Graf & Pitkowitz, Attorneys at Law, Vienna, founding partner, since 1995
Partner at major Austrian law firm, 1990-1994
Extended Internships at a US law firms, New York, 1986 and 1991 and Phibro Corporation, Vienna, New York and London, 1980 - 1991
Master of European and International Business Law, University of St. Gallen, 1999
Orientation in the US Legal System: Georgetown University, 1991
Doctor Juris and Magister Juris: University of Vienna, 1984
Member of Austrian Bar (admitted 1990)
University Lecturer, Czech Business Law (1993 - 1999)
Permanent Arbitrator, Austrian Chamber of Commerce (since 1994);
Certified Mediator (2004), co-editor Austrian Arbitration Yearbook
Areas of Specialization
General Commercial Law
Personal: born Vienna
German and English
"Business Law in Austria", Orac, 1st ed. 1996 and 2nd ed. 2003; "Investing in Austria", Orac, 1994, "Investing in Hungary", Orac, 1st ed. 1990, 2nd ed. 1991; "Investing in the Czech and the Slovak Republic", Orac, 1st ed. 1990, 2nd ed. 1991, 3rd ed. 1993; "The Greenfield Approach and the Role of Austria for Privatization in Eastern Europe", Columbia University "Privatization in Eastern Europe: Legal, Economic and Social Aspects; "Security over Real Estate in the Czech and the Slovak Republic", Bank Archiv 519, 1993 and Vsehrd 7, 1993; "Is the cancellation of contracts by the receiver in bankruptcy under § 21 Insolvency Act effective ab initio?", ÖJZ 677, 1990 "The WTO Dispute Resolution System", HSG, 1999
Austrian editor Commercial Property Newsletter, International Law Office, since 2002; Pitkowitz/Schmitt, Defencetools in Arbitration Proceedings, AAYB, 2007, 183.
The Supreme Court recently dealt with the challenge of an arbitrator on the grounds that he had rolled his eyes during the pleading of a party's representative. Said arbitrator did not explicitly contest the accusation of having rolled his eyes. Nonetheless, he claimed to be able to objectively give a legal assessment of the facts of the case. This decision adds to the case law on the impartiality and independence of arbitrators, particularly with respect to an allegation of bias based on non-verbal reactions.
The Supreme Court recently determined the admissibility of conducting an arbitral hearing by means of a videoconference in the context of challenge proceedings. The court held that even where one party opposes, ordering a remote hearing in arbitration is admissible and does not constitute a reason to challenge the arbitral tribunal. This decision must be regarded as a precedential landmark decision as it appears to be the first decision of any supreme court worldwide to tackle this issue.
Under longstanding Supreme Court case law, defective reasoning did not previously constitute a severe enough violation of procedural public policy to set aside an award. However, in recent years, the court has reversed this trend and repeatedly held that non-adherence to certain reasoning standards in arbitral awards can be a ground to set aside an award. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court has provided further guidance on the required reasoning standards for awards.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether a final arbitral award on the reimbursement of costs violated Austrian public policy. The claimant had ultimately succeeded in the arbitration conducted under the rules of the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce. Nevertheless, the cost decision ordered it to reimburse the respondent's costs. The Supreme Court dismissed the claimant's request to set aside the cost decision.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether the fact that an arbitrator and a party counsel in one arbitration acted as co-counsel in another unrelated arbitration cast doubt on the arbitrator's independence and impartiality and thus disqualified him from acting as arbitrator in the arbitration under review. In its decision, the court correctly acknowledged the reality of the Austrian arbitration scene, which results in frequent contact between practitioners.
The Supreme Court recently considered the validity of a hybrid arbitration agreement which provided for the formation of a tribunal under the International Chamber of Commerce Rules of Arbitration to arbitrate at the Vienna International Arbitral Centre. In this context, the court also considered the consequences of violating procedural rules agreed by the parties and the tribunal's failure to issue a reasoned award.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether a rather brief and general notice of arbitration in ad hoc proceedings containing a nomination had properly initiated the arbitration proceedings and was thus sufficient grounds to request the Supreme Court to appoint an arbitrator, following the respondents' refusal to nominate one. The decision is a soft reminder for counsel that sending out incomplete notices of arbitration or nomination requests can be a time-consuming and costly endeavour.
