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Coronavirus: Virtual rental inspections during lockdown ‘encouraged’ if possible, necessary

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Do you know your rights as a tenant? Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered.

New Zealand’s four-week lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus has seen all but essential workers expected to stay at home.

With the country at alert level 4, in-person rental inspections are not allowed, but virtual inspections can still be carried out by mutual agreement. 

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is encouraging “virtual work arounds” where they are possible and necessary, but it also said landlords and property managers needed to be careful not to upset tenants.

However, some tenants have found the idea of a virtual inspection “unsettling”, especially during the lockdown. 

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One Hutt Valley tenant whose landlord wants to carry out a virtual inspection said it was “insensitive” for it to be carried out at this time. 

Virtual rental inspections can be carried out on a host of video conferencing platforms (file photo).

SIMON MAUDE/STUFF

Virtual rental inspections can be carried out on a host of video conferencing platforms (file photo).

The tenant who works remotely for more than 10-hours a day said the inspection was “one more thing I don’t need to worry about”. 

“In the middle of a work day they want to Zoom into the house, my workspace, for an unknown amount of time.

“It should be allowed to be delayed for a few weeks.”

In Auckland, Pedersens Property Management told tenants in an email routine inspections scheduled for this week onwards would be conducted virtually with their property manager. 

This meant inspections could be completed “but so that it does not require the physical attendance of the property manager at your property”, the email read.

“As your greatly appreciated assistance with this inspection will be required, we will provide you with information around how this will be conducted with your notice of inspection email which will include a specific time, date and virtual meeting link for you and the Property Manager to undertake the inspection.”

One of its tenants, who did not wish to be named, said when she received the email, she could not believe it. 

Her husband and son are essential workers, and the family “can’t even begin to think about a virtual inspection”, she said. 

“Everyone is so stressed out and there’s so much to worry about, we don’t need this.” 

WHAT IS A VIRTUAL INSPECTION?

With “social distancing” in-person rental inspections only allowed up to and including level 3, a virtual inspection can take place on video conferencing such as Skype, Zoom and Messenger. 

Pedersens Property Management told tenants routine inspections scheduled for this week onwards would be conducted virtually with their property manager.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Pedersens Property Management told tenants routine inspections scheduled for this week onwards would be conducted virtually with their property manager.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development’s Claire Leadbetter said it was up to landlords and tenants to decide which one works best for them.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand chief executive Bindi Norwell said a routine inspection could also take place via other messaging apps such as WhatsApp and House Party.

“Landlords and property managers will be able to direct their tenants as to the sorts of things they need to inspect, and the conversations had may even be a good way for landlords/property managers to build on their relationship with the tenant.”

Sharon Cullwick, chief executive of the New Zealand Property Investors Federation, said for the inspection, tenants can take photos under the sink, the back of the toilet and under the hot water cylinder.

Any minor issues, however, should be put on hold and done after Alert Level 4 is lifted.

REINZ chief executive Bindi Norwell says an inspection is to check on essential services, such as electrical and plumbing, and there is no damage to the property.

JOHN BISSET/STUFF

REINZ chief executive Bindi Norwell says an inspection is to check on essential services, such as electrical and plumbing, and there is no damage to the property.

Leadbetter advised tenants should be “realistic” about when non-urgent issues can be fixed during lockdown.

Leadbetter said landlords should “refrain” from asking tenants to go into spaces they were not comfortable with, such as the roof or underfloor spaces, as safety had to be the first priority.

WHY DO INSPECTIONS NEED TO BE CARRIED OUT?

Both an in-person and virtual inspection have to be carried out to ensure a property is in good working order. 

Norwell said an inspection was to check on essential services such as electrical and plumbing, that there was no damage to the property and the interior and exterior of the property were being kept reasonably clean and tidy.

Landlords should

Supplied

Landlords should “refrain” from asking tenants to go into spaces they are not comfortable with, such as the roof or underfloor spaces, during a virtual inspection (file photo).

Landlords may also want to carry out inspections for insurance purposes and Cullwick said this normally took place every three to four months, depending on the insurance policy.

For a landlord to have valid insurance, inspections have to be done, she said.

“We note the Insurance Council of New Zealand has recommended that if landlords can’t access their property to carry out regular three monthly inspections, the inspection should take place as soon as is practical after health clearances,” Leadbetter said.

CAN I REFUSE A DIGITAL INSPECTION?

Leadbetter said the ministry recommended virtual inspections only take place by agreement between a landlord and tenants. 

If agreed, the landlord must give at least 48 hours notice and can only conduct the virtual inspection between 8am and 7pm.

A virtual inspection should also not occur more than once every four weeks and will need to comply with obligations under the Privacy Act if they are want to retain any footage or images.

Tenants have the right to decline or defer parts of an inspection that puts them at personal risk, or requires them to use equipment — such as ladders — they are not physically able to use or are comfortable with. 

One Hutt Valley tenant whose landlord wants to carry out a virtual inspection says it is

Kevin Stent/Stuff

One Hutt Valley tenant whose landlord wants to carry out a virtual inspection says it is “insensitive” for it to be carried out at this time.

“In these cases it is best for inspections to be carried out after the alert level 4 period is lifted.”

The ministry said tenants had the right to refuse a virtual inspection for any reason.

“They could refuse, whether it interferes or not, with their peace, privacy or comfort in their use of the premises. There is no obligation to assist the landlord with a virtual inspection,” Leadbetter said.

The country's four-week lockdown is a good opportunity to test smoke alarms, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development says (file photo).

123RF/HighwayStarz

The country’s four-week lockdown is a good opportunity to test smoke alarms, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development says (file photo).

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