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Greenwood Roche has recently had the privilege of joining the Keystone Trust whanau as a proud sponsor...
Greenwood Roche has recently had the privilege of joining the Keystone Trust whanau as a proud sponsor.
Keystone Trust’s fundamental goal is to support and enable students who have financial need or have been affected by adverse circumstances to take up tertiary studies in the property sector.The Trust believe that this can only be achieved by working with others with the same value, vision and integrity – from students to sponsors, friends and supporters. Being able to contribute to the future capability and capacity of the property and construction sector through the Trust gives us the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’. Standing alongside a young person as they grow and develop into their potential is an enormously fulfilling experience and one we look forward to doing with Keystone.
The Government has recently developed a number of initiatives, including the Urban Development Act 2020 (UDA), the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) and the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020, designed to support the functioning of urban environments and eliminate barriers to their creation throughout New Zealand...
The Government has recently developed a number of initiatives, including the Urban Development Act 2020 (UDA), the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) and the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020, designed to support the functioning of urban environments and eliminate barriers to their creation throughout New Zealand.
As part of this package of initiatives, the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Act 2020 (“Act”) passed its final reading on 22 July 2020 and received royal assent on 6 August 2020. The Act looks to ensure that a lack of funding at local government level does not continue to constrain development. Using the Act, developers can now access a new funding structure that will allow them to raise the funds and finance necessary for large-scale projects themselves (rather than rely on local government), with repayments made by future owners through rates on the developed land.As noted by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, “Traditional approaches to infrastructure funding and financing are not working. Constraints on council debt levels means viable infrastructure projects are postponed for years, despite the pressing need for more housing in these high-growth areas.”The new funding model provides an alternative funding mechanism in a bid to accelerate the development of housing in particular. The Act received cross party support and is designed to complement existing funding tools available to local government.Milldale ModelThe financing structure set out in the Act is modelled on the structure utilised in the Milldale development in North Auckland. For Milldale, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) was set up to oversee a residential development project. The SPV raised initial capital from investors, proposing to pay them back by an annual ‘infrastructure payment’ added to the rates bill. Payments will initially be made by the developer and, in time, by the section owners.The infrastructure payment obligations are secured by an encumbrance on each title, meaning the obligation to meet the payment runs with the land and binds any subsequent owners. In the Milldale example the payments are $650 + 2.5% interest per annum for apartments and $1000 + 2.5% interest per annum for homes and will last for 30 years.While the Milldale development is still in the construction phase it is already clear that the model has enabled acceleration of the project and therefore faster delivery of affordable housing in Auckland.How will The Act Work?The Act adopts a very similar model to the Milldale model, by allowing the use of multi-year levies in large scale development that place the cost of infrastructure on those who will benefit directly from it. Levies will be able to be proposed for the provision or improvement of the following:
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) has recently been gazetted and will come into force on 3 September 2020. The NPS-FM will replace the current National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (amended 2017) and will make fundamental changes to the way freshwater is managed in Aotearoa...
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) has recently been gazetted and will come into force on 3 September 2020. The NPS-FM will replace the current National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (amended 2017) and will make fundamental changes to the way freshwater is managed in Aotearoa.
A prominent shift in the new NPS-FM is the incorporation of Te Mana o te Wai as the primary approach to managing freshwater. Te Mana o te Wai is defined in the NPS-FM as “a concept that refers to the fundamental importance of water and recognises that protecting the health of freshwater protects the health and well-being of the wider environment. It protects the mauri of the wai. Te Mana o te Wai is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment and the community”. The NPS-FM identifies a hierarchy of obligations within Te Mana o te Wai that prioritises:
The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2020 was passed by Parliament on 5 August 2020, and is awaiting Royal Assent. The Bill makes a number of changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, which will affect all residential landlords and tenants...
The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2020 was passed by Parliament on 5 August 2020, and is awaiting Royal Assent. The Bill makes a number of changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, which will affect all residential landlords and tenants.
