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.