15 December, 2020
In the Housing and Regeneration (Property) Department we work with registered providers to develop and provide affordable housing.
Social distancing measures, introduced by the government in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, have impacted our clients' usual practises as well as our practises when it comes to assisting registered providers with their legal and conveyancing needs.
After two lockdowns and two-tier systems, ourselves and the registered providers we serve have faced a range of challenges but have found ways to overcome them.
After completion, purchasers and tenants are keen to collect the keys to their new homes. The usual practice was for registered providers to meet the purchasers on site to handover they keys and necessary paperwork. Government measures meant registered providers had to change their practises and minimise face to face contact
Key safes have emerged as a safe and practical method for handing over keys. Registered providers can lock the keys to a property in a key safe and leave them there for the new tenant or homeowner to collect. Once completion has taken place and we have confirmed that keys can be released, the tenant or homeowner is given the code to unlock the key safe and is able to collect the keys without the registered provider being present. The handover documents are left in the property for the purchasers and the properties are then deep cleaned in line with current guidance.
Key safes were being used by some landlords prior to the outbreak but their main benefit, being non face to face contact, was not a pressing need. It became a need in light of the pandemic and as such the use of key safes has surged among landlords and registered providers.
Forbes Solicitors' Housing and Regeneration (Property) team acts as the main point of contact between buyers' solicitors and our clients, the registered providers. We keep regular contact with our clients and keep a record of each client's specific practises. If a registered provider that instructs us begins using key safes, we ensure to circulate this information within our team who then communicate this with the buyer's solicitor on each tenancy or plot sale.
Registered providers sign and seal documents according to their own constitutional rules on signing and sealing. Although their constitutions often anticipate the need for alternative ways to sign and seal their documents, many do not anticipate the need to execute a document remotely or without wet ink.
The COVID-19 outbreak has encouraged those who can work from home, to work from home. For registered providers, this means the authorised signatories who can execute, sign or seal their documents are in the office less often and less members of staff are available to witness the signings. COVID-19 measures have narrowed the window of opportunity that registered providers have to execute documents.
We recognised this challenge early in the year and have adjusted our practises to account for the extra time our clients require. Where agreed with client we now send documents to be executed as engrossments when the initial contract packs are issued. Our clients can take more time to arrange the execution and the transaction doesn't suffer a delay as a result.
We have also ensured that we facilitate e-signing where possible. E-signing is where a document is executed using an electronic signature. The Land Registry is now accepting e-signatures on certain documents. We advise our clients if this is an available means of execution for documents in their transactions and facilitate accordingly (although for deeds where witnessing is required this does not yet have an electronic solution - Please see our earlier blog article for more information on e-signatures:
Traditionally, registered providers would provide us with completed reservation agreements in PDF format. We use the reservation agreements to draft leases and contracts on plot sales.
Before the reservation agreements are passed to us, our clients fill in the details and ensure the potential buyers sign the document, often in person. This process has been disrupted by COVID-19 measures. Registered providers are now sending or emailing buyers the reservation agreement for signature. Buyers are then returning the signed document in a range of different formats. Many print the document, sign it and then take photographs of the completed pages. These photographs are often JPEGs and not the usual PDF file format. It is also not uncommon for buyers to return the agreement as separate pages or images.
For our clients, many of whom are working from home, this can be an administrative strain. They may not have the facility to amalgamate the document together or convert its file format whilst working from home.
Our clients are welcome to send these documents to us in the format the buyer provided them with. We have the facilities to convert the document format and amalgamate pages so that the registered providers do not have to. So long as we can open and read the documents, the format it has been returned in is often something we can and are happy to assist with.
Our team and the registered providers we work for have adapted to working in a COVID secure manner. The changes we have made have ensured our transactions avert delays and facilitate the needs that have emerged for registered providers.
For more information contact Lauren Fisher in our Housing & Regeneration department at Lauren.Fisher@forbessolicitors.co.uk or on 01254 222345 or Cassine Bering on Cassine Bering or on 01772220256. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.