COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

For general information on COVID-19 please refer to the Ministry of Health website.

14 May 2020

These are general FAQ references. Your salesperson or property manager are available to answer further questions. This is not meant as legal advice and we recommend consulting your lawyer as required. Please note that as of 14 May we are still seeking clarification on some points/topics/best practices from REINZ. These will be updated as the information is made available.

General 

What plans does Barfoot & Thompson have in place to manage the risk and impact of COVID-19? 
We have a comprehensive response plan in place in relation to COVID-19 to help protect our people, clients, family, friends and communities. This covers all facets of our business including residential sales, property management, commercial, body corporate, projects and all of our support services. This plan has come into effect and you will now see changes in how open homes, viewings, auctions and property inspections are managed.

What level of response are we currently at? 
On Wednesday, 13 May at 11.59pm New Zealand moved to Alert Level 2. We have been following the Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines and have also been proactive and implemented additional controls to what the MOH has advised so that we are ahead of the curve with guidelines in place for managing day-to-day activities, such as auctions and open homes. Barfoot & Thompson has also drafted a COVID-19 Safety Plan specific for Alert Level 2. The plan has been drafted in line with the Government requirements and REINZ Alert Level 2 guidelines. 

Are our branches and the Support Centre open?
All branches will be open under Alert Level 2 with appropriate safety guidelines in place for physical distancing and hand hygiene measures. The same distancing and hygiene measures will apply to the offices and activities such as auctions in the Support Centre at 34 Shortland St. 

A sample of some of our guidelines include:

  • Replacing paper based documents with electronic ones.
  • Instructing staff not come into the office if they are sick, should be in self-isolation or have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
  • Registration for all upon entrance to a branch or the Support Centre for contact tracing.
  • We will have hand sanitiser available and we will be stepping up our cleaning services.
  • Social distancing measures will be strictly adhered to within all of our buildings.
 

What will happen as the situation evolves? 
Our strategy has been designed for swift response. In addition to protecting staff and customers, we have planned for the continuity of business across all divisions using a range of digital and other solutions. We are monitoring things closely and will continue to update our plans and practices as new official information and advice becomes available. We remain true to our company values and will continue to put the safety of our customers, people and community first.

 

Residential, Rural and Lifestyle Sales and Commercial Sales

Open homes and property viewings

How are open homes being managed now?
Open homes can take place under Alert Level 2. There are guidelines which must be adhered to for open homes and private viewings. (See private viewings below for details.) We have strict guidelines and many protective measures in place that were developed by REINZ to keep our people and customers safe.

If you do not wish to hold an open home you can still opt to conduct private viewings or even virtual open homes or viewings. Speak to your salesperson about alternatives.

What about private viewings?
Open homes and private viewings may take place, provided contact tracing systems are in place and viewing can occur safely e.g. physical distancing (2m minimum between different bubbles) can be maintained at all times, hygiene etiquette is adhered to, hands sanitised when entering and exiting property, open home/viewing is contactless, etc).

The number of people in a home at one time must be limited to ensure physical distancing (2m minimum between different bubbles) can be maintained at all times. This may mean staggering access to the property and requiring attendees to wait outside the property until prior attendees leave.

We will retain registers for at least 28 days in case they are required by Worksafe or the Ministry of Health. At a glance, these are some of our ongoing health and safety measures:

  • In all cases, no more than 100 people may attend at any one time. Physical distancing of 2m must be maintained at all times between different bubbles.

  • A contact tracing register must be in place.

  • Your salesperson will ask you to complete an online private viewing form.

  • Queue management processes/measures will be in place to ensure attendees waiting to enter maintain physical distancing.

  • If a property is tenanted, the consent of the tenant is required to hold an open home or private viewing. Tenant permission cannot be unreasonably withheld, as per the Residential Tenancies Act.

  • If possible, vendors/occupants/tenants will be asked to leave premises while viewing takes place.

  • The open home or private viewing to be contactless where possible. To enable this the salesperson will open any doors/cupboards before the open home/private viewing(s).

  • Where possible, attendees must pre-register electronically and provide COVID-19 information and hygiene expectations to attendees beforehand.

How many people can attend a private viewing? 
A maximum of two people from the attendee’s ‘extended bubble’ can attend a private viewing and maximum of one licensee. We will retain attendance registers for 28 days in case they are requested by Worksafe or the Ministry of Health.

