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#lockdown: All your property questions answered

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Were you in the process of buying, selling or renting a property when the 21-day restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic was announced? We asked property experts to explain exactly how this will affect you

The national lockdown has understandably left many property buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords seeking clarity about how they should proceed over the 21-day period, particularly if they had planned to move home.

Property experts answered some of the most important questions:

Q: Will the Deeds Office be closed during the lockdown? If so, how will that affect new property purchases:

A: “Yes, the Deeds Offices are closed. Matters that were not registered by March 25 will stand over until the Deeds Office becomes operational again.

“We suggest the registration and occupation dates on new agreements of sale are, for the time being, not determined, but rather specified as ‘as soon as reasonably possible in light of the Covid-19 situation and surrounding impact thereof’.

“Conveyancers and agents will need to collaborate more closely than ever before to ensure communication channels with clients are open and transparent.

“Clients will need to be made aware of the practical implications, delays and uncertainties surrounding, more specifically, timelines in the process.” – Yael Geffen, chief executive Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty

Q: What happens if I have sold my house and need to vacate it during the lockdown period?

A: “We have consulted with our legal advisors, STBB, and because this is unprecedented, as it stands it is solely an agreement between the buyer and the seller. Due to the lockdown, and the closure of the Deeds Office, transfers will not be able to go through.” – Mike Greeff, chief executive Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate.

Q: If I have sold my house, and the new owner needs to move in during the lockdown period, are they still able to move in? If so, what am I to do if I am still living in the house?

A: “Agreements will need to be amended and addendums signed in respect of occupation and possession, as well as costs related thereto. This is an issue which must be negotiated between the parties.

“We suggest having a frank discussion with both seller and purchaser regarding their living arrangements and reflecting same in an addendum. Parties are to be encouraged to have a bit of leniency and deviate from the agreed occupational rent in light of the fact that it is physically impossible to move at this stage.

“My suggestion would be that the occupational rent be waived during the lockdown period and that the property merely be maintained by the party in occupation.” – Yael Geffen, chief executive Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty

Q: If I have signed all the necessary documents for the purchase of a property, am I able to get out of the deal at this time or put it on hold?

A: “Unless the buyer is able to prove that performance is absolutely impossible, agreements proceed as per usual (except for time periods which may be delayed). So, for example, if an agreement is subject to a bond being approved during the lockdown period, the buyer must do everything possible in order to obtain the bond or negotiate an extension, which needs to be recorded in an addendum.” – Yael Geffen, chief executive Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty

Q: What happens to tenants who need to move out on April 1?

A: “Moving home is not exempt from the lockdown restrictions. The tenant will be well within his or her rights not to move during the lockdown period, and will still be responsible for the rental for that month unless he or she can negotiate otherwise for some sort of delayed payment.” – Marina Constas, director at BBM Attorneys

“If you have been given notice, or have given notice, to vacate your current home by April 1, you need to talk to your landlord about getting a month’s extension. This will, of course, make you liable for another month’s rent where you are.” – Andrew Schaefer, managing director property management company Trafalgar

Q: If I am supposed to move into a new property at the beginning of April, what should I do?

A: “Unless you were able to arrange with your new landlord to take occupation of your new home before midnight on Thursday (March 26), you will not be allowed to move there from your current home. And, no, you will not be required to pay rent if you do not take occupation in these circumstances as they are beyond your control.

“The landlord/ agent will also not be able to let the property to someone else during lockdown, even if it is empty. If the property is currently occupied by someone else, the best advice is for the landlord to give them a one-month extension on their lease so they can also remain in place during the lockdown. They will also then be liable for rent for that month (say to the end of April).” – Andrew Schaefer, managing director property management company Trafalgar

Q: I have a vacant property. Can I charge my new tenant rent from April 1, even though they cannot move in?

A: “Where the tenant is not physically able to move in during a national lockdown, the landlord would have no claim against the tenant for rent due during the lockdown. The situation is as a result of a force that is outside of either the tenant or the landlord’s control.” – Michelle Dickens, managing director TPN Credit Bureau

Q: As a landlord, how do I handle incoming and outgoing inspections?

A: “The Rental Housing Act states that outgoing inspections must be performed within three days of the tenant vacating the premises. Because you are not allowed to leave your home during the lockadown, it will be impossible to perform an outgoing inspection. Similarly, as nobody will be able to move out, and with nobody moving in, there will be no need for an incoming inspection to be performed during lockdown.” – Michelle Dickens, managing director TPN Credit Bureau

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