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Permits and other real estate questions in Level 3

MAIN IMAGE: Maryna Botha, STBB director;  Lavashnee, Mandry, senior associate Adams and Adams.

The good news is that from 1 June real estate agents are among the businesses that may again operate, but it is not back to business as usual. Estate agents have many questions that apply to selling homes in the ‘new normal’ of Alert Level 3.

Estate agents are relieved to be back at work since Monday 1 June under Alert Level 3 in terms of the new regulations published on 28 May. However, it is not back to business as normal and estate agents have many questions on what is allowed and what not when going about their daily business.

Some sectors remain excluded

As from 1 June 2020, the entire country moved into Alert Level 3 except for a few excluded industries and sectors. These exceptions include among others short-term home-sharing, letting, leasing and rental for leisure purposes. This implies that most estate agents are now permitted to operate their normal functions.

Businesses that are permitted to operate under Level 3 will be subject to:

  • Strict compliance with health protocols and social distancing measures;
  • Phased-in return to work in order to put in place measures to make the workplace COVID-19 ready; and
  • Return to work being done in a manner that avoids and reduces the risk of infection.

Hotspots are a concern

The Level 3 regulations identified metro and district hotspots where a concern exists regarding the number of people infected (more than five infected for every 100 000 people, or with a faster rate of infection). Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has indicated that identified hotspot areas and its infection rate will be watched closely with the possibility that government may revert that area to Level 4 or 5.

For real estate agencies this means that there is a possibility that, should they find themselves in a hotspot area that is reclassified as Level 4 or 5, they will once again not be permitted to leave their homes for work purposes. Therefore, there is a continued effort by key role players such as the National Property Practitioners Council (NPPC), the Estate Agents Affairs Board (EAAB) and property leaders to continue lobbying government to reclassify estate agents as essential services under Level 4.

The hotspots, as indicated on 2 June are: the metros of Tswane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Ethekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City, Mangaung and Cape Town; the districts of the West Coast, Overberg, Garden Route and Cape Winelands in the Western Cape, Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo (Eastern Cape) and iLembe (KwaZulu-Natal).

The Western Cape has by far the highest infection rate in the country and accounts for 65.7% of all active cases of which more than 80% are found in the Cape City Metro.

Real estate agents

For the real estate industry, 1 June did not arrive a minute too soon says STBB director Maryna Botha. She and Lavashnee Mandry, senior associate in the Property Department at Adams and Adams, explain as follows how the new regulations impact returning to work for real estate agents:

Permits for agents:

  • No permits are required by agents for general travel from the home to the office, or from the office to a client’s property, as long as such travel does not cross provinces, metropolitan areas or districts in which case a travel permit will be required which must be issued by the head of the estate agency.
  • Movement in and out of hot spots (like the Cape Town Metropolitan area) is now also regulated, just like movement between districts, municipalities and provinces. Agents crossing these boundaries for work will need a permit issued by their employer which must conform to Form 2 of Annexure A of the 29 April regulations.
  • Persons who are moving to a new house, or to care for an immediate family member, will need an affidavit which can only be signed at a magistrate’s court or a police station.

Viewings:

  • Sellers and clients may meet the agent at home for viewings. Apart from the safety practice requirements, listed below, which ultimately require the exercise of utmost care and promote social distancing, including avoidance of face to face meetings as far as possible, there is no additional restrictions on doing a viewing or on the amount of people attending the viewing (The Rebosa Covid-19 Workplace Guidelines recommends that estate agents be limited to one and no more than two clients are shown a property at a time. Ed).
  • Clients may travel for the purposes of viewing a property, but Botha and Mandry suggest that estate agents email a letter to them confirming the appointment. Otherwise there is no proof that the client was travelling to obtain a service allowed in terms of Level 3 regulations. However, clients are not permitted to travel between provinces to view a property.
  • Property owners are within their rights to refuse entry due to fear of contracting Covid-19. For example, should the buyer or prospective tenant not be wearing a face mask, the property owner may refuse viewing of the property.
  • Viewing of property in an estate is allowed. Estate agents are performing a service which entitles clients to physically view a property. The estate will most probably allow clients into the estate if they are accompanied by an estate agent. The estate agent will ensure that the client is compliant with the safety measures and protocols before entering the estate.
  • Professional photographers and videographers may go out to take photos or videos of a listed property. They must, like everyone else, follow safety precautions in terms of a Covid-policy.

Evictions:

Botha says evictions may be granted but must be suspended to take effect (at the earliest) on the last day of Alert Level 3. If there are compelling circumstances, a court may make an order to allow the eviction to take place at an earlier date. There is no indication yet when the last day of Alert Level 3 will be.

Required policies and procedures

With regards to policies and procedures, Botha gave a detailed explanation as follows: All Occupational Health and Safety provisions remain in force similarly to the ones during Lockdown Level 5 and Alert Level 4 and the main obligations of estate agencies, estate agents and any agency employees in the performance of their real estate duties and contact with clients are that:

* A COVID-19 Policy document, setting out the procedures and exposure assessment processes, must be implemented before agency operations commence (STBB made available online an example of what a Covid-19 policy document should look like);

* All required personal protection equipment must be acquired and used, essentially being the use of face masks and provision of hand sanitiser;

* Agent and client screening assessments must be implemented throughout the course of Alert Level 3 operations and this may include the need to have questionnaires completed and/or temperatures taken;

* The requirement to promote social distancing remains. Should there be queuing, steps must be taken that the persons queue at least 1½  metres apart.  Otherwise no specific distance for ‘social distancing’ is prescribed in the regulations.

Business owner/employers

Botha also sets forth the regulations that applies to business owners/principals/employees:

  • Employers must provide employees who may come into contact with members of the public as part of their duties, with a face mask.
  • Every business must determine the area of its floor space and based thereon, determine the number of clients/customers that will be allowed at the premises at a given time.
  • Businesses must provide hand sanitizer for use by the public and employees at the entrance to the premises.
  • Businesses must appoint a compliance officer who must monitor compliance with the regulations and the business’ COVID-19 policy document. (For a draft of this document that you can adapt for your business, see our Newsflash here – https://stbb.co.za/newsflash-level-3-news/.)
  • Agencies must adopt measures to promote physical distancing, including to enable employees to work from home or minimising the need for employees to be physically present at the workplace;  restricting face to face meetings; and they must implement special measures for employees with known health issues as well as for employees who are above the age of 60 years.
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