The new Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) Rules of Arbitration and Mediation recently entered into force. They apply to all arbitration and mediation proceedings initiated after December 31 2017. The amendments to the VIAC rules allow for parties to conduct efficient and cost-effective arbitration and mediation proceedings, while offering enough flexibility when applying them in individual cases.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether proceedings (wrongly) commenced before an Austrian district court to set aside an arbitral award could nevertheless be continued. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court's exclusive jurisdiction regarding the setting aside of arbitral awards, the unusual facts of the case at hand led to the creation of an additional channel of appeals not provided for in the law.
The Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) recently obtained the right to administer domestic cases. The new law has received a warm welcome in Austria and is another sign of the quality of the VIAC's work and the confidence in its services. The VIAC has already established a working group to implement the proposed changes into the Rules of Arbitration and Conciliation in order to reflect this positive development.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether an arbitral award rendered in connection with licensing for the Austrian First Division Football League had to be set aside because of an alleged infringement of public policy. The decision is particularly interesting because the court had to tackle the sensitive issue of a possible infringement of substantive Austrian public policy in a situation where a party was forced to enter into an arbitration agreement with a dominant counterparty.
The Supreme Court recently considered if and under what circumstances defective reasoning of an arbitral award may lead to its annulment under the Arbitration Law. In a deviation from previous case law and views expressed by the majority of Austrian legal scholars, the court held that the requirement of sound reasoning is a fundamental principle of the Austrian legal system, and thus that an arbitrator's failure to comply with this constitutes a violation of procedural public policy.
In a recent decision the Supreme Court considered whether a lunch attended by a sole arbitrator and a party's counsel could give rise to doubts regarding the arbitrator's impartiality and independence. This decision serves as a reminder that arbitrators should disclose all circumstances that could give rise to a challenge and proceed with the utmost care when a challenge has been dismissed.
The Supreme Court recently issued clear instructions that when it comes to the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, Austrian law must not be applied where it is superseded by international treaties, such as the New York Convention. However, the convention contains no specific rules regarding the service of documents. Therefore, the decisive issue is whether national rules may nevertheless be applied in such a situation.
The Supreme Court recently considered, for the first time, the consequences of an arbitrator's failure to disclose circumstances that may give rise to doubts as to his or her impartiality and independence. In its decision, the court relied on both objective and subjective criteria – in particular, the weight of the non-disclosed fact and whether the non-disclosure was motivated by the arbitrator's desire to avoid a challenge.
A recent Supreme Court decision analysed whether parties to arbitral proceedings are still bound to pay for part of an arbitrator's services where the arbitrator is successfully challenged because of his or her conduct. The court held that, unless the work is found to be worthless, the arbitrator is entitled to receive remuneration.
The Supreme Court has ruled, for the first time, on the applicability of certain consumer protection laws in the context of corporate disputes and clarified the applicable law for assessing the capacity of a consumer when a foreign legal entity is involved. This decision makes clear that the Supreme Court will side with consumers in such cases.
The Supreme Court recently ruled for the first time on an issue that has been fiercely debated among legal scholars – namely, whether (and to what extent) grounds for challenging an arbitrator can also be raised in set-aside proceedings. The court ruled that where a challenge becomes known after the arbitration award was issued, only "blatant" grounds can be invoked in set-aside proceedings.
Following the revision of the Vienna Rules, another important development recently took place that is aimed at further increasing the attractiveness of Vienna as a venue for international arbitration. With the introduction of the Arbitration Amendment Act 2013, Parliament adopted a significant change to arbitration law in Austria, under which annulment claims will now be decided directly by the Supreme Court.
The Vienna International Arbitral Centre recently initiated a comprehensive review process aimed at modernising, overhauling and streamlining its rules. The process included a widely distributed user survey, a number of discussion rounds and a roadshow. The process is finally nearing completion and the centre is preparing to release the revisions publicly.
The Supreme Court recently clarified the relationship between state immunity and enforcement of an arbitral award in a case concerning art loaned by the Czech Republic to a Vienna museum for an exhibition. The Czech Republic argued that the works of art under dispute were cultural objects serving the country's sovereign aims, and thus exempt from enforcement proceedings. The Supreme Court rejected this defence.
The Supreme Court was recently faced with an inexecutable arbitration clause and clarified the interpretation of arbitration agreements and their boundaries. The court held that arbitration agreements must be interpreted primarily under procedural law; if an agreement refers to an arbitral institution which no longer exists, the agreement becomes inoperative only if it is impossible to reconstruct a comparable arbitration court.
The Vienna Commercial Court recently refused to set aside an arbitral award issued by a United Nations Commission on International Trade Law tribunal seated in Vienna that had awarded Danish-Polish Telecommunications Group €400 million against Telekomunikacja Polska. The court's decision is in line with the trend of Austrian case law to uphold arbitral awards.
