Contracts for the Sale of Land: Understanding the Impecuniosity Defence

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Where either the seller or buyer of landed property fails to complete a contract to sell land the non-breaching party has a right to seek specific performance of the contract. This remedy would compel the party in default to perform the contract on pain of being held in contempt of court if the court's order is not obeyed. The defaulting party would not be able to satisfy its obligations under the law by paying a sum of money as damages for breach of contract. This paper considers the impecuniosity defence to specific performance as recognised by courts in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Where the buyer demonstrates that he or she simply cannot raise the funds to buy the property specific performance will not be decreed and the court will make an award of damages for breach of contract measured by the difference between the contract price and the market price of the property at the time of default. The paper considers the nature and parameters of this defence and how it differs (if at all) from the alternative defence of extreme hardship. The paper addresses the question of whether it might be better to move to a position where sellers of land in all cases no longer enjoy a presumption of specific performance but have to demonstrate that the alternative remedy of damages is clearly inadequate. If this should be so the paper goes on to consider whether abolition of the presumption in favour of specific performance for sellers should lead to abolition of the presumption of specific performance for buyers, as is the position in Canada following the Supreme Court's decision in Semelhago v Paramadevan [1996] 2 SCR 415.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRemedies and Property
EditorsFrancois Lichere, Russell L. Weaver
Place of PublicationAix-en-Provence
PublisherPresses Universitaires d'Aix-Marseille
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9782731409871
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

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