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In the past week, readers have reached out with questions. We asked property experts to give us the lowdown

The lockdown has shifted the country into uncharted waters and many people have important questions regarding their properties, loans, landlords, and tenants.

Here are some questions answered by the experts:

Q: Can a sale agreement of land be signed virtually, in other words, with a digital signature?

A: No. This is because such sales agreements specifically state that written signatures are required. Email can, however, be used to facilitate the signing of such documents. “For example, if A was to make an offer to buy B’s property, A can print the offer, sign it in pen, scan and email it to B. If B accepts the offer, he can print the offer, sign in acceptance and scan the signed agreement back to A. Thereby, a valid and binding agreement of the sale of land is concluded.” – Attorneys Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes (STTB)

Q: Can I claim a tax deduction if I work from a home office?

A: “Having a dedicated home office may allow you to claim a tax deduction from Sars if you are a full-time employee who spends more than half your working hours in your home office, a commission-earner whose employer does not provide you with an office or a small business owner or freelancer who always works from home. To claim a deduction, you will need to have a specific part of your home which is used exclusively as your office and then calculate the square meterage of that space as a percentage of the total area of your home. You need to check with your accountant or tax practitioner for specifics but, generally, salaried employees are allowed to deduct from their income this percentage of the total cost of anything relating to the whole property, including rent or interest on a bond; any repairs to the premises; cleaning and maintenance costs; rates and taxes and wear and tear. Commission earners can also deduct the same percentage of all their related business expenses, including phone charges, stationery, repairs to office equipment and courier services, for example, while sole proprietors and freelancers can deduct all their business expenses.” If you have a home-based business that is registered for VAT, you can also claim VAT input credits on the costs of maintaining the premises in which that business is housed. But you should be careful not to claim a VAT input credit on the cost of any additions or alterations you make to your property to accommodate a home office or home business, the reason being if you claim a credit for building work done to add an office, for example, or to convert the outbuildings, the receiver will expect you to include VAT in the price of the whole property when the time comes to sell it.” – Gerhard Kotzé, managing director of RealNet

Q: Can a tenant cancel their lease agreement in the usual way?

A: “The tenant still has the right to cancel the lease agreement by giving 20 business days’ notice. The landlord’s right to charge an early cancellation penalty remains in force and, should the landlord suffer damages as they are not able to find a replacement tenant due to the lockdown, the landlord would still be able to charge loss of rent as part of these damages. It is unclear in law at the moment as to whether the days during the lockdown can be counted as business days. Until there is a directive from the judge president, we have to treat business days as business days, in which case, the tenant would be entitled to cancel the lease but not be entitled to vacate until after the lockdown.” – TPN and attorneys SSLR Inc

Q: What happens to an eviction order now?

A: “An eviction order that was granted before the lockdown can’t currently be enforced as sheriffs will, in all likelihood, not be working. In an instance where you are busy with an eviction, always deal directly with the attorney who handled the matter. It is extremely important tenants who have not paid their rent are placed on terms and the necessary letter of demand has been sent so you can act immediately after the lockdown has been lifted.” – TPN and attorneys SSLR Inc

Q: Are banks implementing measures to help homeowners, and other borrowers who anticipate they will have trouble making loan repayments? 

A: Yes, but consumers need to contact them as soon as possible. In most cases, they will also offer assistance only to clients whose accounts are currently up to date.

ABSA: Homeowners who would like to apply for relief should mail bondrs@ absa.co.za.

The bank is offering opt-in payment relief to all customers whose accounts were up to date prior to the Covid19 crisis. This could take the form of reduced monthly payments for an agreed period or deferred payments for three months. However, interest will be capitalised for the relief period and the existing loan period will be extended, so those who are able to continue paying now are advised to do so.

FNB: Customers who need payment relief are advised to use the usual digital and assisted banking channels and a Covid19 icon on the FNB banking app. The bank will provide relief across all types of loans and credit arrangements its clients may have (until) June 3, provided they are currently in good standing. It is also offering reduced interest rates on any Covid19 interventions and will not be taking fees on relief measures.

Nedbank: Customers who need payment relief should call 0860 110 702 and homeowners who need help can email HLCollections@Nedbank.co.za or MoratoriumRequest@Nedbank.co.za.

Standard Bank: Small businesses and students can apply for instant payment relief. There are also various debt relief options for other clients, including those with home loans. They can email debtcarecentre@standardbank.co.za or call 0860 123 000.

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