Commercial Law

Entering into electronic contracts

Increasingly, business is being done and people are entering into electronic contracts online, via smartphone platforms or email. Even conveyancing in relation to real property is now done online.

Generally, a contract is in place and valid if the following conditions are met:

  1. The parties are legally competent
  2. There is an offer
  3. There is acceptance of that offer
  4. The consideration or price is agreed

A written signature is not necessarily required for a valid contract to exist. The terms of the agreement also can be agreed verbally. Contracts can be signed electronically since the introduction almost 20 years ago of Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (NSW) and corresponding legislation in Australia’s other States and Territories.

There are a number of ways an electronic contract can be “executed” provided that it is clear that the intention is to be legally bound:

  • by an exchange of emails or text messages
  • clicking an ‘accept’ button to accept terms (or even a hyperlink to terms) on a webpage
  • ticking a box to acknowledge and agree in an App
  • typing ‘yes’ or ‘I agree’ into an online form
  • ‘signing’ with your finger a stylus/digital pen or your finger such as when receiving goods
  • using an electronic signature facility to sign a document

The Act stipulates that that if a person consents to a method of electronic signature and intends that signature to be their consent to the contract, then it will be as binding as a written “wet ink” signature on paper. Act also requires that to be valid, the signatory must be reliably identified.

Some transactions are not able to be completed electronically for obvious, such as:

Deeds (which previously at common law had to be signed, sealed and delivered) or other documents that need to be ‘witnessed’ were unable to be signed electronically in NSW until 22 November 2018 when the insertion of section 38A into the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW), which specifically allowed it, was assented to. Witnessing requires physical presence at the time of signing, so it cannot be done by FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp etc.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to any contractual, business-related or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Who owns the content you post on social media?

With the recent resurgence of the popularity of  FaceApp on social media feeds and considering the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is timely to consider some of the concerns being raised over data security and privacy in relation to the use of common smartphone applications.

Most social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, require users to agree to an extremely broad set of Terms and Conditions of Use that allow them access to your data.

This data, which can be used and sold to third parties, is in reality the price for your use of the otherwise “free” app. As it’s often said, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re actually the product being sold.”

That said, what is the legal effect of the Terms of Service that we have each agreed to when using social media Apps and who owns the content you post on social media?

  • FaceApp’s Terms can be found here
  • Snapchat’s Terms can be found here
  • Twitter’s Terms can be found here
  • Facebook’s Terms can be found here and includes:

“…when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). This means, for example, that if you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy, and share it with others (again, consistent with your settings) such as service providers that support our service or other Facebook Products you use…”

  • Instagram’s Terms can be found here (Note – Instagram is one of Facebook’s Products).

They are all quite similar in effect as regards the ownership and use of your content – although generally you continue to own your content, they are able to use it as and when they see fit, forever, for free.

Did you know that you can request a copy of the data that Facebook has and it can be downloaded as a .zip file? To access the download your information tool, click here. You will probably be surprised at the depth of information that is held about you

Some people are shocked to find out that it has access to things like all the contacts on their phone to a record of messages sent or received, payment details and location information… it can be quite unnerving!

Reading the T&Cs is so boring… but an agreement is an agreement and you are agreeing to their Terms of Service when you use the App so you can’t complain. What you may not know is that each App will usually have its own privacy and data related settings which can be adjusted modify the type and amount of information obtained and stored (and seen by others) so you can modify them to help protect your own content.

You have to expect however that with any social type of App, there always be a level of information kept about you, sometimes for good reasons (eg, to feed you more content you may be interested in) but also sometimes for bad. It is up to you to decide how much data you want kept or shared and how that affects your user experience

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal.

For further information in relation to terms and conditions, consumer rights or any business or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs. Stay up to date – LinkedIn Facebook Twitter

Can you just put a caveat on someone’s house?

If you are owed a substantial sum of money by someone, whether because you have loaned them funds or if you have a bill that hasn’t been paid, you would generally like to secure those funds. This way, if the borrower or debtor ends up being a bankrupt or insolvent, you may be in a better position as a secured creditor to those that are unsecured and hopefully you can get paid.

So how does security work? Security is effectively giving notice to the world that you have a claim on that person’s estate or assets so that subsequent people or businesses dealing with the same person are aware that you are to be paid in property, ie before them.

Security can be given in several ways, including:

  • handing over physical possession of certain assets;
  • the granting of  a Security Interest over assets registered on the Personal Property Securities Register (or “PPSR”); or
  • perhaps granting a Mortgage over real property owned by the person owing the money.

The registration of securities grants priority in order of registration, so it is important not to delay in registering any securities granted.

