This article concerns the recent British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in Bergler v Odenthal, 2020 BCCA 175 [“Bergler] The appeal concerned the validity of a “secret trust” that Ms. Stuhff, now deceased, had allegedly imposed on her common-law partner, Mr. Odenthal. Secret trusts contain two essential features: “communication by the deceased person to his or her devisee, legatee or intestate heir, and an acceptance by that person of the request that he or she will hold the property in trust for the stated person or purposes.”[1] Acceptance may occur in the form of silence. The secret trust must also meet the usual trust requirements of certainty of intention, objects, and subject-matter.

 

The trial judge held that Mr. Odenthal had accepted Ms. Stuhff’s request that her estate would go to her niece, Susanne Bergler. The trial judge determined the acceptance occurred at the hospital shortly before Ms. Stuhff’s death. Ms. Stuhff’s niece and sister testified that in the days leading to Ms. Stuhff’s death, Mr. Odenthal had told them that Ms. Stuhff told him that she wanted her estate to go to her niece, Susanne. Susanne did not have a career or a home and wanted to go back to school. Ms. Stuhff’s sister testified that Ms. Stuhff told her that Mr. Odenthal was to transfer her estate to the Bergler family when he started a relationship with a new partner.

 

A conflict arose concerning when the estate was to be transferred to the Bergler family. Mr. Odenthal claimed he was to hold Ms. Stuhff’s assets until his death (he was 51 years old). After Ms. Stuhff’s death, Mr. Odenthal received the entire estate as heir on intestacy. He later married and removed Susanne as a beneficiary under his will, leaving nothing to the Bergler family. A relative of Ms. Stuhff testified that he overheard Ms. Stuhff tell Mr. Odenthal that when he ‘had a new chick’, she wanted ‘all her money’ to go back to her family.[2] The relative said he did not hear Mr. Odenthal object to the request. The trial judge found the relative’s evidence to be reliable. According to Mr. Odenthal’s testimony, he told Ms. Stuhff that he would abide by her wishes concerning the distribution of her estate. The trial judge held that this constituted the requisite acceptance for the creation of a secret trust.

 

On appeal, Mr. Odenthal claimed there was no evidence of his acceptance of the secret trust. The Court held that the trial judge did not err in finding that Mr. Odenthal had accepted the secret trust. He was required to transfer the assets either upon death or upon entering into a new relationship, whichever came first. A secondary issue on appeal concerned a property owned in joint tenancy by Ms. Stuhff and Mr. Odenthal. Mr. Odenthal claimed it passed to him automatically upon her death and, as a result, never became part of her estate. The Court held that the creation of the secret trust severed the joint tenancy and that once the secret trust came into existence, “nothing was left to pass by the intestacy to the defendant”.[3] The Court upheld the trial judge’s decision and dismissed the appeal.

[1] Bergler at para 2.

[2] Ibid at para 5.

[3] Ibid at para 40.

What happens if you have been bitten by a dog? What are the legal consequences for the dog owner? In British Columbia, a plaintiff who has been bitten by a dog can establish liability against the dog owner under the scienter doctrine, through negligence, or pursuant to the Occupiers Liability Act.

Under scienter, the law has developed to allow dogs “one bite free”. This is because it must be proven that the dog has a propensity for aggression. The law presumes that dogs are not naturally dangerous and that an owner should not be liable for the dog’s aggressive behaviour unless the owner was aware of such aggressive behaviour.

 Scienter places strict liability on the dog owner only if the plaintiff can establish the following three components:

  • the identity of the dog owner;
  • the dog had manifested a propensity to attack or bite mankind; and
  • the dog owner knew of their dog’s propensity.

The Court applied scienter in Prasad v Wepruk, 2004 BCSC 578 [Prasad]. In Prasad, a 77-year-old mailman was viciously attacked by a bouvier dog. The Court used the testimony of neighbours as evidence to determine that the dog had a propensity for aggression by appearing vicious while snarling and growling at the neighbours when they passed by. The Court concluded that the owner had knowledge of this propensity. As a result, the dog owner was liable.

If a plaintiff cannot establish the three requirements for scienter, the plaintiff can establish negligence on the part of the dog owner or the owner of the property where the injury took place if the plaintiff can prove:

  • the dog owner knew or ought to have known that the dog was likely to injure someone; and
  • the dog owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the injury.