Can the owners/tenants be present during a showing?
It is recommended that clients/occupants/tenants leave premises while a viewing takes place. 

How are we coordinating the entrance and touring of the property?
Before the showing commences, all attendees will be emailed COVID-19 information, including hygiene expectations. Attendees will be instructed to wait in their vehicles until the salesperson advises they can enter, to ensure that there is no contact between attendees. Shoes must be removed prior to entry and left outside the property. The salesperson will open the front door first and leave it open for the duration of the showing. No surfaces are to be touched. 

How will the showing be managed once we have entered the property?
Physical distancing of 2m is to be maintained at all times during the showing. Hand sanitiser will be available, where possible, for use by all attendees entering and exiting property and all private viewings will be kept brief. 

What about vendors who have recently been unwell, returned from overseas or been in self-isolation? 
If any member of the household is in self-isolation or is unwell, viewings should not take place.

How will inspections be managed?
Inspections by professionals may take place. If a property is tenanted, the consent of the tenant is required. Tenant permission cannot be unreasonably withheld, per the Residential Tenancies Act. We will record contact details of any professional visiting the property and the date they attended, to assist with contact tracing and hold these records for a minimum of 28 days.

What about photographers, cleaners, home stagers and landscapers? May they enter a property?
All professionals related to these tasks may enter the premises as long as they follow distancing protocol, their presence needs to be recorded and they should be instructed to follow hygiene practises. 

Can viewings be held for people who live outside of the region of a home?
Yes, regional travel is permitted during Level 2.

How will contracts and other documentation be managed?
Agreements can be negotiated and executed in person, provided it can be done so safely (e.g. physical distancing (2m minimum) can be maintained at all times, hygiene etiquette is adhered to, hands sanitised when entering and exiting property, open home is contactless, etc). Each party must use their own pens and there are still contactless methods available.

Are settlements and moving houses permitted during Level 2?
Travel between regions is now permitted and moving services are open for business.

Auctions

How are auctions being managed now? 
We are at Alert Level 2 as of Wednesday 12 May 11.59pm and in-house auctions are permitted. In-house auctions will be available again from Monday 18 May. Please check the schedule for details. These are just some of the safety guidelines and procedures we will follow: 

  • Contact tracing for entrance to any Barfoot & Thompson building. 

  • Seating and standing areas will have a physical distancing criteria of 2m at all times between different bubbles.

  • In all cases, no more than 100 people may attend an auction.

  • We will have hand sanitiser available for use before and after auction and will display necessary COVID-19 information and hygiene notices.

  • People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible and take additional precautions when leaving home.

Online auctions and phone bidding are still available for vendors who prefer not to, or are unable to, attend in person.

What if I no longer want to sell by auction?
There are other sale methods available including negotiation and tender. There is a comprehensive overview available on our website

How many people can be present at a live in-house auction?
At this point, attendance will be limited to 100 people per the governmental guidelines regarding gatherings but each bubble must be 2m apart. Should this change, we will adjust this accordingly.

 

Can vendors choose either in-room or online now? Can people still bid by phone? 

All auctions will now be conducted online as a permanent supplement to our in-house auction service. Yes, there is the ability to bid by phone should you choose to do so as long as you have completed the appropriate form(s).

In-house auctions are being limited to two hour sessions. How will people know when their auction is scheduled?
An auction must be no longer than two hours. We will be running two auction lots one after the other, then clearing the room, cleaning all surfaces and then inviting the next two lots of bidders and vendors into the rooms. To know where the auctions are up to you can watch the streaming online in real time via the barfoot.co.nz website.  

 

Once you have  registered, if your auction is not next up you will be asked to leave the building. For those inside spacing will be marked on the floor. We will also have spacing on the ground outside the building curving around to the left, looking out to Shortland St, under cover. We will have a number of staff assisting with ensuring that physical distancing is adhered to.

How can I watch an auction online?
Our auctions are now available live and in real time on our website at https://www.barfoot.co.nz/auctions-live. Anyone may watch including the general public.

How am I able to keep 2 metres from my salesperson at an auction and still have a private conversation?
You will be able to sit next to your salesperson and communicate freely with them. Let your salesperson know if you are uncomfortable with this arrangement ahead of time. If you do have concerns, then you can always text each other while in the auction room to provide guidance.

