of the first assignment in the building. This had included the right to ‘the remaining self-contained portions’, flat roofs and other roofs. It had not included property intended to be used for the common enjoyment of co-owners and co-occupiers. The question was as to whether the roof voids had been included in the first assignment or were property intended for common enjoyment. The Court of Appeal (like the Court of First Instance) held that the roof voids were intended for common enjoyment.

The question was as to the parties’ contractual intention at the time of the first assignment. The elements of the factual matrix all supported the incorporated owners’ contention that the voids were common parts: they were not included in the calculation of the gross floor area or building volume calculations in the approved building plans; the plans did not distinguish between the upper and the lower levels of the spaces in question (and it was agreed that the upper levels were common parts); the plans suggested that the relevant structures (in their entirety) were intended to house lift machinery; and at the time of the first assignment there was no means of access to the lower levels of the voids ([29] – [30]).

Michael Lower