Media have rightly focused on the reduced frequency of rental increases and changes to the termination of periodic tenancies, with these provisions being substantially amended for the first time in over 30 years.Most residential property landlords will only be able to terminate a periodic tenancy:
Tenants will need to give at least 28 days’ notice to terminate a periodic tenancy – up from 21 days.A late change was made to allow tenants to withdraw from a fixed-term or periodic tenancy on 2 days’ notice in circumstances of family violence. Any remaining tenants are then able to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to be released from the tenancy on hardship grounds. A landlord who is physically assaulted by a tenant can terminate the tenancy by giving 14 days’ notice, but only if a charge is laid against the tenant for that assault.Rent may not be increased within 12 months after the start date of the tenancy or 12 months after the last increase took effect. This applies even if the tenancy agreement (including for a fixed term tenancy) provides otherwise. As with the current Act, rent cannot exceed the market rent and cannot be charged more than 2 weeks in advance.In addition:
The amendments also strengthen the Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Regulations 2019 (which set “healthy homes standards” for heating, insulation, ventilation, draughtiness, moisture ingress and drainage) by requiring that landlords retain information about compliance with the healthy home standards and provide that information to tenants on request.The changes largely result from a public consultation process undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in 2018, and driven by the Government’s desire to make life better for tenants in light of home ownership being at a 60 year low and the number of rented properties exceeding 600,000. The changes therefore increase the rights of tenants, and reflect that tenants will often occupy rental accommodation for many years.We advise a range of social housing and residential property investors on the acquisition, management and disposal of properties. If you would like further advice on the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, please contact our real estate and property team.August 2020
The Urban Development Bill 2020 passed into legislation on 6 August 2020, becoming the Urban Development Act 2020 (Act)...
The Urban Development Bill 2020 passed into legislation on 6 August 2020, becoming the Urban Development Act 2020 (Act).
The purpose of the Act (and the end to which its powers are to be deployed) is to facilitate urban development that contributes to sustainable, inclusive and thriving communities. The primary "beneficiary" of the Act is Kāinga Ora—Homes and Communities (Kāinga Ora), the Crown entity established in 2019 with the objective of contributing to sustainable, inclusive and thriving communities through, amongst other things, initiating, facilitating or undertaking urban development. Powers given to Kāinga OraThe Act provides Kāinga Ora with a "tool-kit" of statutory powers, a number of which are, in effect, modified versions of existing development powers currently available to local government. Included in this "tool-kit" are powers relating to the planning and consenting of urban development projects, land acquisition, infrastructure development powers, and funding mechanisms.Most powers apply only to "specified development projects", but some powers also apply to any urban development project initiated, facilitated or undertaken by Kāinga Ora. For example, Kāinga Ora is empowered to acquire land for any urban development project."Specified development projects"The establishment of a "specified development project" allows Kāinga Ora to access the full suite of statutory powers to facilitate complex development projects. The process for establishing a specified development project under the Act can be initiated by either Kāinga Ora or the Ministers of Urban Development and Finance (acting jointly). In either case, Kāinga Ora must engage with; Māori entities with an interest in the project area, hapū associated with any former Māori land in the project area, and with key stakeholders including local authorities, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and the operators of affected infrastructure. Kāinga Ora must also invite public feedback on the key features of the project. The Ministers may accept the recommendation that the project be established as a specified development project where it meets identified criteria, including whether the project objectives are consistent with the purpose of the Act and the national directions under the Resource Management Act 1991.Kāinga Ora must then prepare and seek public submissions on a draft development plan for the project. The submissions on the draft development plan are reviewed by an independent hearings panel, which then recommends to the Minister for Urban Development whether to approve or amend the draft development plan.Powers relating to "specified development projects"Once the development plan takes effect:
CommentThe Act is a key feature in the suite of Government-led initiatives designed to support the creation and delivery of well-functioning urban environments. While the tools available to Kāinga Ora under this Act are powerful, the process for accessing them provides ample opportunity for Ministerial decision-making and therefore judicial oversight. These consultative and decision-making requirements are likely to (appropriately or otherwise) limit the number of projects that will be suitable candidates for progression under the Act. However, for projects facing significant barriers, the Act can offer a comprehensive pathway to facilitate their development where they will contribute to sustainable, inclusive and thriving communities. Navigating the different stages of decision-making under the Act will require considerable skill and strategic nous.For any questions on the Act and/or the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020, and how these alternative processes might be used or impact developments, please don’t hesitate to contact Lauren Semple, Francelle Lupis or Jeannie Warnock.August 2020
On 5 June 2020, the Supreme Court issued its decision on an appeal by 127 Hobson Street Limited (127 Hobson) against the Court of Appeal’s finding that a requirement to indemnify lessee Honeybees Preschool Limited (Honey Bees), for all financial obligations incurred under a lease as a result of 127 Hobson’s failure as lessor to install an elevator, was not an unenforceable penalty...
