A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has
confirmed that damages for lost opportunity will not be awarded
when a real estate deal goes wrong.
In Akelius Canada Inc. v. 2436196 Ontario Inc., 2020
ONSC 6182, Justice Morgan held that when a real estate deal falls
apart due to a seller’s default, damages are to be determined
at the closing date and a claim for the future appreciation of the
property is therefore not available.
In Akelius, two sophisticated real estate investors
entered into an Agreement of Purchase and Sale
(“APS“) in 2015 for seven residential
apartment buildings in Toronto. The plaintiff buyer was a Canadian
subsidiary of a large international investment corporation with
holdings across Europe, the United States, and Canada. Over the
course of the transaction, the purchase price was negotiated to a
final price of $225,400,000.
After the APS was executed and prior to closing, the buyer
discovered that there were several mortgages encumbering the title
of some of the properties with total outstanding amounts of over
$48 million. The existence of the mortgages constituted a breach of
the APS and the buyer therefore objected after discovering
The defendant sellers failed to remove the mortgages. However,
in an attempt to salvage the transaction, the sellers proposed to
revise the APS to exclude the encumbered properties from the sale
or alternatively, they proposed that the buyer could assume the
mortgages with a price abatement.
The buyer refused the sellers propositions, sued for breach of
contract, and brought a motion for summary judgment. The sellers
eventually sold the properties in 2018 for about $50 million more
than the purchase price in the APS. In its damages claim, the buyer
sought $50 million, reflecting the appreciation reaped by the
sellers, as well as about $770,000 in sunk costs that it incurred
as a result of the failed transaction.
Justice Morgan had little difficulty finding that the sellers
breached the APS. The buyer was ready, willing, and able to close
the transaction and the sellers were unable to convey good title on
the closing date as a result of the mortgages.
As such, the primary issue for determination was the appropriate
measure of damages. Justice Morgan noted that the basic principle
is that damages should put the injured party back in the position
it would have been in if the contract had not been breached. There
is some flexibility to this approach; courts have stated that the
date of assessment should be determined by what is fair on the
facts of the case.
However, it has also been well established that damages for lost
speculation profits is not an available remedy in a real estate
transaction. The damages must make up what the purchaser lost in
value on the closing date, not what a property speculator standing
in the purchaser’s shoes would have lost.
It was also noted that it did not matter in this case that the
buyer was an “income investor” rather than a true
property speculator. Damages were therefore measured at the date of
closing, which precluded any claims for lost appreciation
While the case law provided a complete answer to the lost profit
claim, the court in Akelius went on to discuss mitigation,
because the parties had spent much of their time fighting over that
issue. The court held that the buyer had either failed to mitigate
its damages or, more likely, fully mitigated its damages. The buyer
refused to produce records of its transactions after January 2016,
and Justice Morgan accordingly drew an adverse inference that the
funds saved on this transaction were spent on other comparable
As a result, it was held that the buyer was only entitled to
damages for the amount of sunk costs thrown away on the
transaction. Damages for lost opportunity were not awarded. Because
both parties had mixed success, no costs were awarded to either
This decision affirms the courts’ reluctance to consider
claims for lost profits from capital appreciation, even where a
buyer is unfairly deprived of a lucrative opportunity. Real estate
investors should be mindful of this before they opt to sue for
The authors would like to thank Allan Tung, Articling Student,
for his assistance with this article.
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