Coronavirus: FAQs for property managers

Coronavirus, COVID-19, Industry News, Property Management,  Property Managers

UPDATE: On the back of our successful member-driven campaign against the Queensland Government’s harmful COVID-19 residential property proposals, the proposed measures were changed to be far more balanced and protective of Queensland property owners. The final measures, called the Residential Tenancies Practice Guide, can be found here.

UPDATE: The RTA has released a selection of specific COVID-related forms for property managers, property owners and tenants such as a COVID-19 Dispute Resolution Request, a General Tenancy COVID-19 Variation Agreement Form 18d, and more. All of these forms can be found here.

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 weeks.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE GENERAL TENANCY COVID-19 VARIATION AGREEMENT
CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE PROPERTY MANAGEMENT CORONAVIRUS WEBINAR

The REIQ also developed rental assistance request templates designed for tenants experiencing financial hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They include written requests for rent reduction from tenants and related evidence of financial hardship, as well as written instructions from landlord clients to confirm variations to tenancy agreement payment terms. We have also provided an Annexure – General Tenancy COVID-19 Variation Agreement Template (Form 18d) which reflects the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation (COVID-19 Emergency Response)  Regulation 2020. 

Rental Assistance Request Template for Tenants*
Rental Assistance Request Template for Landlords*
Annexure – General Tenancy COVID-19 Variation Agreement Template (Form 18d)

*Important note: these forms are revised since being issued on Friday 24/04/20 to align with the new Annexure template. 

We have also developed a series of property entry notice templates to reflect the Queensland Government’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Regulations.

This template notifies the landlord (client) about the changes to entry provisions and outlines the new restrictions imposed by the Regulations that may apply to entering a premises during the COVID-19 emergency period.

Letter to Client – Entry Restrictions

This template is designed to obtain information from the tenant, to determine whether any restrictions will apply to entering the premises during the COVID-19 emergency period, prior to issuing an Entry Notice (Form 9).

Letter to Tenant – Entry Restrictions

This template is to be used by a property manager when issuing the Entry Notice (Form 9) and the tenant has confirmed that they do not fall within the restrictions under the Regulations.

Pre-Entry Letter to Tenant

This template is designed to provide the pre-entry conditions to the relevant contractor/tradesperson.

Pre-Entry Letter to Contractor/Tradesperson

Please note: mobile users may experience difficulties downloading these templates and forms – please try on your desktop instead.

Property Management & Coronavirus Webinar:

Watch a recording of our webinar here. Held on Friday 3 April 2020 this webinar sees REIQ CEO Antonia Mercorella, Connie McKee REIQ Trainer and Property Management Support Service team member, and Laura Valenti, Solutions Property Management business owner respond to your questions and run through what you need to know as a property manager responding to the COVID-19 situation.

FAQs:

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 COVID-19 and in self-isolation; the tenant has a visitor that is ill, showing symptoms of illness or infected with COVID-19 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.

Many property managers have been requesting that their tenants take photos or videos of the interior of the property in place of a routine inspection. In such a case, property managers should be specific about the parts of the property they need to see, so that they and the property owner can feel satisfied in their knowledge of the general upkeep and condition of the property. Early reports from REIQ’s member property managers suggest this approach has been well received by both property owners and tenants.

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 COVID-19 or is suffering from COVID-19 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 COVID-19 or is suffering from COVID-19; 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 COVID-19 pandemic. 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 crisis), 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 COVID-19 is likely 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 COVID-19 crisis. 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 COVID-19 (further details here). Assistance is available to people receiving the following payments:

  • Age Pension
  • ABSTUDY (Living Allowance)
  • Austudy
  • Bereavement Allowance
  • 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).

INSURANCE:

As the rapid spread of COVID-19 continues to cause significant disruptions globally, Aon recognises that Queensland real estate businesses may also have some concerns around the extent of coverage available under the CGU Landlord Insurance products you distribute in partnership with Aon. As conditions for landlords and tenants continue to rapidly evolve, Aon have provided answers to some of the more frequently asked questions in relation to the coverage provided by CGU. Please note given the fluidity of the situation, further responses may be necessary, and we will keep you regularly updated.

Q: What occurs if following unemployment due to COVID-19, a tenant wants to break their lease due to financial hardship?
A: Coverage may be available under the rent default section based on hardship, but the normal rules of termination will apply subject to the policy terms and conditions and coverage limits.

Q: Can rent default be claimed if the tenant is unable to pay rent due to COVID-19?
A: Yes, this is claimable under the rent default section of the policy. Please refer to the Landlord Insurance PDS.

Q: Can a shortfall be claimed if the landlord and their tenant mutually agree to a reduction in the weekly rental payments?
A: No, the difference in weekly rent is not claimable as this is a mutual agreement between the landlord and tenant.

Q: Can rent default be claimed if the landlord and their tenant mutually agree upon a suspension of their rental payments?
A: No, as this is a mutual agreement between the landlord and the tenant.

Q: Are there any restrictions in place should a landlord wish to take out a new Landlord Insurance policy that might cover a COVID-19 related event?
A: From 5pm AEST, Friday, 3 April 2020, CGU will not be able to offer ‘Rent default and theft by a tenant’ cover on new policies. The cover will remain on all existing policies. Aon and CGU are committed to helping customers through this difficult period, so CGU will continue to offer cover for Contents, Loss of Rent and Liability on new Landlords Insurance policies. Insurance is intended to protect customers from unforeseen events. During this difficult economic period, it is likely that some tenants will struggle to meet their rental payments and that cover for ‘Rent default and theft by a tenant’ is not unforeseeable and therefore it is not appropriate to offer this cover on new Landlords Insurance policies. This will continue until further advised.

Q: If a tenant were to die inside a leased property from COVID-19, will Landlords Insurance cover a forensic clean and property fumigation?
A: No, however clean-up costs up to the bond amount are permitted as per your lease agreement for reletting expenses.

Q: In the case of a death of a tenant due to COVID-19, how long will rent default cover apply for if the property remains vacant?
A: Landlord Insurance is available to cover the loss of rental income due to the death of a tenant provided that tenant was the only person named on the lease. The policy will pay up to 15 weeks rent with a six-week reletting period. Please note that a $12,000 maximum limit applies.

Q: COVID-19 may cause a decline in the demand for rental properties. If the tenant’s lease is about to come to an end and I am unable to secure another tenant due to lack of demand in the rental market, will losses be covered?
A: No, the policy does not respond to rental market fluctuations.

Q: If the tenant advises the agent/landlord of a trip overseas and then abandons the property following country lockouts and falls into rental payment arrears, how will insurance respond if it is deemed a claimable event?
A: This is claimable under the rent default section of the policy. Please refer to the Landlord Insurance PDS.

Q: What is the claims process should I need to make a claim?
A: We have a 24-hour claims hotline. Please call 1800 105 900 to lodge your claim over the phone. To help you answer questions from your landlords, we have prepared a separate communication that we recommend you share with them: aon.com.au/landlord

technology:

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 PropertyTree, InspectRE and PropertyMe. 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.

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