The Tenancy Tribunal has dealt with the first case involving coronavirus, where an Auckland landlord cited a travel ban.
Landlord Tiange Wang owns a Panmure property but could not return from holidaying in China for her tribunal hearing because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
She gave her mother authority to go instead and won $3424 from tenant Pilimilose Koniseti over many issues including unpaid rent, carpet cleaning, repairs, lawn and garden work, eviction costs, rubbish removal, water rates, lock and key replacements.
The tenancy ended in January but the tenant continued to live at the property until being evicted by a bailiff. The tribunal said the tenant did not attend the hearing.
Joanna Pidgeon, a partner at Pidgeon Law and member of the Auckland District Law Society's property law committee, confirmed it was the first case of this nature to be heard in New Zealand.
But she expects dealings with clients to change due to attempts to contain the spread of coronavirus.
"Earlier this year, I had to witness a client signing mortgage and loan documents by WeChat video as they have been in quarantine. That method can be used if you have known the client for a requisite period of time, and meet other criteria of Land Information New Zealand. We will see such practices increasing," she predicted.
The Auckland District Law Society was now seeking Department of Internal Affairs guidance on possible new procedures for identification and proof of address and if that can be verified by video with copies of ID photographed and sent to a lawyer during this social isolation phase, she said.
Lawyers must also do statutory declarations in person for Kiwisaver withdrawals but Pidgeon said Ministry of Justice guidance would be sought about whether that could be done via video.
If that was possible, it could help minimise personal contact, she said.
The law society expected more procedures to be done remotely and Pidgeon noted suspension of new jury trials had been announced.
She also noted Herald coverage of concerns about rental property inspections and said that might affect the ability to get building reports and valuations.
"That depends on the situation and whether experts may safely gain access to a property, particularly when a purchaser obtains reports and may not be aware of the vendor's health situation," Pidgeon said.
"We have also identified other issues such as where there are sales taking place where occupiers may be in self-isolation or infected in a property, which may affect possession obligations, and issues of contamination and how that might be dealt with and at whose cost. These issues will need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and we would encourage lawyers to co-operate with each other in dealing with issues as they arise," Pidgeon said.
Bodies corporate were another concern because meetings must by law be held in person. Video meetings were not allowed in New Zealand, although they were in Australia, she said.
"Bodies corporate for non-controversial meetings can appoint proxies or [conduct a] postal vote, but for more controversial matters, meetings may need to be deferred or have a work-around using video conference. Certainly it shows the gaps in our legislation and the need for reform in this area," she said.
The law society was writing to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, seeking change on this front, she said.