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Uncollected goods: is possession 9/10 of the law?

If you are a business that cleans or repairs items that are never collected by a customer or if you are a lessor of a commercial property* and a tenant leaves items behind, you may wonder what your rights and obligations are in relation to those uncollected goods.

Is possession 9/10 of the law? Well, sort of. Often it can depend on the terms of trade agreed between the business and the customer (for example a retention of title clause, a lien** or other similar provisions), but assuming it hasn’t been agreed or if there are agreed terms but there is no unpaid account, what is the position?

If there is no contract to govern what happens then the Uncollected Goods Act 1995 (NSW) will likely apply. That Act allows the business holding the goods (bailee) to sell them if they are uncollected by the owner of the goods (bailor) or if the bailee can’t contact the bailor.

How the goods may be disposed of, and what notice needs to be given, depends on their type and value.  For example, if the goods are worth:

  • less than $100, the business owner needs to give the customer 28 days verbal or written notice of an intention to dispose of the goods. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect the goods in that time, the business owner can dispose of them they see fit;
  • more than $100 but less than $500, the business owner needs to give the customer and each other person that claims an interest in the goods 3 months written notice of an intention to dispose of them. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect them within 3 months, the business owner can dispose of them by private sale for ‘fair value’ or public auction;
  • more than $500 but less than $5,000 the business owner needs to give the customer and each other person that claims an interest in the goods 6 months written notice of an intention to dispose of the goods. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect them in the 6 month period, the business owner can dispose of them by public auction provided that the business owner publishes a copy of the notice in a daily newspaper circulating generally throughout NSW at least 28 days before the 6 months notice is to end;
  • more than $5,000, the business owner needs a Court order to dispose of the goods; and
  • Perishable goods are dealt with differently any only require a ‘reasonable’ amount of notice, the length of which depends on the nature and condition of the goods.

What should the notice state?

Broadly speaking, a notice regarding uncollected goods must include:

  • the business name;
  • a description of the goods;
  • an address where the goods can be collected;
  • a statement of any relevant charges (eg freight and storage costs) and if the business is planning to take money out of the sale to cover those charges;
  • a statement that on or after a specified date, the goods will be sold or kept unless they are first collected and the relevant charges are paid.

No profit

When the goods are sold, the bailee can only recover the cost of the original service being provided if unpaid, the costs of the sale and any maintenance, insurance and storage costs. The bailee is not allowed to make a profit on the sale of the uncollected goods.

Any surplus if the bailor can’t be found or won’t take it, must be paid, as unclaimed money, to Revenue NSW. What a pain!

* There is specific legislation relating to the disposal of goods held by a pawnbroker (Pawnbrokers and Second-Hand Dealers Act 1996 (NSW), Part 4, s.30), goods left by a tenant (Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW), Part 6 Division 2) or resident of a retirement village (Retirement Villages Act 1999 (NSW), Part 9, Division 7). Some assets can require additional steps to dispose of such as motor vehicles (for example the Commissioner of Police has issued a certificate stating that the vehicle is not recorded as stolen) and may require a Personal Property Securities Register Search.

** A lien is a common law right to retain possession of an item until an account is paid (such as a mechanics lien to keep a car until the repair bill is paid for), but it can be confirmed in an agreement.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to uncollected goods, your rights or obligations under a contract or arrangement or any other 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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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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What does a Bankruptcy Notice do?

A Bankruptcy Notice is a document that, once served, requires the person served to either pay a debt (or enter into an arrangement for payment of a debt) within a specified period of time, usually 21 days.

If the Bankruptcy Notice is not complied with within that time, the person has committed an “act of bankruptcy” entitling the person owed the money (creditor) to commence bankruptcy proceedings.

It is usually a good idea not to try to do this yourself but rather to engage a lawyer to assist, including obtaining an AFSA Bankruptcy Register search (formerly a National Personal Insolvency Index search) beforehand.