May an interested party bid in person or via phone without registering for the online auction?
Absolutely! If you do not wish to use our online bidding platform (which does require registration), you can still view the auction live on our website and bid by phone. You will need to complete a telephone form prior. Please note, that all in-person attendees will be required to register their presence before entry to the auction room is permitted for the purposes of contact tracing. 

May vendors and salespeople use private auction conference rooms?
Yes, these are still available for use and they will be cleaned regularly.

 

Property Management - Landlords

With job losses - what happens if a tenant can no longer afford the rent payments?

Where we might normally immediately issue a 14-day notice after one day, or a lodge to the Tenancy Tribunal, we wish to open the lines of communication between the tenant and landlord as soon as possible. We will help this happen by talking through the various options that you may be in a position to consider regarding your tenants’ rental payments at this time. 


There will ensure that there is communication around what WINZ might be able to offer a tenant, or whether the owner's insurance is in place to cover such events. 


Will my property continue to be marketed?

Yes, the marketing of rental properties can take place as usual at Level 2 through online channels. Viewings are able to take place at Level 2 subject to certain conditions. The number of people per viewing will be limited and government guidelines will be adhered to.


What happens if a tenant tests positive for the virus?

Anyone who tests positive is expected to follow the Ministry of Health guidelines.


What happens if my property manager becomes ill?

As a large business, we have many resources and staff members that can cover should a fellow property manager fall ill. Our property managers can work from home. 


If a landlord gives a tenant a rent reduction can they ask them to pay back the difference between the reduced rent and normal rent later on? 

If a landlord agrees to reduce a tenant's rent for a set time period, then on the expiry of that date the rent will revert to the normal rent amount which is payable under the tenancy agreement. Landlords cannot ask their tenant to pay back the difference between the full rent and the reduced rent later on. After the rent reduction period expires, the return to the normal rent amount is not a rent increase. 

 

A payment plan requiring the tenant to pay back rent at a later date is also possible and will be discussed with landlords and tenants.  

 

We are encouraging landlords to consider temporary rent reductions if they are in a position to do so, even for a short time. This is in line with the government's guidance that landlords should act reasonably towards tenants at this time if the tenant cannot afford to pay the full rent. 

 

A tenant was due to move out during the lockdown, are they allowed to stay in the house now? 

Yes, the tenant has the legal right to remain in the premises. For three months from 26 March 2020, tenancies can only be terminated in very limited circumstances. Any notices given by the landlord prior 26 March 2020 to terminate a tenancy are of no effect. If your tenant has given notice before that date, they are within their rights to withdraw it and stay in the property. If it was a fixed-term tenancy that was expiring during the lockdown, it will become periodic. Tenants can give notice to leave the property in accordance with usual requirements. 

 

The same rules continue to apply under Level 2 and until 26 June 2020. Although moving houses is permitted, tenants cannot be forced to move and are allowed to remain in the property except in very limited circumstances where termination is permitted.  

 

Can a landlord ask a tenant to leave if they are in rent arrears? 

Under the new rules, you can only apply to the Tribunal to terminate the tenancy if the tenant has at least 60 days of arrears. The Tribunal can refuse to give an order requiring the tenants to leave if they have made reasonable endeavours to pay and if after balancing the interests of the tenant and the landlord, they consider termination is not justified. We are working hard to direct tenants to WINZ and have had some success in obtaining payment for arrears through WINZ.  

 

Can viewings for prospective tenants be held at Level 2? 

Viewings can be scheduled for vacant properties and properties with tenants provided they have given permission for the viewing to take place, and consent to the property manager and prospective tenants entering the property to view. Pre-viewing checklists, visitor registers and precautions signs will also be used. 


Prospective tenants will need to register to view the property through our online system which records their contact details (if needed for tracing purposes). They will be asked to answer several questions before they are approved to view the property such as whether they are sick, or have been overseas. 


Both property managers and tenants attending the viewing must limit touch of anything at the property, and apply social distancing as much as they can. Good cleanliness practices are essential such as use of sanitiser before entering and on leaving the property. PPE is not compulsory for prospective tenants or staff but can be worn at personal discretion.   

 

How is moving in and moving out handled at Level 2? 

Under Level 2, property managers will be able to complete an entry and exit inspection if a property is vacant. Good cleanliness will be observed at all times, including use of sanitiser. Tenancy agreements will be signed electronically where possible. 


On the move-in day, keys can be left for tenants by property managers at an agreed location at the property while the property manager waits nearby. No keys will be physically handed over to tenants personally. Keys will be sanitised before any exchange.