On 5 June 2020, the Supreme Court issued its decision on an appeal by 127 Hobson Street Limited (127 Hobson) against the Court of Appeal’s finding that a requirement to indemnify lessee Honeybees Preschool Limited (Honey Bees), for all financial obligations incurred under a lease as a result of 127 Hobson’s failure as lessor to install an elevator, was not an unenforceable penalty.
The issues on appeal involved an examination of the scope of the current rule against penalties in New Zealand and whether the clause in question constituted an unenforceable penalty.Upholding the Court of Appeal finding, the Supreme Court has usefully re-stated the law on penalties in New Zealand.BackgroundHoney Bees runs a childcare centre in central city premises leased from 127 Hobson. When the Deed of Lease was entered into, the parties also entered into a separate agreement under which 127 Hobson and its director agreed to install a second lift in the building to facilitate the arrival and departure of children at the central city high rise preschool.This agreement included a provision whereby both 127 Hobson and its director agreed that in the event this second lift was not operational by 31 July 2016, Honey Bees would be indemnified against all rent and outgoings it incurred under the lease until its expiry.The Supreme Court looked at the circumstances around entry into the overall transaction, examining why the separate second lift agreement was central to the lease’s suitability.What is the scope of the rule against penalties in New Zealand? The Supreme Court summarised the rule against penalties as follows:
Was the indemnity clause an unenforceable penalty? To answer this, the Court looked at Honey Bees’ legitimate interests and found that the only relevant interests were those that flowed from a failure to install a second lift on or before the due date. As the preschool was operating on the fifth floor of a busy high rise building, children and parents would be arriving and leaving within concentrated blocks of time. Honey Bees was looking to increase the capacity of its preschool over the forthcoming years. This was important to the commercial success of the venture.The Court also found that there was no discrepancy in the parties’ respective bargaining powers.The Court agreed with the Court of Appeal’s finding that, despite the ‘all or nothing’ nature of the indemnity clause, the consequences of the indemnity being triggered were not out of all proportion to the legitimate interests secured, and therefore the clause was not an unenforceable penalty.Other issuesThis Court also read the wording “all obligations” as applying to only “payment obligations”, i.e. Honey Bees was indemnified against all its financial obligations under the lease but the agreement did not give Honey Bees a right to breach its own obligations under the lease.It is worth noting that the Court confirmed the general understanding in property law that rights of renewal of leases are in fact grants of a new lease, not an extension of the existing lease. Therefore the indemnity provided under the indemnity agreement only applied to the initial term of the lease, rather than a 24 year period including all renewals. 10 July 2020
The Overseas Investment (Urgent Measures) Amendment Act 2020 (Urgent Measures Act) came into force on 16 June 2020, bringing into effect the temporary notification regime...
The Overseas Investment (Urgent Measures) Amendment Act 2020 (Urgent Measures Act) came into force on 16 June 2020, bringing into effect the temporary notification regime.
The manner in which the temporary notification regime applies to property transactions and how a change of control is calculated has now been clarified by the Overseas Investment Amendment Regulations 2020 (Regulations). In addition, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) has recently published details of what information is required when making a notification to it and provided some additional guidance.When is notification requirement triggered?One of the key things achieved by the Regulations is to clarify when various property transactions require notification to the OIO.The Urgent Measures Act provides in section 82(2)(b), that, an acquisition of property by an overseas person used in carrying on business in New Zealand that effectively amounts to a change in control of that business, as defined in the Regulations, is subject to the temporary notification regime. The Regulations define what is meant by a change in control of the business, and here take a novel approach. Change in control is to be assessed by reference to what proportion of the counterparty’s (i.e. the vendor’s or lessor’s) total assets are being acquired. A “change in control in relation to the acquisition of property used in carrying on a business” is where the value of the property being acquired is more than 25% of the value of all New Zealand property owned by the person from whom the property was acquired, as assessed immediately before the acquisition. If this threshold is exceeded, the transaction must be notified.This means that both the purchase of land, as well as the entry into a lease (being an acquisition of an interest in land), will be subject to the temporary notification regime and require notification to the OIO if they involve more than 25% of the counterparty’s total assets.The value of property is to be determined by reference to the most recent financial statements, accounting records and all other circumstances which affect the value of the property. Reliance may be placed on valuations that are reasonable in the circumstances.Further, value is to be determined by reference to the assets of the actual counterparty, not its related companies. If a particular property asset is held in a special purpose vehicle, as is often the case, regard cannot be had to the total value of group assets.It is quite possible that