How is a Bankruptcy Notice issued?

Bankruptcy Notices are issued by the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) (formerly the Insolvency & Trustee Service Australia (ITSA)) at the request of a creditor.

In order to apply for a Bankruptcy Notice, you must hold a final judgment for at least $5,000 that is no more than 6 years old.

Once issued, the Bankruptcy Notice needs to be served on the debtor. There are various ways to achieve this (including by post in some circumstances).

If the debtor does not dispute the validity of the Bankruptcy Notice or pay the judgment debt or come to a satisfactory arrangement for payment of the debt within the 21 day period, then the debtor will have committed an “act of bankruptcy” as defined in the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) and the law will presume the debtor to be insolvent, entitling the creditor to commence bankruptcy proceedings. The order declaring someone a bankrupt is called a “sequestration order“.

What is the effect of bankrupting someone?

Most people do not wish to be made bankrupt due for various reasons including:

  • the stigma associated with being declared bankrupt (and the effect this can have on obtaining certain employment etc);
  • the fact that all of the bankrupt’s property (subject to some exceptions) vests in the appointed trustee; and
  • because of the adverse effect of bankruptcy on a person’s credit rating (and therefore their ability to get a loan later in life).

This is why issuing a Bankruptcy Notice and, if necessary, commencing bankruptcy proceedings can be an effective way of obtaining payment if you are a creditor.

What does the court look at before bankrupting someone?

Bankruptcy proceedings are commenced by filing a Creditor’s Petition in the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Before a person is declared bankrupt, the Court must be satisfied that the person has committed an “act of bankruptcy” in the 6 months before the commencement of the bankruptcy proceedings. The most common act of bankruptcy is failing to comply with a Bankruptcy Notice.

Effect of bankruptcy on company directors

For those in business for themselves, one of the effects of being declared bankrupt, in addition to losing control of the majority of your assets, is that s.206B of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) provides that undischarged bankrupts or those who have entered into personal insolvency agreements cannot act as a director or take part in the management of a company.

AFSA and ASIC have a Data Matching Protocol such that ASIC will receive notification of a director’s bankruptcy. Although a bankrupt automatically ceases to be a director, the director must notify ASIC by lodging a Form 296 - Notice of Disqualification from Managing a Corporation and further, the Company also has an obligation to notify ASIC of the cessation of an officeholder by lodging a Form 484 - Change to Company Details within 28 days of the change taking effect.

The Court has the power to grant leave to an undischarged bankrupt to take part in management of a company, subject to ASIC being notified of the application. Such leave, which can be granted both with or without conditions, is not available however, where the disqualification was imposed by ASIC (as opposed to an automatic disqualification due to the operation of the Corporations Act).

The court will not easily be convinced that the usual prohibition should not apply and will exercise its discretion with a view to balancing the considerations relevant to the bankrupt and the public policy behind the prohibition. In such an application, the applicant bears the onus of establishing that the Court should make an exception to the legislative policy underlying the prohibition. The policy behind the law is protect the public and among other things, to seek to ensure that investors, shareholders and others dealing with a company are not disadvantaged.

Hardship to the proposed director is not of itself a persuasive ground for the granting of leave although it is one of many factors which may be considered by the court in exercising its discretion. The court will have regard to the reason for the disqualification, the nature of his or her involvement, the general character of the applicant including the applicant’s conduct in the intervening period since being removed from office or prevented from being in office, the structure of the company, its business and the interests of shareholders, creditors and employees.

Although such applications are not commonplace, an undischarged bankrupt may be granted leave to take part in the management of companies generally or, more frequently, in the management of a particular company. The disqualification imposed by the Corporations Act continues despite the Court granting leave and care must be taken to ensure that any conditions on the leave are complied with as failure to do so can result in the leave being revoked and the commission of an offence.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to bankruptcy, insolvency, debt recovery, commercial law or business disputes, 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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