 

When moving out, the keys should be left by tenants at an agreed place at the property and a confirmation sent to the property manager when they have vacated the property. Keys will then be sanitised.

 

 

Property Management - Tenants  

I am interested in a property can viewings be conducted at Level 2?
Not to worry! Viewings can be scheduled for vacant properties and properties. 

I am a tenant and my property is available to lease. Will there be viewings during Level 2?
Yes, your property will be shown. However, you will need to provide written permission for the viewing to take place. You will also need to give consent to the property manager and prospective tenants entering the property to view. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of people entering your property at this time please communicate that to your property manager.

 

A maximum of ten people can view a property at each time slot. Physical distancing will apply inside the house and to any prospective tenants waiting outside, and measures will be put in place to spread people out accordingly.       

 

How will you track who has been/will be in my property for a viewing?

Prospective tenants must register to view your property through our online system which records contact details (if needed for tracing purposes). They will be asked to answer several questions before they are permitted to view the property such as whether they are sick or have been overseas. If they have not registered they will be turned away.

 

How will you ensure that viewings are safe for me as a tenant?

Both property managers and tenants attending your viewing must limit touch of anything at the property, and apply social distancing as much as they can. Good cleanliness practices are essential such as use of sanitiser before entering and on leaving the property. 

 

Will we carry out inspections at Level 2? If so, what precautions are in place? 

Routine inspections will recommence under Level 2 and all safety measures will be in place as per government guidelines. You must first give us permission to enter your property. However, you cannot unreasonably withhold access. If you are concerned or worried about your safety please speak to your property manager and we will do all we can to address concerns or make other arrangements.

 

I want to move soon? How will entry and exit inspections work?

Please don’t be concerned. All entry and exit inspections can be carried out during Level 2. Your property manager conducting the inspection will take all health and safety precautions as appropriate, including good cleanliness practices such as using sanitiser. 

 

As a tenant, what do I do if someone in my household is required to self-isolate, or tests positive for the virus?
We are asking that you contact your property manager immediately. Any disclosures will be treated in the strictest confidence. 

 

What if my property manager is off sick?
We are a large business, we have many resources and staff members that can cover should your property manager fall ill. We currently have the capability to allow our property managers to work effectively full-time from home and you can contact them as needed. 

 

What should I do if I cannot pay rent?
We understand that recent events may have caused financial strains. However, you are legally required to continue paying rent as per your obligations under Section 40 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. If for any reason your ability to pay rent by its required date may be compromised, we are asking you to contact your property manager immediately. We are urging open and quick communication and we cannot help if we do not know there may be an issue.

We may ask you to seek advice from WINZ, your employer or your bank to see what can be done. If you cannot get assistance from these sources, we will talk through the options for dealing with rent arrears, such as a payment plan. Please don’t panic, we will do all we can to work out an amicable solution.

 

Will general repairs be conducted under Level 2?
Maintenance works can continue so please contact your property manager if there is a need. We will organise contractors/tradespeople and will give our contractors instruction of our guidelines. Contractors are expected to adhere to government guidelines also.  If you have concerns simply give us a call.

 

I usually pay my rent via cash or EFTPOS payments in a branch. Can I do that during Level 2?

Some banks will take cash payments, however many are limiting the numbers of branches that are open and their hours. Also, some ATMs have deposit functions and credits can be made via transfer. For those tenants that do not use internet or telephone banking, our property managers will work with tenants to find alternative measures when required. 

 

What are moving in and moving out expectations at Level 2?
Under Level 2, property managers can complete an entry and exit inspection if a property is vacant. Good cleanliness will be observed at all times including use of sanitiser.  

 

Tenancy agreements will be signed electronically if at all possible. 

 

On the move-in day, keys can be left for you by your property managers at an agreed location at the property while they wait nearby. No keys will be physically handed over to you personally and the keys will be sanitised.

 

When moving out, you should leave keys at an agreed upon place at your property. Please send a confirmation sent to your property manager when you have vacated the property. 

 

Are rent increases permitted during Level 2?

The government has announced a freeze on rent increases for a minimum of six months from 23 March 2020. This means a rent increase notice from a landlord will not have the effect of increasing your rent, unless the rent increase has already taken effect. 

 

How are tenancies coming to an end or new tenancies that we scheduled to start during lockdown being managed?

