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Property limbo

A Gisborne family given notice on their rental home the day it was announced the country would go into lockdown know they are not the only ones in this situation.

Jon and Liz Rush found out this week the owners of their rental property were returning to Gisborne from the United Kingdom due to the Covid-19 crisis.

“They have given us 45 days to vacate our property,” said Jon.

From conversations he had, he knew this was not an isolated incident in Tairawhiti.

Jon said he understood the landlords' decision. However, a six-week, last-minute notice to vacate in an already strained rental market was incredibly stressful.

“It does raise questions regarding how people are expected to move house in a lockdown and what the situation is regarding landlords deciding to return home in the ensuing lockdown, and the impact on tenants.

“It definitely adds an additional layer of stress to an already heightened situation.”

Amazingly, said Jon, he and his family had potentially lined up another place to call home with the help of a local property manager, but this was still to be confirmed.

Now there was the issue of how to shift a household of furniture during a nationwide lockdown.

“I'm not sure there will be much in the way of moving companies available and I've inquired with Slingshot etc about connecting utilities during a lockdown.

“At least the traffic will be minimal.”

Responding to questions from The Gisborne Herald, Real Estate Institute chief executive Bindi Norwell said the law stated a landlord must give 42 days notice if an owner or their immediate family wished to use the premises for their own use.

“Under the proposed changes, which are currently under review, this would increase to 63 days.

“Our advice would be for any tenants in this situation to immediately contact the Tenancy Tribunal and let them know their situation.”

Jon did that and was told the Government had now put a freeze on rental termination (unless by mutual consent) throughout the Covid-19 lockdown period.

Gisborne people wanting to buy or sell property, or whose settlement date falls within the lockdown period, are also affected.

“Our understanding is that while in lockdown, vendors and purchasers will not be able to move in and out of their houses,” said Ms Norwell.

The Auckland District Law Society and the New Zealand Law Society was recommending the vast majority of settlements may need to be deferred until after the Alert Level 4 restriction is lifted, she said.

The parties' lawyers would make appropriate amendments to the contract to facilitate this in existing agreements.

“We are currently working with our vendors and purchasers through this process and helping in any way we can,” said Bayleys Gisborne sales manager Karen Raureti.

“There will be cases where settlement will be required to be deferred until the lifting of the Covid-19 level 4. Quite simply, as the country is in level 4 lockdown, people movements will be restricted.

“We are conveying that to all purchasers and vendors, with many of them in a ‘chain' situation involving other real estate above and beyond their purchase or sale.

“As the Prime Minister has called for, this is a time for calm heads and we are certainly finding that response is coming through loud and clear in the parties we are working with.

“After all, we as New Zealanders are all in the same boat.

“This is a time when all parties need to be communicating, and we are facilitating those smooth communication channels. We will all get through this.”

BK Agency has postponed four upcoming auctions and announced it will close its Gisborne office.

“However, if we do have any acceptable pre-auction offers come in on any of the listed properties, all interested parties will be advised,” the agency said.

■ REINZ confirmed that during the lockdown open homes and private viewings cannot take place , and auctions could only take place on the phone or online.

“In lockdown, vendors and purchasers will not be able to move in and out of their houses,” Ms Norwell said.

Rental viewing would also not be essential activity and so could not be performed in person.

“If tenants need emergency accommodation, they should contact Work and Income.”

Rental property inspections should also be deferred.