You would assume that a Vendor who agrees to complete works on a Property prior to completion of the Contract is required to do so prior to the agreed completion date specified in the Auction Contract, especially if the Contract required them to do so. You may equally assume that, if a Vendor fails to complete such works prior to the completion date, the Purchaser would be entitled to terminate the Contract. However, as shown by the NSW Court of Appeal case of Namrood v Ebedeh-Ahvazi [2017] NSWWCA 310, nothing in the world of Contract law can be so readily assumed.

What happened in the case?

Mr Namrood (the Purchaser) was the successful bidder at auction to purchase a vacant residential block of land from Mr Ebedeh-Alwah (the Vendor). The Purchaser only became aware of the auction on the auction date and did not seek legal advice on the terms of the auction contract. The Contract entered into between the parties contained a special condition under which the Vendor undertook to remove loads of soil and restore the level of the Property in accordance with a Council Notice issued to the Vendor prior to ‘Completion’ (the Vendor Works). The Council Notice made non-compliance an offence open to prosecution.

The ‘Completion Date’ in the Contract was 20 June 2015. By this date, the Vendor had not completed the Vendor Works. After protracted correspondence between the parties, the Purchaser purported to terminate the Contract due to the Vendor’s non-compliance. The Vendor did not agree that the Purchaser had validly terminated the Contract and continued to complete the Vendor Works; following which the Vendor sought to compel the Purchaser to complete the Contract. When the Purchaser refused to complete, the Vendor sought to terminate the Contract and keep the deposit.

What did the Court rule on the Auction Contract?

The NSW Court of Appeal determined there was a clear distinction in the Contract between the terms ‘Completion” and “Completion Date”. The Completion Date was defined as 20 June 2015. The term Completion, however, meant the date on which title to the Property was actually transferred. This date (as would be the case) was not necessarily 20 June 2015.

As the parties had chosen ‘Completion’ and not the ‘Completion Date’ as the time by which the Vendor was required to complete the Vendor Works, the Vendor was not required to do so prior to 20 June 2015. Rather the Vendor was only required to complete the Vendor Works prior to the date on which the Contract was actually completed. This meant the Vendor was not in breach when the Purchaser purported to terminate the Contract and, as the Contract remained on foot, had later validly terminated the Contract. This Vendor was therefore entitled to retain the 10% Deposit.

Conclusion

The ruling in Namrood v Ebedeh-Ahvazi may seem like a strange result. However, it emphasises the importance courts place on the specific drafting of contractual clauses. Those entering into property deals must be sure to obtain legal advice on the specific terms of the Contract and should not assume that the meaning of any contract clause is clear and unambiguous.

This is difficult with auction contracts, which are disclosed to would be purchasers a short time before the auction or even at the point of signing. Make sure you obtain a copy of the auction contract as early as possible before the auction date and seek legal advice on the terms of the Contract before bidding at auction. Otherwise you can be caught out in the most unexpected of circumstances.