In other words, was the dog attack reasonably foreseeable? In many cases, the courts determine the dog’s action was unexpected or that there was no evidence of the dog’s past aggression.

An action for damages may also be brought by a plaintiff pursuant to the Occupiers Liability Act. Similar to negligence, the plaintiff must establish that the dog owner or property owner knew or ought to have known that the dog was likely to be a risk, and that the owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent such risk.

Other provinces have stricter laws respecting dog bites. In Ontario, once ownership of the dog is proven, the owner is liable for all injuries caused by the dog regardless of the owner’s knowledge of their dog’s aggressive propensity. In 2006, stricter laws were proposed in BC. The proposed laws would have removed the knowledge requirement, essentially making the scienter doctrine inapplicable. However, these laws were not passed. Thus, the “one bite free” principle prevails in BC.

Force Majeure Provisions to add to Real Estate Contracts: Do you need one?

 

Generally, a “Force Majeure” clause is a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, plague (e.g. COVID-19), or an event described by the legal phrase ‘Act of God’ prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, the standard Contract of Purchase and Sale for real estate contracts in British Columbia did not include Force Majeure provisions.

Realtors, buyers, and sellers now need to consider the use of such provisions within these contracts.

The events that trigger the Force Majeure clause must be clearly defined in the clause. For example, it may not be sufficient to simply reference the phrase “COVID-19”.  It is suggested that more needs to be stated, such as:

“In this contract, a Force Majeure event is deemed to have occurred where, because of COVID-19, any of the following events make it impossible to complete a party’s obligation under the contract:

  • The closure of government offices including without limitation the Land Titles Office including the inability to register transfer or mortgage documents;
  • The closure of banks and credit unions and the inability to obtain financing, cash, credit or immediately available funds in the form of cashier’s cheques, bank drafts or official credit union cheques;
  • The inability to obtain advice from professional consultants including appraisers and engineers;
  • The inability to provide vacant possession because a tenant cannot be evicted until the Pandemic is over;
  • The closure of law and notary offices and the inability to retain and instruct counsel; and
  • The inability of counsel to close the transaction due to a lack of staff or lawyers conversant with the subject matter of the transaction;”

Such an operative clause will act as a shield for the party affected by the event of Force Majeure so that a party can rely on that clause as a defence to a claim that it has failed to fulfil its obligations under the contract.

An Operative Clause should also specifically deal with the rights and obligations of the parties if a Force Majeure event occurs and affects the transaction. In other words, should the inability to complete the transaction only continue as long as the Force Majeure event continues, following which both parties shall promptly resume performance under the contract as soon as is practicable.

 

The following is an example of an Operative Clause:

  1. Neither party is responsible for any failure to perform its obligations under this contract if it is prevented or delayed in performing those obligations by an event of Force Majeure.
  2. Where there is an event of Force Majeure, the party prevented from or delayed in performing its obligations under this contract must immediately notify the other party giving full particulars of the event of Force Majeure and the reasons for the event of Force Majeure preventing that party from, or delaying that party in performing its obligations under this contract and that party must use its reasonable efforts to mitigate the effect of the event of Force Majeure upon its or their performance of the contract and to fulfil its or their obligations under the contract.
  3. Upon termination of those Force Majeure events that have caused a party to be unable to perform, the party affected must as soon as reasonably practicable recommence the performance of its obligations under this contract.
  4. An event of Force Majeure does not relieve a party from liability for an obligation which arose before the occurrence of that event, nor does that event affect the obligation to pay money in a timely manner which matured prior to the occurrence of that event.
  5. Neither party has an entitlement or liability for:
    • any costs, losses, expenses, damages or the payment of any part of the contract price during an event of force majeure; and
    • any delay costs in any way incurred by either party due to an event of Force Majeure.

 

Heath Law LLP provides experienced legal services to realtors, buyers, and sellers. Contact us via phone or email if you require legal advice regarding a real-estate contract.

COVID-19 – Occupational Health and Safety Policy: Do you have one?

Worksafe BC requires that those employers whose employees are working from home due to COVID-19 should ensure they have a basic Health and Safety Policy.

The Health and Safety Policy should contain an acknowledgment from the employee that he or she understands their role, duties, and responsibilities and that they agree to abide by the Health and Safety Policy.