If you have given notice to leave before 26 March 2020, you can still withdraw that notice. If your landlord has given you notice to leave before 26 March 2020, that notice is not effective. If you are on a fixed-term tenancy which expires between 26 March 2020 and 26 June 2020 it will automatically become a periodic tenancy. This means you can give 21 days notice to end that tenancy, or the tenancy agreement for a new property if you cannot move into it. 

 

Moving is permitted at Alert Level 2 provided that care is taken to observe the social distancing rules set by the government to limit physical contact and keep people safe. For example, moving companies are allowed to operate but all people involved in moving should stay distant from others during the moving process as much as possible. You will need to clean the property prior to leaving (as per usual) and discuss with your property manager key transfer arrangements. Note, cleaning services are now permitted to be used during Level 2.

 

Body Corporate

What is the plan if a Body Corporate has a General or Committee meeting coming up?
Meetings should not be held in person. While New Zealand legislation requires a body corporate to convene face-to-face Annual General Meetings (‘AGM’) within 15 months of the previous AGM, alternative arrangements will need to be made. 

We are working with our clients on an individual basis regarding any upcoming meetings and options for these. In some cases, the meeting may be postponed or we will look to hold the meeting electronically, where practical, with owners to submit postal voting forms so we have their clear voting preferences, as well as a proxy form to achieve quorum. As the situation continues to change, we will keep our owners updated with as much notice as possible.

The Auckland District Law Society (‘ADLS’) is also currently consulting with MBIE seeking law changes for Bodies Corporate or at least confirmation that, where Bodies Corporate fail to hold an AGM within the 15-month time-frame or elect to use electronic mediums in the current pandemic, they would not be seen to be breaching the requirements of the Act.

A bill was introduced before Parliament Tuesday 5 May that has passed its first and second reading to amend various Acts, including the UTA 2010. The bill proposes to amend the UTA to allow remote General meetings by video link or audio link from 25 March and through the period that the “Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020” is in force, and possibly for longer. 

What is our recommendation for closing off common areas? 

Generally, most common areas such as lifts and stairs are required to be used by all owners and tenants. At this stage, we recommend increased cleaning in these areas regularly, along with the appropriate COVID-19 information displayed, and to make hand sanitiser readily available. Bodies Corporate should also monitor official guidance from the Ministry of Health (MoH) who has given advice for building managers and people living in apartments.

If there are areas that could potentially have access restricted to facilitate the cleaning, or are of concern, this should be discussed on a case-by-case basis with the Building Manager, Committee and your Account Manager.

What is our recommendation for closing facilities such as playgrounds, spas, pools and the gym? 

These may be areas that residents have missed and enjoy using. We suggest the Committee and Building Managers follow Government and MoH guidelines, however, play it safe. Discuss reopening any facilities on a case-by-case basis with your Barfoot & Thompson Account Manager first; and only do so provided the complex can strictly manage these areas safely, and under COVID-19 protocols. We recommend that if any facilities are reopened, clear signage is used to remind people of the protocols instructed by Government and any additional by the Body Corporate.

 

Do we recommend not allowing deliveries such as groceries and meal or food delivery services?

No, these are essential supplies required by the residents. We recommend clear signage on the entrance requesting the delivery person to contact the recipient and either arrange to have the deliveries left somewhere safe or wait outside the entrance foyer doors, put down the parcel, and the recipient collects the parcel once the courier is at a safe physical distance (at least two meters). If a recipient is unwell or a vulnerable person and therefore cannot leave their apartment, have their family/support networks (or possibly a neighbour) help arrange for the delivery to be put outside their apartment's door. This will minimise the flow of people through the building.

What are our recommendations to focus on for cleaning?
Increased regular cleaning of common areas including all public touch points such as elevator buttons, door handles, hand railings, surfaces and mail rooms is still recommended.

Who covers the cost of additional cleaning in common areas?

The Body Corporate will need to cover the cost of any general additional cleaning requirements.

Are contractors returning to site to carry out standard maintenance under Level 2?

We recommend that contractors resuming services and requesting access to site provide the Body Corporate with their updated Health and Safety Plan, including COVID-19 precautions and protocols that they have in place to access the site safely and carry out their work. Residents should not approach contractors and must maintain a minimum distance of 2m at all times. We ask that everyone remains patient as contractors begin to resume services safely, and while some contractors may not be able to return to site just yet. We note that some Bodies Corporate may incur additional charges, for example from their grounds contractors, for time and/or greenwaste, to bring their grounds back up to standard.

