Coronavirus: FAQs for property managers
The REIQ has been closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19. As your peak body, we have developed an article that answers the questions we’ve been fielding through our PMSS lines over the last few days.
We have also included some template letters for immediate use for client, tenant and contractor/tradespeople correspondence to further assist with property access and inspections.
Q: Should I still complete routine inspections?
A: Agents (and property management staff) are required to comply with their contractual obligations and common law agency obligations. Unless otherwise excluded from the scope of the Form 6 (or any other relevant appointment), you are generally required to conduct regular routine inspections to monitor the condition of the property and its inclusions during the term of a tenancy. However, there may be extenuating circumstances for why it isn’t possible to conduct an inspection. This may include that the property manager or tenant/s are ill, showing symptoms of illness or infected with coronavirus and in self-isolation; the tenant has a visitor that is ill, showing symptoms of illness or infected with coronavirus and in self-isolation; or the tenant is refusing entry to the property due to the current conditions. The REIQ recommends that real estate principals keep their owners well informed of the situation in writing, including details as to what alternative measures will be put in place in lieu of a physical inspection where that is not practical or viable.
Q: What alternatives are available to me to inspect a property?
A: If physical property inspections are not possible it is important to offer clients an alternative should they still require the property be inspected in accordance with the terms of the engagement. Some alternatives include virtual inspections via digital meeting programs, live streaming or by detailed photography.
Q: What information should I be recording?
A: Fundamental to every role within property management is communication, which includes maintaining comprehensive records as situations arise. Detailed written documentary evidence of client communication is essential in the event of a claim by a client for breach of contract, professional negligence and/or mismanagement.
Q: What can I do if a tenant refuses entry to me as a property manager or a tradesperson?
A: Generally speaking, if a tenant refuses entry, you as the agent (property manager) or tradesperson can enter the rental premises provided the correct notice has been issued and entry is at a reasonable time as required under the Residential Tenancies & Rooming Accommodation Act 2008. Should entry be refused due to the current conditions, inspection or access to the property should be postponed to an alternative date after 14 days (in accordance with Queensland Health directives). Such circumstances may include:
- The tenant is suffering from respiratory illness, showing symptoms of respiratory illness, has been exposed to someone with the coronavirus or is suffering from coronavirus and is in self-isolation;
- The tenant reasonably believes you or a tradesperson is suffering from respiratory illness, showing symptoms of respiratory illness, has been exposed to someone with the coronavirus or is suffering from coronavirus; or
- The tenant is identified within the classifications of a high health risk (refer to high risk groups in our REIQ Coronavirus fast facts article).
Above all, communication will play a critical role in managing any unexpected situations related to property inspections and/or property access for tradespeople. Maintaining early and open communication with tenants on a regular basis should form part of your strategy so as to aid in the management of property access with minimal disruption. Refer to The REIQ’s template documents which are designed to further assist in this area.
Q: What can I do if a tenant refuses to pay rent?
A: At the time of writing, the normal requirements and processes relating to non-payment of rent apply and exceptions have not been introduced specifically relating to the coronavirus. Further information regarding non-payment of rent can be found here.
Should a tenant be experiencing excessive hardship (such as financial hardship as a direct result of the coronavirus), the tenant may make an urgent application to QCAT for an order terminating the agreement (further information can be found here). Excessive hardship is not defined in the Residential Tenancies & Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 however loss of employment or illness due to the coronavirus is likely to be within the parameters.
As highlighted earlier, communication will play an essential role in minimising any unforeseen issues should a tenant fall into arrears due to the coronavirus. Making early contact with tenants now should form part of your communications strategy. This will allow you to explore alternative arrangements, such as delayed payments or payment plans should the owner be amenable to such arrangements.
Some tenants may qualify for financial assistance as part of the Australian Government’s response to coronavirus (further details here). Assistance is available to people receiving the following payments:
- Age Pension
- ABSTUDY (Living Allowance)
- Bereavement Allowance
- Carer Payment
- Disability Support Pension
- Double Orphan Pension
- Family Tax Benefit A
- Family Tax Benefit B
- Farm Household Allowance
- Jobseeker Payment*
- Newstart Allowance
- Parenting Payment
- Partner Allowance
- Sickness Allowance
- Special Benefit
- Widow Allowance
- Wife Pension
- Widow B Pension
- Youth Allowance.
The Australian Government’s payment is also available to people who have the following concession cards:
- Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
- Pensioner Concession Card
- Veteran Gold Card.
Further, tenants are also eligible for payments if they receive one of the following Department of Veterans’ Affairs payments:
- Veteran Compensation payments, including lump sum payments
- Veteran Service Pension
- Veteran Income Support Supplement
- War Widow(er) Pension.
Q: How can I get a contract signed?
A: Signing of documents can take place in person, ensuring the hygiene protocols are followed as
highlighted for tenants attending your office. An available alternative is using electronic signatures
which are recognised by law in Australia (Electronic Transactions Act 1999 Cth). There are many free
online platforms available to choose from (refer to Tech Solutions within this toolkit for ideas).
Q: What tech can I use to best support my tenants and landlords during this time?
A: Tech for virtual inspections: Virtual Tours Creator also works well in this space as you can
share the finished file with your landlord, allowing them to zoom into areas of interest. But if
you trust your tenant, using a Messenger video call could also get you through at a pinch and
you can use it even if you don’t have a Facebook account. Onboard new tenants using Loom
videos or Zoom.
Tech for property maintenance inquiries: Your tenants won’t let anyone through the door
and your tradies won’t show anyway. But that doesn’t mean things won’t go wrong. And
when all of this is over, there’s going to be a tsunami of work to do on top of the usual BAU.
Email isn’t the tool to manage this. You need to help your tenants self-service to resolve
issues where possible and have jobs briefed and ready to go in a way that can be easily
tracked. To this end, check out Rental Heroes which is a clever chatbot that allows tenants to
report issues quickly and easily using SMS or chat, and receive help or create a clear brief. It
also integrates with PropertyMe, InspectRE and PropertyTree. Kiwi newcomer Tapi has a
nice product called Tenant Concierge that allows tenants to report issues 24/7, helping you
acquire all the details and assess the need for a call out.