Ordinarily, you would have put in place a Loan Agreement or had Terms of Trade in place to govern your business relationship so that you have the express written consent to do such things to secure the debt, but if these documents are not in place before the financial obligation arises, people often take the step of lodging a caveat on title to property owned by the debtor.

A Caveat registered on title to a property has the effect (subject to the specific wording of the caveat of course) of preventing the owner or registered proprietor of that land from dealing with that land without the consent of the person who lodged the Caveat (the “caveator”). Dealings that can be prevented include lodging other Mortgages, lodging Transfers and the like.

Can you just put a caveat on someone’s house? If only things were that simple!

Many people have taken the step of lodging a Caveat on title to a debtor’s property only to have been unsuccessful in protecting their debt. Why? Well, in order to lodge a caveat (or even a Mortgage or PPSR Security Interest for that matter), you need to have the relevant asset “charged” in your favour with payment of the relevant debt. Creating a “charge” over an asset creates an interest in that asset that allows you to lodge a Caveat to notify and protect that interest.

A Caveat is not a document that gives you priority over previously registered interests, but it does give you some control over the asset such that you can prevent refinancing or a sale of an asset unless satisfactory arrangements for you to be paid have been made as part of that process  Properly drafted documents in relation to the lending of funds or business agreements where credit is extended should include things such as Mortgages, General Security Deeds or other things that create an interest in the asset sufficient to lodge a Mortgage, on title (to land), a Security Interest (on the PPSR in relation to assets etc) or at a minimum a Caveat over land.

Without such an interest being created, the caveator runs the risk that the owner can’t sell or refinance and suffers financially, then pursues the caveator for damages flowing from the caveator’s wrongful act, putting the caveator in an even worse position than they were before!

These things should not be done without proper advice, so take the time to review your current situation and documents now before a problem arises and have the documents updated to best protect you or your business.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to debt recovery, loan agreements, estate planning, any business-related matter or if you have a Caveat lodged on your property without your consent, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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New Consumer Laws for services apply from 9 June 2019

In our April 2018 blogpost, we provided a brief summary of some of the key requirements under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) that apply to goods and services and the requirements of any warranties as to defects over and above the consumer guarantees created by the ACL. New consumer laws for services apply from 9 June 2019… 

A “warranty as to defects” is a statement made to a consumer made at or around the time of supply to rectify defects or to compensate the consumer, with a “consumer” being a person or business acquiring goods or services either:
 
  • costing less than $40,000; or
  • costing more than that amount but being ordinarily acquired for domestic, household or personal use or consumption; or
  • if the goods are a vehicle or trailer.

The mandatory text for any warranties as to defects in relation to the supply of goods only remains unchanged:

“Our goods come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. You are entitled to a replacement or refund for a major failure and compensation for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage. You are also entitled to have the goods repaired or replaced if the goods fail to be of acceptable quality and the failure does not amount to a major failure.”

From 9 June 2019 however, there are new mandatory text requirements for warranties against defects when supplying services or when supplying goods with services.

Businesses that do not comply risk fines of up to $50,000 for companies and $10,000 for individuals per breach.

Any document evidencing any warranty against defects in relation to the supply of services only must state:

“Our services come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. For major failures with the service, you are entitled:
  • to cancel your service contract with us; and
  • to a refund for the unused portion, or to compensation for its reduced value.

You are also entitled to be compensated for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage.

If the failure does not amount to a major failure, you are entitled to have problems with the service rectified in a reasonable time and, if this is not done, to cancel your contract and obtain a refund for the unused portion of the contract.”

and the mandatory text for the supply of goods and services is:

“Our goods and services come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. For major failures with the service, you are entitled
  • to cancel your service contract with us; and
  • to a refund for the unused portion, or to compensation for its reduced value
You are also entitled to choose a refund or replacement for major failures with goods. If a failure with the goods or a service does not amount to a major failure, you are entitled to have the failure rectified in a reasonable time. If this is not done you are entitled to a refund for the goods and to cancel the contract for the service and obtain a refund of any unused portion. You are also entitled to be compensated for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage from a failure in the goods or service.”

If your business supplies services or goods and services, then it is likely that you need to update the mandatory text into your Terms and Conditions or your Contracts with your customers.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal.

For further information in relation to these new consumer laws, consumer rights or any business or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Commercial Leases

A commercial lease, simply put is the agreement between the owner of business premises (the lessor) to the tenant that is to occupy those premises (the lessee).

The terms of each commercial lease can and usually do differ depending on the nature of the property, the location and the use to which the premises are to be put. There are however many terms that are common to all leases, even if they may be drafted differently in each lease document.

