Australia: S13 Sale of Land Act (WA) - Illegal Contracts Still Enforceable

The Supreme Court of WA has found that a seller of lots in a proposed strata development could enforce the sale contracts against two buyers, despite the contracts being illegal under s13 of the Sale of Land Act (WA) 1970 ("SLA").

The decisions in Midstyle Nominees Pty Ltd v Jordon and Midstyle Nominees Pty Ltd v Barker [2013] WASC 85 (19 March 2013) follow on from the Court of Appeal's decision in Walker atf Walker Superannuation Fund v Clough Property Claremont Pty Ltd (2010) 41 WAR 477.

Collectively, the decisions put buyers of subdivisional land on notice that they cannot rely on a technical s13 argument to back out of a sale contract, particularly where they have done little more than change their mind about their purchase.

Section 13 restricts who can sell subdivisional land. It is not enough simply to have the right to sell 5 or more broadacre lots, or more than 2 strata title lots, in a subdivision (or proposed subdivision). The seller does not have the right to sell unless he:

  • Is the registered proprietor of the land (13)(1)(a));
  • is the agent of the registered proprietor(13(1)(b));
  • sells more than 5 broadacre lots, or more than 2 strata title lots, to one person (13(1)(c));
  • is empowered by an act to execute a transfer of land to a purchaser; or (13(1)(d))
  • is entitled to be the registered proprietor (13(1)(e))

The penalty for contravention of s13 is a fine of $750.

The definition of "sell", in s11 of the SLA, includes not just the final sale contract, but also the initial offering and the assignment of interests in the land.

In Walker, one of the purchasers' grounds of appeal was that the sale contract was void and unenforceable because the seller, who had title to the underlying land, but not yet to the lot which was being purchased, had breached s13 of the Act.

Martin CJ said that s13 was intended to protect consumers, partly because the restrictions in s13 did not apply to purchasers of more than 5 broadacre, or 2 strata title, lots (such being assumed to have a higher level of commercial sophistication).

Further, the Second Reading Speech of the SLA in 1970 stated that the purpose of s13 was to ensure that developers could not leave purchasers out of pocket by selling, or purporting to sell, land without also being capable of giving good title to that land.

Contrary to the submissions made by the buyer, Martin CJ said that s13 did not mean that if there were no registered proprietor for a particular lot at the time the contract was made (because the title to that lot was not yet available) that the purchaser was able to avoid the contract. The Walkers' appeal was dismissed.

However, in Midstyle the seller admitted its breach of s13 when it entered into sale of land contracts with two purchasers, Mr Jordon and Mr & Mrs Barker, by reason of it not being the registered proprietor of the land. However, the seller subsequently became the registered proprietor.

The question for the court was: what was the effect of the seller's admitted breach on the validity and enforceability of the contracts and how does the buyer's ability to avoid the contract, or the seller's ability to enforce it, advance the purpose or policy of the SLA?

Mr Jordan and the Barkers had given notice to the sellers that they sought to avoid their contracts. Subsequently, they argued that the contracts were either voidable (not void), or unenforceable, by reason of the seller's breach of s13.

The court accepted that as a general rule, if a contract is expressly or impliedly prohibited by statute, it will be illegal and void, but whether or not the rule was applied in a particular case depended on statutory construction.

In Midstyle, the parties agreed that s13 prohibited a seller from making a contract where it was not the registered proprietor. The prohibition in s13 is aimed only at the seller, and "...the question should be asked whether it is a purpose of the legislation that an act done in breach of the prohibition should make the contract made in consequence of it invalid or unenforceable" (Beech J).

He accepted the seller's submissions that s13 is directed at the risk to the buyer of a seller not having good title. If there is a right to avoid the contract because the seller does not have good title, that right is lost when the seller subsequently obtains title. Since in this casethe seller did obtain good title, the mischief at which the prohibition in s13 was aimed no longer existed.

Finding in favour of the sellers, Justice Beech said that he believed it was contrary to the intention of the SLA to find that the purchaser was able to avoid the sale contract if the seller was in breach of s13 at any time up until the date of settlement (that is, even if the seller subsequently obtained good title).

He said if that were the case, "as the facts of these cases illustrate, a buyer's avoidance of the contract can be unconnected to the seller's lack of title at the time of contracting. The avoidance may be based on movement in the market, long after the time when the contract was entered. I am not persuaded that the legislature intended to confer such an extensive right of avoidance on the buyer in order to deter breaches by sellers".

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Kott Gunning is a proud member of

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.