a counterparty will resist having to provide its confidential financial information. If so, one solution would be to include a warranty that the threshold is or is not met, and if need be, proceed, or not proceed, to notification accordingly. The OIO has indicated it will be providing further guidance here shortly.Incorporating companiesOne thing to watch out for in relation to the application of the notification regime to business transactions generally is that it covers any acquisition of securities by an overseas person. Strictly speaking, this would have covered even the uncontroversial incorporation of a New Zealand subsidiary of the overseas person, without any business transaction occurring. After we raised this anomaly with the OIO, it has now been clarified by the enactment of the Overseas Investment Amendment Regulations (No 2) 2020 that a mere company incorporation does not require notification to the OIO.A few process commentsIf it is determined that a transaction is subject to the temporary notification regime, notification to the OIO is to be made prior to giving effect to a transaction. A transaction may be entered into before notification, provided the transaction is conditional on receiving a direction order from the Minister. Transactions entered into before 16 June 2020 are not subject to the temporary notification regime at all.The notification process is completed online via an online form on the OIO’s website. The information required includes:
This information must be submitted with the online form and cannot be sent separately to the OIO. No fee is payable.Unless the OIO makes appropriate changes to its online form, the process for completing it will remain clunky. All the information needs to be gathered, and ready for upload as required, in advance. No provision has been made for the counterparty to submit its financial information privately, on a confidential basis. There is no ability to provide additional material (for example a statement that the counterparty refuses to provide financial statements, or a letter explaining any necessary departure) and there is a tick-box requirement that the party submitting confirms that all required information has been included in the notification (without which the online submission will not work).Once a transaction has been notified, the OIO will conduct an initial review and make a recommendation to the Minister of Finance, who will decide whether the transaction is contrary to the national interest. No delegation of this decision-making power has been made, regardless of transaction value, and if all parties comply then it is possible to foresee a bottleneck arising at the ministerial level. This initial review is expected to be completed within 10 working days, although the legislation does actually provide for the initial review to take up to 40 working days, with provision for extension by the Minister for a further 30 working days.A notified transaction cannot progress until a direction order is issued. The Minister may:
If it is found that further assessment is necessary, the transaction will be subject to a detailed review against the national interest test. This is a discretionary power, and guidance on this test notes that considerations are to be given to a range of factors and the likely impact of the investment.The OIO expects the majority of transactions to be able to proceed without any intervention. However, as the notification requirement effectively amounts to a temporary ministerial power of veto over transactions, at the very least resulting in potentially significant delay, the new regime is of concern to business.Thankfully the new emergency notification regime is only temporary and an assessment of the regime is to commence by the end of July to ensure that classes of transactions subject to the regime are not broader than reasonably necessary. Treasury has advised this review will be completed after the 2020 General Election. Further, the emergency notification regime will be reviewed by the Minster at 90 day intervals to ascertain whether the effects of the pandemic justify the regime remaining in place. Where it is determined, the emergency notification regime is no longer required, this will be replaced by a permanent call-in power (see our previous article here for details of this). The first 90 day review has now been completed, and on 1 September Treasury issued a statement advising that New Zealand would retain the temporary notification regime for a further 90 days. The next statutory review is due on 28 November 2020. Following the initial review the OIO confirmed it had received 102 notifications, with three being called in by the Associate Minister of Finance for further assessment. Of these three, two transactions have been allowed to proceed, and one is currently being reviewed. We will watch with interest the outcome of this assessment.Please contact Brigid McArthur or one of our lawyers in our Property team if you would like help on interpreting the temporary notification regime and the recent changes to the Overseas Investment Act.10 July 2020 (updated September 2020)
Navigating the Public Works Act 1981 (PWA) can be difficult for both landowners and the government agencies charged with developing public works, especially when divesting surplus land. Recently, the Court of Appeal provided some clarity about the obligation to offer surplus land to its former owner, when that former owner is a company which has been removed from the companies register...
Navigating the Public Works Act 1981 (PWA) can be difficult for both landowners and the government agencies charged with developing public works, especially when divesting surplus land. Recently, the Court of Appeal provided some clarity about the obligation to offer surplus land to its former owner, when that former owner is a company which has been removed from the companies register.