Sometimes confusion arises as to whether a lease is of commercial premises as opposed to retail premises. Retail leases are covered by the Retail Leases Act and there are many additional obligations on the Lessor in relation to retail premises such as the provision of a Disclosure Statement, minimum lease term etc

Prior to entering into a lease, it is a good idea to obtain a condition report or at least take photos or video to show the condition of the premises as at the commencement date and to show what fixtures and fittings were in place.

Some key considerations in relation to a business or commercial lease include:

  • Development consent for the intended use of the premises
  • Term
  • Options to renew or buy
  • Rent
  • The process for and timing of rent reviews (CPI, market, fixed increase etc)
  • Outgoings
  • Security bonds
  • Director guarantees
  • Costs
  • Insurances
  • Repair and maintenance obligations
  • Lessee’s make good and refurbishment obligations on termination
  • Any pre-lease works/promises made
  • Assignment and sub-letting/licensing

It is not uncommon for the parties to enter into a Heads of Agreement or similar document whereby some or all of the above matters and more are documented briefly, such that the key terms are signed off as agreed, but it is usually important to ensure that this document itself doesn’t create a lease and is in fact subject to the parties negotiating and signing a formal written Commercial Lease.

Leasing can be complicated so it pays to seek the advice of a lawyer before entering into a Commercial Lease, an Agreement for Lease or a Heads of Agreement.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to the leasing or licensing of business premises, commercial law or business related matters, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Power of appointment

You may have a family trust or a discretionary trust that your accountant prepared for you.

Perhaps you are the trustee or that trust, or one of several trustees such as your spouse or partner or perhaps you are a director of a company that is the trustee.

There are a number of terms used in trust deeds that are not commonly understood, such as the “settlor”,vesting date” or the “excluded class”.

One of the things that is often:

  • not properly considered at the time of establishing the trust; and /or
  • overlooked at the time estate planning documents are being drafted

is the “power of appointment”.

The power of appointment is a power granted to the “appointor” named in the trust deed to decide who should be the trustee of the trust.

This power of appointment is the most important power in a trust deed as it generally affords the appointor the power to remove and replace the trustee as the appointor thinks fit (subject of course to any provisions of the trust deed).

Often the trust deed will provide for how that power is to be transferred, such as on the death of the appointor, and allows the appointor to give that power in their Will.

If you have a trust deed and you either:

  • don’t know who holds the power of appointment;
  • want to amend the trust deed to change who holds that power of appointment or
  • want to ensure that the power is appropriately transferred on your death

then speak to your lawyer about this without delay.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to trusts, estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

Company power of attorney

What would happen to your company if its sole director became incapacitated or died? How would bills and staff get paid? Who would make decisions on behalf of the business?

Companies may only act through its directors so in the case of a sole director company, the company will be unable to operate if something happened to its director.

personal power of attorney granted by a director is not valid where it seeks to allow someone to act in the role of a director of a company as the position of a director is a personal duty that cannot be delegated. Only the shareholders of a sole director company can appoint a replacement, even if it is only temporary.

A personal held by a shareholder may be able to call a meeting of shareholders so as to seek to appoint a replacement director, but this all takes time.

Each company that has a single director should appoint its own attorney as part of its overall risk management strategy.

The Corporations Act grants to a company all the powers and authority of a ‘natural person’ and as such, a company can appoint an attorney under a company power of attorney to act on its behalf when the company itself is not able to act (such as through the incapacity or ill heath of its sole director) and this attorney can continue to act even if the sole director died.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to corporations, commercial law or business related matters, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Forcing the sale of land in NSW

Where land is owned by multiple people (whether as joint tenants or tenants in common), any one of the owners can approach the Supreme Court to seek an order for the appointment of a trustee for sale and for the property to be sold.

Ordinarily, the owners can come to agreement on the need for a sale and the basis on which it is to be conducted. For example, following some negotiations or a mediation, the co-owners may agree to:

  • sale by auction with an agreed reserve price;
  • sale by public treaty with an agreed price; or
  • sale by one owner to another, with agreement on how the price is determined (such as agreeing on a valuer or methodology).

When co-owners are in a dispute however as to whether a property should be sold, when and on what terms, the provisions of section 66G of the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW) can be utilized to force the sale of the property, even where the other owner (or owners) do not want to sell it.

Once appointed, the trustee has the legal power to sell the property on the best terms available and to engage real estate agents, valuers and lawyers/conveyancers as may be required. So as to help ensure that the property sells for fair market value and to avoid any breach of trust allegations from any of the owners for not obtaining the best price possible, it is sensible for a trustee to sell at public auction

A usual order made is that the unsuccessful party (usually the defendant/respondent) pays the plaintiff /applicant’s legal costs. The costs risk arising from litigation (which can be substantial in amount) is usually a key factor in out of court settlements being made.

