Practical Guidance for Property Lawyers in response to possible impacts of COVID-19 on conveyancing transactions

As we are all adjusting to the new normal of life with Covid-19 and impacts on our families, places of work and businesses, keeping social distance and minimising contact where possible. Some people may be working from home, but for those of us with transactional practices, dealing with clients and the execution of documents in a compliant way while maintaining safety is important.

Here are some of my reflections in terms of trying to minimise contact where possible.

1. Always ask is an in person meeting necessary – could this be dealt with by telephone contact, WhatsApp, Wechat, zoom, skype or some other form of video conference

2. Onboarding new clients for AML purposes. AML Compliance officers need to use their discretion in terms of whether an in person verification may be deferred in the circumstances. They might consider if you have viewed the client by some form of video conferencing with their ID and original proof of address and they scan or text you a photo of their ID and proof of address. If this is also electronically verified, this may be sufficient to commence acting, unless there are other alert factors. We have written to DIA for further guidance on this issue. When the pandemic has passed (or if documents need to be signed in front of you personal verification can be completed then) 

Click here for the DIA's response

Click here for Amended Identity Verification Code of Practice 2013

3. Execution of Documents. Check mortgagee instructions in terms of execution of documents. Do you need original documents to return or are scanned copies OK? Remember COVID-19 can be transferred by handling paper touched by someone infected. ADLS digital signing is a way of ensuring documents are signed correctly with identity verified if required without having to have original documents returned. In terms of signing Authorities and Instructions for e-dealing, Duncan Terris has written an excellent article In Volume 20 Issue 3 of the NZLS “The Property Lawyer” at page 11 - guideline 4.7 of the LINZ Authority and Identity Requirements for E-dealing guideline 2018 apply – where you have known the client for more than 12 months and hold a current photo ID and can see and hear documents when signing. This cannot be used when you have concerns about identity, capacity or duress

4. Statutory Declarations. In order to draw down Kiwisaver and in other circumstances statutory declarations are required. At present the general view is that as it states “before me” this must be done in the physical presence of the person taking the statutory declaration, but we are seeking further guidance on this point too

5. If a Meeting in Person is required keep your distance with no handshakes etc. and ensure that you wash your hands and do not touch your face

In terms of issues arising in transactions, if there is community spread of Covid-19 we may see issues arising 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. This may affect the ability to obtain building reports and valuations. 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.