15. Caveat removed because nothing remaining after discharge of prior registered mortgage

Glenis & Anor v Ikosedikas & Ors [2018] VSC 278 (30 May 2018) T Forrest J.

The defendants alleged that in 2011 the first plaintiff entered into a loan agreement consolidating previous loans with a then balance of about $250,000.  The agreement gave the lender had the right to caveat over certain residential land owned by the plaintiffs if the loan was not repaid that year.  The first plaintiff said that his signature on the agreement was forged but did not dispute a debt which by April 2018 had with compound interest risen to between $450,000 and $690,000.

In March 2018 the plaintiffs entered into a contract to sell that land for $1.995 m.  It was subject to a registered mortgage securing loans with current balances of over $2 m. though apparently another property owned by the second plaintiff was linked to this

mortgage.    

In April 2018 the defendants caveated on the grounds of “part-performed oral agreement with the registered proprietors”, the estate or interest claimed being “interest as charge”. 

The plaintiffs applied to remove the caveat.   Counsel for the plaintiffs was prepared to assume for the purposes of argument on this application that the loan agreement was genuine.  He also argued that the caveat was defective: in its reference to oral agreement; because it was over the whole property; and when the charge was allegedly created the plaintiffs did not have legal estate in the land.

His Honour held –

1.      The existence of the loan agreement sufficed to establish a serious question to be tried.  Assuming the authenticity of the agreement, the first plaintiff intended to grant the defendants a charge over the property as security for a loan already advanced.  The fact that the first plaintiff possessed no proprietary rights as at the date of the agreement was not fatal as the parties understood that the charge related to future property which at the time of enforcement could be identified.  Questions of a carve out of the second plaintiff’s interest and whether the caveat ought be struck down as defective or amended to reflect the assertedly misleading ‘oral agreement’ grounds of claim were unsuitable for determination in an interlocutory proceeding. [13]

2.      Where a caveator establishes a serious question to be tried, the balance of convenience tilts in favour of that caveator. [14]

3.      However notwithstanding the substantial debt intended by the first plaintiff to be secured over the property the balance of convenience favoured the registered proprietors because of delay in lodging the caveat until after the contract of sale and the fact that the registered mortgage rendered the caveat worthless.  To allow the caveat to remain in place would frustrate the sale without benefit to the caveator. [14]-[15]

Comment: The statement by his Honour that the balance of convenience tilted in favour of the caveator was supported by him with citation of interstate authority.  This is more commonly expressed in Victoria in other authority cited by his Honour, namely that the caveator must establish that the balance of convenience favours maintenance of the caveat until trial and the stronger the case is in the evaluation of the serious question issue, the more readily the balance of convenience might be satisfied.  

5. Caveatable Interests

  • Charges giving rise to caveatable interests.

  • The indirect ability of the Court of Appeal to remove a caveat.

  • A competition between cash in a solicitor’s bank account and a caveat supporting a charge for potentially a greater amount.

Sim Development Pty Ltd v Greenvale Property Group Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 335 (16 June 2017) Sifris J.

Sim Development Pty Ltd v Greenvale Property Group Pty Ltd [2017] VSCA 345 (17 November 2017) Tate and McLeish JJA.

The plaintiff/appellant (“Sim”) provided services under a consultancy and management agreement for a proposed development on land of which the defendant/respondent (“Greenvale”) was registered proprietor.  Greenvale notified Sim of its intention to terminate the agreement at a specified date.  Sim caveated to secure moneys allegedly owed under the agreement and sued to recover $380,280 and for other relief.  Greenvale counterclaimed and commenced a separate proceeding under the TLA s. 90(3) seeking removal of the caveat.

Sifris J held Sim to be entitled to payment of $152,600.03 and Greenvale to be entitled to some payment on the counterclaim.  His Honour dismissed the caveat proceeding on the ground of a clause providing that on termination of the agreement before completion of the project Greenvale gave Sim “the right to register a charge over the property … and any other property owned by [Greenvale] and such charge is to be applied to the payment in full of any money owed to [Sim Development]”.  Sifris J held that the contractual right to register a charge, in the event of termination, supported the existence of a caveatable interest; and while the clause did not specifically adopt the language of lodging a caveat, its reference to the concept of registration, and lack of sufficient indication to the contrary, supported the conclusion that it gave rise to a caveatable interest.

Sim applied for leave to appeal, seeking orders in substance as sought at first instance. Greenvale did not seek leave to appeal against the caveat proceeding order.  However, desiring to be rid of the caveat, it made an interlocutory application in the application by Sim for leave to appeal, seeking an order directing Sim to withdraw its caveat on Greenvale paying $152,600.03 into an interest-bearing account of Greenvale’s solicitors and undertaking not to sell the land pending determination of the application for leave to appeal and any appeal.

Tate and McLeish JJA held:

  1. The application by Greenvale was competent, being permitted by s. 10(3) of the Supreme Court Act 1986.
  2. Sim would not be ordered to withdraw its caveat, because:
  • the caveat was supported by its right under the agreement to a charge over the land. The withdrawal of the caveat would in effect remove the protection of the security interest the parties provided for in the agreement;
  • if Sim succeeded in any appeal Greenvale may be ordered to pay $380,280. In those circumstances, the amount offered, $152,600.03, would be inadequate and Sim would have lost the protection of the caveat supporting its entitlement to monies owed.  This could render any appeal effectively nugatory;
  • Greenvale had not adequately specified how the caveat would impede the development’s progress. Accordingly, applying a test of balance of convenience, Sim had discharged its onus of establishing that the prejudice that would flow to it from an order directing it to withdraw the caveat outweighed any demonstrable prejudice to Greenvale.

Commentary: A novel case of a creative attempt to get rid of a caveat pending an appeal.  As to caveats supporting charges see also: Evans v Advertising Department Pty Ltd [2009] VSC 587; West Coast Developments Pty Ltd v Lehmann [2013] VSC 617, also [2014] VSC 293.