Applications for the appointment of a statutory trustee for sale are generally only refused in special circumstances, such as where the is a prior agreement not to sell, around the terms of any sale or to sell only when certain conditions are met (which is why any co-ownership agreements ought to be in writing as verbal evidence can be less persuasive).

Usually, after a successful application is made and the property is sold, the proceeds of sale after payment of:

  • any encumbrances (such as mortgages and unregistered mortgages secured by caveats);
  • the costs of sale (real estate agent and auctioneer fees and marketing costs etc); and
  • the trustee’s costs

are held on trust by the appointed trustee and then distributed proportionally according to ownership.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to family disagreements in relation to land or estates or any business or commercial dispute, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal needs.

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ASIC to remove trading names from ABN Lookup

Business owners please note that from November 2018, trading names will be removed from the ABN Lookup facility.

The ABN Lookup contains a list of all Australian Business Numbers (ABN) and any associated business names.

If you want to continue to trade under a specific name, if you haven’t already done so, you must register it as a business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) as is required by the Business Names Registration Act 2001 (Cth).

You don’t need to register a business name if you trade under your own name (eg ‘John Smith’) or a company name (eg ‘John Smith Pty Ltd’), but you do need to have a business name if it’s anything else (eg ‘John Smith Plumbing’, ‘John Smith & Co’, ‘John Smith & Partners’, ‘John Smith & Sons’  or ‘John Smith & Associates’ then it must be registered).

Don’t rely on a business name registration thinking that it gives you any protection – as it doesn’t give you any protection at all – only a trade mark under the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) can provide that kind of protection.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to intellectual property, commercial law or business related matters, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Director duties

There are numerous and important legal responsibilities imposed on directors of companies under the Corporations Act 2001 and other laws, including the general law.

Of these director duties, some of the most significant are contained in Chapter 2D of the Corporations Act:

  • to exercise the degree of care and diligence that a reasonable person might be expected to show in the role – the business judgment rule (s.180).
  • to act in good faith in the best interests of the company and for a proper purpose (s.181)
  • to not improperly use their position to gain an advantage for themselves or someone else, or to the detriment to the company (s.182)
  • to not improperly use the information they gain in the course of their director duties to gain an advantage for themselves or someone else, or to the detriment to the company (s.183)
  • to lodge information with ASIC (s.188)

but there are others, including to:

  • to avoid conflicts of interest between the interests of the company and theirpersonal interests and to reveal and manage conflicts if they arise (s.191)
  • to take reasonable steps to ensure that a company complies with its obligations in the Corporations Act related to the keeping of financial records and financial reporting (s.344)
  • to ensure that a company does not trade whilst insolvent or where they suspect it might be insolvent (eg, if it is unable to pay its debts as and when they fall due) (s.588G)
  • if the company is being wound up, to assist the liquidator and provide accurate details of the company’s affairs.

Directors can also be liable for unpaid taxation obligations and unpaid superannuation monies – for which the ATO can issue Director Penalty Notices.

Failing to comply with director duties can result in criminal sanctions, fines, disqualification from acting as a director and other consequences, such as breach of contract such as obligations under a Directors & Shareholders Agreement.

People can be responsible as directors even if not formally appointed

What many people don’t know is that the term “director” is defined in section 9 of the Corporations Act to include a person:

  • who is appointed as a director (or alternate director), regardless of the name given to their position; and
  • even though not validly appointed and recorded at ASIC as a director:
    • who acts in the position of a director (also known as a ‘de facto director‘); or
    • whose instructions or wishes the appointed directors are accustomed to act in accordance with (also known as a ‘shadow director’)

Commonly used terms for the titles of ‘director’ include ‘non-executive director‘, ‘executive director‘, ‘managing director‘, ‘independent director‘ and ‘nominee director‘.

Often, businesses give titles to employees rather than pay rises. Similar considerations apply to partnerships, where some partners are ‘salaried partners‘, not ‘equity partners‘ so they take home a salary rather then enjoy the fruits of the business. What these ‘salaried partners‘ (in the same vein as ‘non-executive directors‘) often fail to understand or appreciate is that they are holding themselves out as directors or partners of the business and will have full responsibility as such if something goes wrong, such as an insolvency.

How to meet the responsibilities

Those with key roles in any business, regardless of its legal form, you should:

  • understand your legal obligations and make compliance with them part of your business
  • keep informed about your business’ financial position and performance, ensuring that it can pay its debts on time and keeps proper financial records
  • give the interests of the business, its stakeholders/owners and its creditors top priority, which includes acting in the business’ best interests (even if this may not be in your own interests)
  • use information you get through your position properly and in the best interests of the business
  • get professional advice or more information if you are in doubt.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to Corporations Act or corporate governance issues or any business or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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