The employer would also sign an acknowledgment that they acknowledge and are aware of the contents of the Health and Safety Policy.

The Health and Safety Policy should require employees to conduct an assessment of their workplace and report any possible or actual hazards to their manager or supervisor.

If any such hazards are discovered, there should be a plan made by both the employer and employee to ensure the safety of the employee.

The Health and Safety Policy should also specifically refer to the following:

  • The procedure for the employee to evacuate from the home or temporary workplace to a safe location in case of emergency; this can only be done by the employee as the employer should not access the home at this time due to COVID-19.
  • The manner in which the employee is to contact the employer in case of an emergency; identify the contact person of the employer, their office, and cell number and e-mail.
  • A statement from the employer to the employee that the employee working at home should use the same safe workplace practices that are expected from them at work.
  • A statement from the employer to the employee describing the procedure for how an employee should report a work-related incident or injury to their employer; identify the contact person of the employer, their office and cell phone numbers, and e-mail.
  • A statement from the employer to the employee that the employee should be as cognisant at home as they are at work about ergonomics; that the employee should take steps to mitigate the risk of developing a musculoskeletal injury.
  • A statement from the employer that the physical risk factors associated with an employee developing musculoskeletal injury by working at home include without limitation repetition and work posture.
  • A statement by the employer that the employee can learn more about musculoskeletal injury, assess the risk in their home, and actively take steps to reduce the risk by reading the following: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/ergonomics

 

Heath Law LLP provides a full range of services to employers in British Columbia. If you require assistance contact Heath Law LLP by phone or email.

COVID-19 and Parenting Time: What are your rights for parenting time during a pandemic?

Two recent cases from the Courts of British Columbia have discussed COVID-19’s effects on a parent’s right to parenting time.

In N.J.B v S.F., 2020 BCPC 53 (April 1, 2020) a father began denying the mother parenting time.  His justification for doing so was based on the changed landscape arising from the COVID-19 crisis and the health and safety issues arising from it. More specifically, the father asserted that the mother is unlikely to be able to comply with social and physical distancing measures and other protocols currently recommended by public health authorities.

The facts and procedural history are as follows:

The parents separated in October 2018.

After the parents separated the mother’s parents submitted a report to the Ministry of Children and Family Development (the “MCFD”) regarding the mother being unable to care for the child due to the mother’s mental health, parenting skills, and substance abuse.  This report resulted in the MCFD and the father agreeing not to permit the mother to have any unsupervised access to the child.

Over the next few months, the mother and father attended multiple Family Case Conferences, the first being on February 14, 2019, which made orders allowing for the mother to have supervised parenting time.

On March 24, 2020, the father’s lawyer sent a letter to the mother’s lawyer stating that due to concerns related to COVID-19, the mother would not be permitted to exercise her parenting time.  The father had two reason for refusing the mother parenting time.  First, given the mother’s history of mental health challenges, which appear to result in her fabricating ideas and experiencing delusions, the present COVID-19 crisis is likely to impact her mental health further, and cause her to behave in a manner that will pose a risk to the child.  Second, there are seven people who live in the mother’s home.  The father claimed that the large number of people residing in the mother’s home will increase the child’s risk of contracting the virus.

The Courts Decision:

The Court ordered compliance with the parenting order. The father was unable to point to any concrete concerns about the mother and her family’s lack of compliance with COVID-19 protocols.  His concern appears to be based on the mother’s historical, and likely ongoing, challenges with her mental health which has sometimes manifested in paranoid or conspiratorial ideas.  The court accepted that the mother’s variable mental health gives rise to concern, but that concern has been addressed by the fact that all of her parenting is supervised. The court did not find concerns in relation to the mother are any greater under COVID-19 than they were before COVID-19, and as such, ordered compliance with the parenting order.

In another case

In SR v MG, 2020 BCPC 57 (April 7, 2020) a father was denying a mother her agreed to parenting time.  The father’s reason for denying parenting time was due to the mother being a licenced practical nurse.  He believed that her exposure as a nurse to the COVID-19 virus would create undue risk for their child.

In considering a multitude of factors, the Court found the mother to be entitled to her parenting time despite the father’s concerns.  While there was some risk that the mother would catch the virus, it was appropriately mitigated by the mother abiding by the precautions placed upon all front-line workers.