The Supreme Court recently handed down a decision relating to the arbitrability of shareholder disputes in which it generally confirmed their arbitrability, but declared them to be subject to certain criteria. The decision is in line with the general approach to uphold arbitral awards taken by the Supreme Court since the introduction of the arbitration law. In fact, only in rare cases has the court set aside arbitral awards.
When industrial property is sold and transferred, the parties usually agree on what environmental liabilities are assumed by which party. However, under mandatory public laws the seller remains liable for certain environmental obligations and the buyer becomes liable for other environmental obligations, irrespective of contractual provisions to the contrary.
The Supreme Court recently handed down a decision concerning the disruption of a tenant's business by severe construction work carried out by the landlord, and held for the first time that corporate entities can claim compensation for discomfort. The damages will be consolation for the tenant, but will not induce landlords to take tenants' interests into consideration when planning such work.
In civil law jurisdictions, sale and purchase agreements frequently use key phrases which either trigger or exclude a set of legal rules laid down by statute, and which thus need not be explained in detail. Consequently, contracts require careful drafting. The Supreme Court recently handed down a decision concerning the contractual exclusion of a seller's warranty in a property transaction, with surprising results.
The Supreme Court recently applied the rules of unlawful return of equity to a rental agreement. A company and its majority shareholder agreed on rent payments of approximately three times the market value. The company realised that it was overpaying and argued that the excessive rent payments constituted an unlawful return of equity. The court's decision will have a significant impact on M&A transactions involving property.
Estate agents are entitled to a statutory commission if they facilitate the conclusion of a contract for the sale or lease of real property. In the absence of an agreement between the estate agent and the respective party to the agreement, the estate agent is entitled to claim the maximum amount as laid down in a regulation by the minister of economics. A new regulation, which recently entered into force, significantly reduces these limits.
Value added tax (VAT) regulations allow landlords either to charge 20% VAT on commercial leases or treat them as VAT exempt. In the latter case, VAT on any costs related to the lease becomes non-deductible. In commercial leases the parties usually agree to charge VAT on rent because the tenant is entitled to claim VAT input tax deductions. However, certain tenants are not entitled to claim input tax deductions.
The Supreme Court recently handed down a decision concerning a lease agreement in a shopping centre. Although the court once again stressed that there is no general rule on the legal qualification of shopping centre agreements, for the fourth time since its landmark 2006 decision, the court held that the agreement must be qualified as the rent of retail space rather than the lease of a business.
When restructuring an insolvent company, it is often necessary to divest all or part of its business. Such a sale is possible only if the purchaser is aware of the liabilities that come with the assets. In a recent decision the Austrian Supreme Court clarified the purchaser's liability for outstanding rent payments.
Section 12a of the Tenancy Act provides that if the shares in a company that rents property are sold, the landlord has the right to increase the rent to market level. The managing directors of such company must inform the landlord of the change in ownership. In a recent judgment the Supreme Court held that failure to notify the landlord can result in managing directors being held personally liable by future landlords.
As in most countries, landlords in Austria regularly require a security deposit as a condition of the rental agreement. This deposit provides the landlord with a degree of protection from any damage done to the rented premises or any failure on the part of the tenant. Despite its significant practical importance, no previous legal framework existed for the security deposit. A recent amendment to the Rent Act has filled this gap.
The EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive provides that when a building or apartment is sold or rented out, an energy performance certificate (EPC) must be made available by the owner of the building to the prospective buyer or tenant. This update outlines the circumstances in which an EPC must be produced and examines the consequences of violations of the Act on the Presentation of Energy Performance Certificates.
Under Austrian law the ownership of a building is generally vested with the owner of the land, unless a third party holds a development right with regard to the property or the building constitutes a superstructure. In a recent decision the Supreme Court called the criteria of what constitutes a superstructure into question.
In a recent judgment the Supreme Court ruled that a lease agreement for business premises in a shopping mall falls within the scope of the Rent Act, and thus the tenant should enjoy tenancy protection. Although this judgment confirms a previous judgment, it is still undecided whether the act generally applies to business premises in shopping malls.
The Developers' Contract Act concerns agreements for the acquisition of apartments or other real property before the construction of the building. The act generally intends to protect the buyer against onerous provisions dictated by the typically stronger developer. Parliament has recently passed a reform of this act.
In two recent decisions the Supreme Court held that certain clauses contained in widely used standard forms for rent agreements violate the Consumer Protection Act and the Tenancy Act, respectively. The court has now handed down the first follow-up decision on an individual agreement containing one of the clauses in question, albeit not in the context of a consumer contract.