In Aztek Limited v Attorney-General  NZCA 249, the Court of Appeal held that, even though the company former owner had been removed from the companies register, the chief executive of Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) should have enquired into the ability to make an offer to that company. The chief executive’s decision, made in February 2011, that it would have been “impracticable” to sell the land to that company was set aside and the chief executive is now required to reconsider that decision.The case relates to properties acquired from Aztek Limited for the “Avondale Extension” (later known as the Waterview tunnel project) by agreement in 2005. As Aztek’s only significant asset was that land, the directors of the company had ceased filing annual returns and the company was removed from the companies register in March 2009. In November 2010, NZTA decided that the land was no longer required for the Avondale Extension and, on 21 February 2011, the chief executive of LINZ approved an offer-back exemption under section 40(2)(a) of the PWA. This section provides an exemption to the standard rule that land must be offered for sale to its former owner when it would be “impracticable” to do so. The reason given was that the company had been removed from the companies register.Aztek was restored to the companies register in 2015 after the directors of the company discovered that the land had been declared surplus. The restoration of the company, in effect, brought it back to life as if it was never removed from the companies register.The Court of Appeal relied on both the wording and purpose of section 40 of the PWA to decide that the chief executive of LINZ should have enquired with the shareholder of the company as to whether it was possible for the company to be restored to the companies register in order to receive an offer of the land. That enquiry should have been made between the decision that the land was surplus and the decision that a sale to the former owner was “impracticable”. In this case, those decisions were made at the same time.The Court relied on a number of previous decisions about the rights of former owners under the PWA and concluded that the PWA is designed to ensure that, so far as practicable, land is returned to the persons from whom it was acquired as “that is the right thing to do”. The Court held that, in this case, it was both reasonable and practicable to advise the shareholder of the company of the possibility of receiving an offer if the company was restored to the companies register.This was a case where the company was closely-held, and the company had been removed from the companies register less than two years before the land became surplus. The reasonable performance of the chief executive’s duties could have resulted in the company being restored to the register in order to receive an offer in the months following the November 2011 decision that the land was surplus.Restoration to the register is a relatively straightforward process under sections 328 to 331 of the Companies Act 1993 where the relevant ground for removal did not exist (generally, that the company had ceased to carry on business) and a useful provision in a variety of scenarios, both inside and outside of a liquidation.The PWA remains a complex piece of legislation, which is well overdue for reform, with the rights and obligations of landowners and governmental agencies becoming more and more governed by caselaw. In this particular case, it is not yet known if an appeal to the Supreme Court will be sought by the Crown.A number of our lawyers regularly provide advice on the PWA and one of our senior consultants, John Greenwood, advised Aztek and its shareholder on this matter. If you would like further information about this or any other PWA matter, please contact one of our property lawyers. Our corporate team can also assist with restoration to the companies register or other company law matter.July 2020
Another tool in the Government’s armoury towards Covid-19 related economic recovery is a step closer this week with the introduction of the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill. Styled in part on the recovery legislation we saw after the Canterbury and Kaikōura Earthquakes, the legislation seeks to circumvent the Resource Management Act 1991 in an attempt to speed up the consenting of projects with a view to aiding employment and catalysing economic recovery...
Another tool in the Government’s armoury towards Covid-19 related economic recovery is a step closer this week with the introduction of the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill. Styled in part on the recovery legislation we saw after the Canterbury and Kaikōura Earthquakes, the legislation seeks to circumvent the Resource Management Act 1991 in an attempt to speed up the consenting of projects with a view to aiding employment and catalysing economic recovery.