The Court noted that if the child was particularly vulnerable, it would not expose the child to even the slightest risk.

Conclusion from the two cases:

Using COVID-19 as a rationale for not complying with parenting time orders is not prima facie accepted by the Courts.  The parent withholding the child from the other has to supply the Court with concrete evidence which shows that the child is either particularly more vulnerable to COVID-19 or the other parent has created undue risk for the child by disregarding COVID-19 protocols.

 

If you think you may have cause to deny a parenting order due to safety concerns during Covid-19, or if your parenting time is being denied and you would like to discuss your options, call Heath Law LLP or email us.

The tenant/landlord relationship is based on the tenant living up to certain obligations such as paying rent and keeping the rental unit in an acceptable condition and the landlord having the ability to evict the tenant if they fail to live up to those obligations.  However, due to COVID-19, a tenant may be unable to adhere to certain obligations that are expected of them.  Do landlords still have the ability to evict tenants during the State of Emergency caused by COVID-19?

Normally, landlords have the ability to evict a tenant for a variety of reasons pursuant to the British Columbia Residential Tenancy Act (the “Act”).  Some of the more common reasons are:

  • Non-Payment of Rent;
  • Damaging the rental unit;
  • Landlord’s use of the rental unit; and
  • Landlord selling the rental unit.

If a landlord wants to evict a tenant, the landlord has to serve the tenant with a Notice to End Tenancy.  After the tenant has received the Notice to End Tenancy, the tenant can dispute the Notice to End Tenancy within a certain timeframe which is prescribed by the Act.  If the tenant does not dispute the Notice to End Tenancy, the tenant is deemed to have accepted that the tenancy will end after the notice period provided in the Notice to End Tenancy has elapsed.

Due to COVID-19, the Government of British Columbia (the “Government”) has created special rules regarding the eviction of residential tenants.  One of these rules concerns the validity of Notice to End Tenancies given by landlords.  If the Notice to End Tenancy was given on or after March 30, 2020, it can be ignored by the tenant as the notice is of no force or effect.  If the Notice to End Tenancy was given before March 30, 2020, the notice is valid and statutory timelines for disputing the Notice to End Tenancy are in effect.

If the tenant does not leave the rental unit after the notice period has ended, a landlord cannot remove a tenant by force.  The landlord must apply to Court for an “Order of Possession”. The Government has stated that Orders of Possession are not being enforced until the State of Emergency has ended except under exceptional circumstances.  Examples of exceptional circumstances include situations where the tenant has:

  • Significantly interfered with or unreasonably disturbed another occupant or the landlord of the residential property;
  • Seriously jeopardized the health or safety or a lawful right or interest of the landlord or another occupant;
  • Put the landlord’s property at significant risk;
  • Caused extraordinary damage to the residential property; or
  • Engaged in illegal activity that has;
    • Caused or is likely to cause damage to the landlord’s property;
    • Adversely affected or is likely to adversely affect the quiet enjoyment, security, safety or physical well-being of another occupant of the residential property; or
    • Jeopardized or is likely to jeopardize a lawful right or interest of another occupant or the landlord.

To summarize, if a tenant received a Notice to End Tenancy before March 30, 2020, it is valid and, once the State of Emergency ends, the landlord will be able to apply for and execute on an Order of Possession.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding your tenancy or a Notice to End Tenancy you received, please call Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202.

 

COVID-19 Pandemic – Commercial Retailers Defaulting Rental Payments Increases

In the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic that is currently plaguing the world, some commercial retailers have been forced to close their doors.  With no income, the likelihood of these commercial retailers defaulting on their rental payments increases.  What should the commercial landlord do with the defaulting tenant taking into account the world at large?

The commercial landlord has many options available.  The landlord should first provide a default curing period.  Often there are stipulations in the tenancy agreement itself which supply the curing period, but if there isn’t, the landlord should consider extending a curing period unless the landlord seeks to immediately terminate to regain possession of the premises.