Under Austrian tenancy protection laws landlords can, in general, terminate lease agreements only in certain specified circumstances (eg, if the tenant defaults on its lease obligations). A recent Supreme Court decision addressed the question of whether a landlord still has a right to terminate the tenancy agreement if its tenant is in arrears with monthly payments and subsequently files for bankruptcy.
In Autumn 2006 the Supreme Court held for the first time that the Consumer Protection Act also applies to the landlord-tenant relationship and blacklisted 39 clauses contained in a standard lease form. The court recently developed this jurisprudence by questioning the validity of repair and renewal obligations imposed on the tenant.
The Supreme Court has held a creative interpretation of the rules on the admissible height of buildings, which had become regular practice in Vienna, to be unlawful. As a result, all procedures involving building permit applications that would be rejected as a result of this ruling have been stayed pending the enactment of a new law.
In a recent ruling the Supreme Court analyzed a standard form widely used for rent agreements and held that 39 of the contract clauses were unlawful. These clauses ranged from minor matters, such as certain formal requirements, to the key clauses of lease agreements, such as the tenant's duty to maintain the rented property in good order.
The Supreme Court has ruled that a lease agreement concerning a shop situated in a shopping centre fell within the scope of the Rent Act and, therefore, the tenant enjoyed tenancy protection. If this decision is generally applied, landlords will find it increasingly difficult to terminate thousands of lease agreements for shops in shopping centres, airports and stations.
If an entity operating on leased premises is transferred in a share deal, the lessor is entitled to increase the rent to the market level, provided that the opportunity to exercise legal or economic influence in the entity subsequently changes. A recent Supreme Court decision not only explicitly confirms the change of control theory, but also comprehensively sets out its theoretical basis.
After several years of debate, Parliament has passed an amendment to the Tenancy Act. The amendment makes significant changes in certain areas of tenancy law, particularly in connection with (but not limited to) the termination of lease agreements. At the same time, Parliament has also amended the Condominium Act.
In a recent Supreme Court case a real estate agent was engaged by a seller. After a purchase agreement had been concluded, the agent requested a 3% commission from the purchaser. The purchaser refused to pay, arguing that he had not concluded an agency agreement with the agent and that he was not aware that the agent was also acting on his behalf. The Supreme Court rejected the agent's claim.
Under Austrian law, special provisions regulate superstructures. A 'superstructure' is a building which is erected on the land of another party with the express intention that it should not remain there forever. In a recent case the Supreme Court confirmed that the Rent Act applies (by analogy) to the lease of empty building lots for the purpose of constructing a superstructure there.
Section 12a of the Tenancy Act provides that if a legal entity rents business premises and the opportunity to exercise legal or economic influence in that entity subsequently changes (eg, through transfer of the majority of the issued share capital), the lessor becomes entitled to increase the rent to market levels. The Supreme Court has recently handed down several decisions interpreting this provision.
Following recent uncertainty over whether the lease agreements for shops and businesses in airports and stations fall within the scope of the Rent Act, the Supreme Court has held that such agreements are not protected by the act as they do not concern the lease of business premises.
In a recent decision the Supreme Court ruled out the possibility of agreeing arbitral clauses with respect to core provisions of rent agreements. It has also handed down a number of decisions in cases where tenants occupying commercial premises requested a rent reduction due to increased competition from new businesses opening in the immediate vicinity.
The Fifth Chamber of the Supreme Court recently handed down a decision on the lessor's right to increase rent in light of corporate transactions. The decision deviates significantly from past case law and creates a great degree of uncertainty as to the effects of corporate transactions on the retail sector in particular.
The new Real Estate Investment Funds Act took effect on September 1 2003. The act aims to make risk-diversified real estate investments accessible to a wide range of investors. Real estate investment funds are subject to relatively strict organizational rules in order to protect investors.
In separate rulings, the Supreme Court has ruled on the effects of a breach of a non-compete clause, premature termination of a fixed-term lease and detrimental use of the lease object. In particular, the non-compete clause ruling represents a landmark decision by the court.
Including: Real Property Law; Tenancy Law; Taxation.
Section 12a of the Rent Act provides that a lessor is entitled to increase rent to market level where (i) a business which is operated in the leased premises is sold, or (ii) a change of control occurs within the company operating the business. The Supreme Court recently handed down a number of significant judgments on the interpretation of this provision.
While the new Condominium Act restructures and in many places rephrases the provisions of the prior Condominium Act of 1975, some new provisions are introduced which introduce a range of interesting opportunities, as well as some potential pitfalls.