Sunset clawbacks under scrutiny
Purchasers of off-the-plan apartments who’ve been left high and dry by developers rescinding their contracts and reselling the near-finished properties for much higher prices (sunset clawbacks) are to be given fresh consumer protection.
At the moment developers can, quite legally, enact ‘sunset clawbacks’ when their building works run over a year behind schedule, in legislation which was originally introduced to safeguard purchasers having to wait an indeterminate time before completion.
But after a series of stories by Domain about buyers, just before settlement, losing their apartments in the new Surry Hills block East Central, NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello has announced he will be introducing new legislation to ensure this is never allowed to happen again.
“I hope no one has to face this kind of heartache in the future.”
“This is obviously a serious issue and my job is to protect the consumer,” he said. “Obviously, these contracts were intended to protect buyers but it’s too open to exploitation at the moment [by developers].
“We need to find a way of protecting people in this situation. That will be part of a suite of reforms to help prevent these problems.”
Mr Dominello decided to act after the heart-wrenching stories from four families about their devastation on having their contracts in the same building rescinded at the eleventh hour, and calls by lawyers to have the law tightened.
East Central developer Ash Samadi of the Samadi Group said delays in construction were caused by problems with council assents to plans, a blowout in building costs and a loss of guaranteed tenants. The builder, SX Projects, also took a case against Samadi to the NSW Supreme Court over unpaid costs. The recissions (unwinding of contracts) were “collateral damage”, Samadi said.
But for those enduring the collateral damage, the price has been high. Mum-of-two and migration consultant Tara Ende had bought a two-bedroom apartment off the plan in East Central in June 2013 for $890,000. But a few days before settling, and excited to notice another two-bed in the same 42-unit complex was now selling for $1.39 million, she was told the developer had cancelled her contract and was going to refund her deposit.
Similarly, Suzy Seale, 65, and her husband John, 74, bought two apartments, one to live in and the other as an investment. They returned to Australia from China where they’d been working as expats, to discover they no longer had either.
Another buyer who asked not to be named also bought – and lost – a two-bedroom apartment as one of the seven contracts that were rescinded. Reviewing the paperwork led to the discovery that those seven apartments were transferred to a third company the day before the contracts were rescinded, making it extremely difficult for a caveat to be lodged.
A fourth buyer Khek Mow Tan was also told of the recission of her two-bedroom apartment – an estimated two hours before it was resold at a considerably higher price. “Like Tara, we will not buy another property off the plan again, although we had done that a few times before,” she said.
The contract provisions allow a developer, legally, to rescind contracts when completion is delayed and triggers the sunset clause.
But now the group have congratulated Mr Dominello on his move. “I’m very happy to hear that he’s going to protect people in the future against this,” said Ms Ende. “That’s brilliant news and that’s a good reason for going public over this.
“It obviously doesn’t help us, but we’re happy it won’t happen again. We’re now meeting together with a lawyer to consider our options.”
Ms Seale agreed. “I really wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she said. We acted in good faith, we did our checks and everything seemed right. But then to lose the apartment – especially after waiting two and a half years.
“Because we were effectively out of the market for that time, we are now unable to afford to buy a two-bedroom apartment in the inner city as prices have gone up so much in the interim. It means we’ve been shut out of the market. We’ll have to buy a one-bed, or go to a different area.
“But I hope no one has to face this kind of heartache in the future.”
Written by Sue Williams for SMH Domain on 9 September 2015