The landlord should also consider a variety of tenant concessions unless as stated previously, the landlord wants to regain possession of the premises.  Some examples of concessions would include:

  • Basic Rent abatement or deferral;
  • Basic Rent suspension for defined periods (i.e. 3-6 months or longer depending on the nature of the tenancy);
  • Basic Rent deferrals for a defined period and a corresponding increase in Basic Rent at a point in the future to make up for the Basic Rent deferral;
  • Either eliminating or reducing the obligation to pay Basic Rent and replacing it with the requirement to pay Percentage Rent for a defined period of time;
  • Abating or suspending both Basic Rent and Operating Costs. Typically landlords like to recover at least their out of pocket expenses such as realty taxes, insurance, utilities still and maintenance costs;
  • Reduction or elimination of administrative fee and/or management fee component of operating cost charge;
  • Reduction or elimination of promotional and marketing fees;
  • Reduction of services offered and performed at the property to effect a reduction in operating costs to be charged to tenants during the COVID pandemic;
  • Depending on the size of the property, number of tenants and nature of the tenancies in a given property, a landlord can consider a reduction of services provided to tenants during the state of emergency, which would potentially reduce operating costs;
  • If the landlord would rather that a particular tenant vacate its premises, then the landlord may consider building in an automatic termination or an option to terminate for the landlord.
  • Ensure that any concession you agree to clearly provides the following:
    • a consideration clause;
    • when the concession expires;
    • that the lease is otherwise in full force and effect and remains unamended;
    • time shall continue to remain of the essence;
    • the concession is not a waiver of any other clause in the lease;
    • an indemnitor signature, if applicable.

Further options available to the landlord include terminating the lease, suing for arrears and distraint.

If the landlord elects to terminate the lease, the tenant will have to vacate the premises.  This remedy would not be advisable if the landlord wants the tenant to remain in the premises, does not have a replacement tenant for the premises or if the landlord does not intend to use the premises themselves.

If the landlord sues for arrears, this action affirms the tenancy meaning the landlord can’t sue for arrears and then terminate the lease for failure to pay those same arrears.

Distraint allows a landlord to seize the tenant’s goods on the premises with a view to eventually having those goods sold to pay for the arrears of rent.  There are special rules that a landlord must adhere to when exercising their right of distraint.  They must only seize and sell those goods necessary to pay the rent arrears, there has to be an appraisal of the goods and the goods that are seized have to be the tenant’s goods. Also, similar to suing for arrears, if this option is chosen, then the lease will have been affirmed and the landlord cannot terminate for that same breach.

If you need legal advice with regard to a commercial tenancy please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202.

Ski-hill Lift Tickets – Liability, Unilateral Contracts, Negligence Exclusion

In certain situations, such as obtaining a lift ticket for a ski-hill, “unilateral contracts” are used by one of the parties to the contract (i.e., the ski hill) which set out specific conditions the other party (i.e., the consumer) must accept if the consumer wants to proceed with using the ticket.  Are all the terms and conditions of these unilateral contracts binding on the consumer even if the consumer did not sign or have any part in the formation of the contract?

A recent case from the British Columbia Court of Appeal (“BCCA”) Apps v. Grouse Mountain Resorts Ltd., 2020 BCCA 78 [Apps] addressed the requirements for unilateral contracts to be binding when the consumer does not sign a contract.

The unfortunate facts of Apps are as follows.  The plaintiff was a snowboarder who became a quadriplegic after attempting a large jump at Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC.  The plaintiff was an Australian who was living, working and snowboarding in Whistler, he was only 20 at the time of his injury.

The plaintiff alleged that the jump was negligently designed, constructed, maintained and inspected by Grouse Mountain. Grouse Mountain, in defence, relied on an exclusion of liability waiver which it said constituted a complete defence. The British Columbia Supreme Court (“BCSC”) dismissed the plaintiff’s action. The BCCA overturned the BCSC’s decision.

The type of waiver Grouse Mountain was relying on was an “own negligence exclusion”.  This type of exclusion not only excludes liability for the risks inherent in the use of Grouse Mountain’s product or service, but also liability for negligence caused by Grouse Mountain itself.

The BCCA stated that “own negligence exclusions” are among the more onerous conditions to be placed into contracts, meaning that for Grouse Mountain to rely on the exclusion it must have taken reasonable steps to bring the exclusion to the attention of the Plaintiff.

The BCCA concluded that not enough had been done by Grouse Mountain to bring the “own negligence exclusion” to the plaintiff’s attention before he entered into the contract. The exclusion was included in a posted sign above the counter where the lift tickets were sold, but the text was difficult to read, and the “own negligence exclusion” was not emphasized.  This would be considered the pre-contractual notice (before the ticket was purchased).  Post-contractual notice (after the ticket was purchased) of the “own negligence exclusion” appeared on the back of the lift ticket and on a sign in the terrain park.  The BCCA concluded that post-contractual notice has no bearing on whether Grouse Mountain gave sufficient notice to the Plaintiff.