 

If there are unit repairs or planned renovations/improvements, that involve tradespeople being onsite - can this work proceed?

Yes, subject to following COVID-19 alert Level 2 safety restriction protocols and any additional building protocols put in place by the committee or building manager, for the safety of all residents. Ideally, only essential work should be carried out at this time, and we recommend playing it safe. If an owner has a contractor coming to site to carry out work in their unit, they should discuss this with their Building Manager or Barfoot & Thompson Account Manager first. All contractors must sign in and out of the building and their information should be recorded.

 

Are owners allowed to prevent residents from having visitors and guests that have recently travelled overseas?

The Body Corporate does not have any powers to restrict behaviours. These can only be enforced by the government agencies responsible. People arriving from overseas are continuing to be placed in managed-isolation for 14 days, or quarantine if they are showing symptoms. It can be easy for people to feel a little panic and stress at this time and potentially overreact or have inaccurate facts. Hence, this is why we are calling for calm, patience, kindness and tolerant interaction. Care for your neighbours. If you have any serious concerns, contact your Barfoot & Thompson Account Manager, Building Manager or Committee for advice. For instances of people not following Government guidelines please follow the reporting instructions from the MoH or NZ Police.

Should guests coming and going for visits to residents be monitored?
At Level 2 the Government has advised we can safely start to connect and socialise with close friends and family, with restricted gathering sizes (for now 10 people maximum). We encourage that Bodies Corporate request all visitors and contractors sign-in safely as they enter and depart the building. This is so we/they can respond appropriately should the Body Corporate be notified of someone, who has been in the building, and has subsequently contracted the virus. Government advice is that everybody should keep a daily record of their own movements and who they have been in contact with, to help with contract tracing. These records should be kept for a minimum of 28 days.

 

What do we recommend to residents in regards to elevator use and building entrances?

During Level 2, reduce, we still recommend that residents only share the elevator with those residing within their individual apartment. Play it safe and make sure to follow government guidelines. Wait for the next elevator if it is already occupied or where possible, take the stairs. We also recommend that residents/visitors be mindful not to linger for long periods of time in the common entrance foyers, as this is the entry/exit for many residents.

 

What obligation is there to notify residents about a positive case in the building?

It is not our responsibility to manage public health communications and the appropriate government agencies will manage communication in the event of a confirmed case. If a body corporate becomes aware of someone that has contracted the infection, the identity and specific location must be kept confidential and only disclosed to parties that need to know. Any concerns should be discussed on a case-by-case basis with the Building Manager, Committee and your Account Manager.

 

What should an owner do if, due to the COVID-19 situation, their income is jeopardised and they cannot pay their body corporate levies?

Ask them to contact their Barfoot & Thompson Account Manager who will do their best to work with them on finding a solution with minimal impact to them.

 

Whom should residents call with questions?

They should contact their Barfoot & Thompson Account Manager, our office or their Building Manager should they have any questions. For COVID-19 health advice and information, contact the dedicated Healthline team (for free). The number is 0800 358 5453 (or for international SIMs +64 9 358 5453).

What if my Barfoot & Thompson point of contact is off sick?

Each Account Manager has an assistant who is very familiar with your complex, along with a team leader who will both be available to assist with any matters. Our accounts and administration team will ensure the smooth operation of your complex continues regardless.

 

What is the most effective way to communicate developments and updates?

We recommend confirming the key points of contact for your complex, as well as clarifying the preferred channels of communication such as email, text or social media so that people know which to check for current information.

 

Commercial Asset Management 

A tenant has just advised us that their employee has tested positive for the virus. What are notice and disclosure obligations as real estate owners and managers?
It is not our responsibility to manage public health communications. The appropriate government agencies will manage communication in the event of a confirmed case. 

What if a tenant cannot meet their rental payment?
Provide them with the following information:

1) Check to see if you are eligible for any Government grants (wage subsidy, sole trader or small business) as these funds may assist with their cashflow.

2) We encourage them to approach their bank regarding a mortgage or loan payment deferral.

3) If they are still unable to pay rent check the Deed of Lease. Standard Auckland District Law Society (ADLS) leases drafted after 2012 on a sixth edition form include a No Access clause (clause 27.5). This clause allows for a "fair proportion" of rent and operating expenses to cease to be charged in the case of an emergency that restricts them from accessing your tenancy. The "fair proportion" of rent and operating expenses is to be agreed u[on between the tenant and landlord and may differ on a case-by-case basis depending on the landlord and depending on specific circumstances of the particular situation.

