Moving house during the lockdown

Moving house during the lockdown

Private Property South Africa
Sarah-Jane Meyer

New regulations permit home owners and tenants to relocate between 7 May and 7 June 2020.

Limited and specific relief is now being provided for tenants and home owners who were initially left stranded by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Desperate to move, some tenants earlier came up with the idea of police-issued “permits” to move house. But these were nothing more than affidavits signed by tenants at their local police stations on SAPS sworn statement forms. The contents of the affidavits confirmed addresses of the new leases and that the tenants give themselves ‘permission’ to move during the Level 4 lockdown period.

TPN Credit Bureau confirmed with an advocate at the National Prosecuting Authority that SAPS may not issue such permits and are only authorised to issue permits for travel for funerals between provinces. At the time, Monica Dickens, TPN managing director, warned tenants that attempting to move with these self-made permits could lead to arrest or fines.

New regulations

The new Disaster Management Regulations for Alert Level 4, which were released on 29 April, permitted people who wanted to travel between provinces, municipal areas or districts to move back to their place of residence or work between 1 and 7 May.

The latest regulations, gazetted on 7 May, now allow the once-off movement of people and goods within South Africa during level 4 of the lockdown, between 7 May and 7 June 2020.

People can move (including across provinces) under specific conditions. These are:

  • New lease agreements must have been entered into before or during the lockdown period. The regulations define lockdown as 26 March 2020 to 30 April 2020.
  • The transfer of immovable property must have occurred before the lockdown period and must require a change in place of residence.

Requirements to adhere to

During the move you should have in your possession:

  • For tenants - the terminating lease agreement and new lease agreement to determine that the new lease agreement was entered into before or during the lockdown, that is, before 30 April 2020.
  • For home owners - the transfer documents attesting to the change in place of residence or change of ownership of property.
  • Both tenants and home owners will need a copy of the permit to relocate signed by a SAPS station commander or a person designated by the station commander. To issue the permit the SAPS officer will need to see the terminating lease agreement and new lease document (for tenants) and the relevant transfer documents (for home owners). Other information required includes a list of all individuals who will be required to move.

Changing districts

You will also need to obtain a permit to travel across provincial, metropolitan or district boundaries from the station commander of a police station or a designated person, specifying the individuals who are part of the household who will be required to move.

The full list of requirements is available on the government website here.

Transporting of household furniture and effects

Furniture removal companies are not essential services in terms of the Disaster Management Regulations. However, for this specific direction of once-off movement for relocation, furniture removal companies are permitted to move household goods and effects, according to TPN Credit Bureau.

Before asking a removal firm for a quote, you will need the necessary relocation permit from SAPS.

No agents

Ulrik Strandvik, director of Gunston Strandvik Attorneys, emphasises that these new regulations do not allow agents to operate.

“The Level 4 lockdown regulations prohibits the real estate industry from working in public, which raises the following problems:

  • Sellers and buyers, tenants and landlords will need to move without the assistance of an estate agent. This means no key handovers by agents.
  • No ingoing or outgoing inspections managed by agents. There is nothing in the regulations stating otherwise.”

He offers the following solutions:

  • Agents can assist with the inspections and key handovers electronically. For instance, they can use Zoom with the clients and guide them through the inspection and handover.
  • Attorneys are permitted to operate under level 4 and can help with handovers or inspections.

Occupational rent

Since the regulations define Lockdown as 26 March 2020 to 30 April 2020, it includes leases entered into before and during that period and not after. Strandvik says there is some question as to whether an occupational interest clause in an agreement of sale can be considered a rental agreement.

Some options for this situation:

  • Take the agreement of sale entered into before or during the lockdown period to the police station. Refer the officer to the specific clause in the agreement and request a permit. However, there is a risk that SAPS may deny the permit as it is not in the strict sense a lease agreement.
  • The parties enter into a separate occupational rental agreement, backdated to the date of the sale agreement as that is when the agreement on occupational interest was reached. The parties must then take the occupational rental agreement to the police station for SAPS to issue a permit.

Moving forward

“These are very exciting new directions for the property market. Although they speak to a very limited relief for relocation, it shows there is definitely intention to slowly open up the property market,” says Dickens.

She warns, however, that landlords and estate agents who are facilitating the once-off movement to relocate should only engage with tenants who have obtained permits that are officially stamped and signed by SAPS.

Although welcoming the new regulations, Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of RE/MAX of Southern Africa is hopeful that further easing of certain restrictions will follow to allow buyers, sellers and tenants to move more freely.

“While we are grateful for this announcement, we also hope that real estate will soon be reclassified as a Level 4 service. There is only so much estate agents can do remotely if they are not allowed to access homes. If property services are not reclassified, then very few - if any - new sales and rentals will be concluded over this time, leaving home owners and landlords in financial difficulties,” says Goslett.

“The property industry as a whole implores government to rethink the classification of real estate services - not just to save countless jobs of those working in this industry, but also to help all South Africans access capital through the sale or letting of their property,” says Goslett.

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Moving Covid-19

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