Grouse Mountain also attempted to rely on the plaintiff’s knowledge of the presence of these types exclusions due to his previous employment at Whistler and having signed such an exclusion for his Whistler’s Season Pass.  The BCCA found that the plaintiff’s previous experience with “own negligence exclusions” from his experiences at Whistler did not mean he had actual knowledge of Grouse Mountain’s specific clause.

The BCCA therefore overturned the BCSC decision and allowed the plaintiff to continue his action.

For businesses that are concerned about what proper notice would look like, the BCCA provided some indicators of proper notice.  To rely on any type of waiver which will result in the consumer losing legal rights, a service provider should, before contract formation, ensure that the “own negligence clause” is clearly brought to the attention of the consumer by using large, colorful and bold text and literally mention the “own negligence clause” to the consumer.

What happens to spousal support when the person making the payments (the “Payor”) passes away?  Does the spousal support die along with the Payor or does the obligation survive, binding the estate of the Payor?

When married or common-law couples end their relationship, sometimes spousal support arises.  Spousal support is payment from one spouse to the other in recognition that one of the parties to the relationship may have sacrificed their own financial independence to help the overall landscape of the relationship whether that was providing care to the children of the marriage or giving up opportunities they would have otherwise been able to pursue had they not been supporting their partner.  Spousal support is usually paid pursuant to a separation agreement or a Court order.

Pursuant to s. 170(1)(g) of the Family Law Act of British Columbia (the “Act”), an order respecting spousal support can provide for payment after the death of the Payor.  S. 171(1) of the Act provides the elements that have to be present before a Court will order spousal support after the death of the Payor:

  • that the person receiving child support or spousal support has a significant need for support that is likely to continue past the death of the person paying child support or spousal support;
  • that the estate of the person paying child support or spousal support is sufficient to meet the need referred to in paragraph (a) after taking into account all claims on the estate, including those of creditors and beneficiaries; and
  • that no other practical means exist to meet the need referred to in paragraph (a).

If there was an agreement or order in place that provides for spousal support after death, then those provisions will have full force and effect and will bind the Payor’s estate until the period of payment provided for in the agreement or order expires.  To end the spousal support payments before the agreement or order expires, the Personal Representative of the Payor’s estate can apply under s.171(2) of the Act to set aside the agreement or order.

If the agreement or order for spousal support is silent as to whether spousal support survives death, the person receiving support can apply under s.171(3) of the Act to get an order requiring the Payor’s estate to continue to pay spousal support.

What about spousal support payments that are in arrears at the time of the Payor’s death?  Any spousal support payments in arrears at the time of the Payor’s death, will constitute a debt of the Estate: L.S.M.K. v. J.W.K., 2019 BCSC 2025.

Please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202 if you have any questions regarding spousal support or have any other Family Law related concerns.

 

COVID-19 and Contract Frustration

In a previous blog post, COVID-19 and how the force majeure clause could apply to it was discussed.  For a force majeure clause to be activated, there has to be one in a contract.  Sometimes contracts are drafted without force majeure clauses.  Without the force majeure clause, are the parties bound to their agreement even if something arises that makes it impossible to perform the contract?  Contracts can be “frustrated” meaning subsequent to its formation, and without fault of either party, the contract becomes incapable of being performed due to an unforeseen events, resulting in the obligations under the contract being radically different from those contemplated by the parties to the contract.

The legal consequence of a contract that is found to have been frustrated is that the contract is automatically terminated at the point of frustration. The contract is not void ab initio (from the beginning), it is only void with regard to future obligations.

For frustration to operate, it is not sufficient that the performance of the contract is more onerous or unreasonably harsh. Instead, there must be a fundamental change in the circumstances governing performance.  The performance contemplated by the contract must become impracticable in a legal sense. The contract must become something drastically different from that which was initially contemplated by the parties.

Frustration is interpreted narrowly by the courts as there is a public interest in people being bound to the contracts they enter into.  COVID-19 could be grounds for deeming a contract frustrated but this is obviously context-specific.