If you do not have the No Access clause in your lease you have limited legal remedies to receive any form of rent relief from your Landlord.

4) Even if you do not have a No Access clause in your lease and you are unable to pay your rent you should communicate with your landlord as soon as possible advising him of your specific situation. Advise the landlord of the following:

a) The impact on your cashflow as a result of the lockdown including your best guess at your income profile for the remainder of the financial year.

b) What efforts you have made to mitigate the situation through receiving cash flow assistance from the government and your bank.

c) What measures you have made to reduce costs in your business.

You should also state specifically what level of rent relief you are seeking and for how long to assist you through the pandemic.

If you do not have a No Access clause or are seeking relief for a period longer than the lockdown you should consider what concessions you may be prepared to provide the landlord in return for granting you additional relief such as, additional lease length, deferred rental payback and or increased future rent.

What are their obligations as a landlord to modify regular cleaning and health and safety practices?
Either you or the landlord will need to engage their in-house cleaning team or hire a special service to deep clean and disinfect all common areas affected. These common areas include restrooms, elevators, lobbies, etc. Tenants and occupants of the steps taken and how things will proceed going forward.

Who is responsible to pay for the extra cleaning services?
All costs for deep cleaning should be a pass-through expense under most lease forms, including deep cleaning if handled for all tenants across the board - if that is a feasible approach for your building. If any cleaning is done only for some tenants, most leases require that tenant to pay for the “over-standard” services it receives.

Are there any common areas that they should close as a precaution?
Please follow MOH guidelines.

What should a business do if an employee has tested positive? Should they operate business as usual after the person has been quarantined?
Please refer to MOH guidelines.

What about businesses with frontline exposure who have been visited by a person who has tested positive? What is a landlord’s obligation to inform people who may have been in contact?
Some landlords are taking the proactive step of notifying others of the locations of the businesses visited by an affected individual prior to testing positive. This can include workers at places such as the coffee bar, dry cleaners, daries, restaurants, etc.) This enables potentially exposed persons to seek testing if they so choose.

If someone in a building tests positive for the virus does the building need to close entirely?
If there are essential services operating then there is no need to close the entire building. We do recommend that open and shared spaces and amenities be closed until the virus threat has been resolved. At all times follow any directions set by the government.

Of course extra and consistent cleaning of all common areas in buildings or offices needs to continue but do landlords need to do extra cleaning for tenants? 

It depends, but probably not. The exact terms of each individual tenant’s lease will govern here.

Do landlords have an obligation to screen visitors in the lobby by asking questions or scanning temperatures?
No, at least not yet. Currently, only essential businesses should be operating.

What landlords know, in general?
Building ownership and management have a general duty of care and a duty to safeguard its tenants and occupants which includes cleaning, disclosing positive tests and working with tenants and occupants to follow government guidelines for addressing the threats of this virus.

Do tenants have a right to stop paying their rent due to the virus?
No, in most cases, subject to lease provisions which are non-standard. We encourage open communication between tenants and landlords.

Can owners be sued by tenants if a person in their building tests positive?
Every situation will vary. However, in general, an owner would need to be shown to have been negligent or acted intentionally or recklessly in causing the tenant to catch the virus and demonstrate that there is a direct and irrefutable link to the property.

What, if anything positive, can come from this?
Owners should view the COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to evaluate their policies and procedures to assure that they are prepared not just for the current outbreak, but also for future ones.

Who should clients/landlords/tenants contact with additional questions or concerns about this situation?
Please contact Tyrell Snelling at 021 555 039.

Projects

What happens if construction ceases on a building where people have purchased a unit?
The individual construction company will have its own health and safety policy in regards to this (and they will vary) and this would be well outside our scope of control. Be assured, all parties will want construction to start ASAP once a safe work environment is established and we will do all we can do to help move the process along.

Will all Projects continue to be marketed as usual?
This will be determined on a case-by-case basis. We may stop marketing for a period if there is too much unrest and disruption. However, this will be something decided upon in cooperation and in consultation with our clients. Showrooms are currently unavailable.

What happens now that the Projects office is closed?
We are available via phone or email and have remote access to all our business systems. We are fully capable of conducting Zoom or Skype meetings as needed with our clients, colleagues, salespeople and customers. In short, we do not anticipate any disruption to our capacity at this time.