For the 11 “listed projects” contained within the Bill itself, the pathway is relatively clear. These projects are already on the fast track and almost (we think!) assured of consent with the expert consenting panel apparently only having to satisfy itself that the grant of consent or designation is not inconsistent with any national policy statement (including a New Zealand coastal policy statement) or Treaty settlement legislation and then determining what conditions should attach. The expectation in the Bill appears to be that these projects will be consented in short order, subject to the relevant applicant completing the necessary applications. The Bill sets out some reasonably hefty requirements for those applications, but how that will translate into practice remains to be seen. For roading and rail projects, KiwiRail and NZTA obtain some limited permitted works powers in respect of existing public infrastructure works (subject to specific performance standards included in the Bill), with local councils being given a monitoring role to ensure accountability. By way of an Order in Council on recommendation from the Minister for the Environment, Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and local authorities may also receive permitted works powers in limited circumstances. For everyone else, a pathway exists to get on the fast track bandwagon. Provided certain criteria are met, any person can apply to the Minister for the Environment to have a project referred to the expert consenting panel. With a maximum 70 day decision-making timeframe for most projects, no notification requirements, potentially no hearing and no appeals (other than on points of law), it’s a handy process if you can get it. Although getting it may well be the trick! The Bill gives the Minister almost complete discretion as to whether to refer a project on to the consenting panel and this will assist to ward off successful judicial review (although may not stop it as a tactical stall). Again, however, the Bill provides for a detailed application and assessment of environmental effects to reach that determination, which will have implications for all applicants. While the Bill indicates that an application need only provide a “general level of detail”, working out what the Minister will actually need to see to be convinced of the merit of the application will be critical – particularly given the substantial number of applications that are anticipated and the requirement for the Minister to invite comment on the application from a range of other Ministers. There is no doubt the legislation is laudable in its attempt to urgently consent projects that can deliver jobs and catalyse the economy. However, in our experience, “fast tracks” are not the panacea they initially appear to be. Our experience acting for the government recovery agencies under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 and the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act 2016 is that processes that require Ministerial decisions can be slowed by myriad factors including the wider political environment. Even under the current streamlined plan processes in the Resource Management Act 1991, the Ministerial decision to agree the “fast track” or otherwise has taken, on average, seven months over the six applications so far approved (before the actual process for council or judicial decision-making even starts). In a similar vein, it is our experience that the political goodwill expended on these processes can wane with time and particularly after the first judicial review (especially if the Minister is reprimanded by the Courts). The legislation is well-constructed and could definitely be a game-changer for many projects, with a resultant stimulus to the economy. The question is whether it will be more successful than its predecessors in actually producing the promised time-savings. Navigating the necessary Ministerial approval processes will require considerable skill and strategic nous. Retaining advisors well-versed in these processes will be critical, particularly in the early stages where all potential applicants are endeavouring to work out what the legislation requires. If you would like more information on whether your project might be assisted by this new process, please feel free to contact us. We expect demand for the Minister’s attention under this legislation to be high and providing a compelling case early will be a significant advantage.June 2020
With the increase in remote working as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, our reliance on technology has necessarily increased, and this has included the signing of documents electronically. This article describes when electronic signatures can be used, and how enforceable they are...
With the increase in remote working as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, our reliance on technology has necessarily increased, and this has included the signing of documents electronically. This article describes when electronic signatures can be used, and how enforceable they are.
Electronic signaturesThe Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 (Act) defines the term “electronic signature” in relation to information in electronic form, as “a method used to identify a person and to indicate that person’s approval of that information”.This could include anything from the scanned version of a signature, the ticking of an “I accept” option or a signature formed by a finger on a tablet or smartphone.The Act provides for statutory validation of an electronic signature, subject only to a few exceptions. The general rule is that, where any legislation requires dealings to take place on paper, that dealing is also permitted to take place electronically, provided the signature meets certain requirements, both parties agree and the dealings are not expressly excluded from the Act.Signature requirementsA valid electronic signature can be broken down into the following three requirements:
Any signature used to identify a person must be reliable. There is a presumption in section 228 of the Act that an electronic signature is reliable if:
Section 226(1)(a) of the Act requires that a signature must “adequately [indicate] the signatory’s approval of the information to which the signature relates. The ADLS signing system, for example, inserts a sentence after the signature stating that the person intends to be bound by the document they are signing.Types of documents that can be electronically signedThe Act does not list the documents permitted to be electronically signed. Instead, it lists documents that may not be (see below).In practice, the following documents can be electronically signed:
Types of documents you cannot electronically signSchedule 5 of the Act provides examples where an electronic signature cannot be used, including:
A & I FormsA & I Forms are the method used by clients to instruct lawyers and conveyancing practitioners to certify and sign land transaction documents. Lawyers and conveyancing practitioners rely on properly signed and witnessed A & I Forms to electronically sign land transaction documents in a system known as Landonline.The reliance on A & I Forms is regulated by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) and is subject to audit. LINZ issues guidelines setting out requirements for the use of A & I Forms.For a lawyer or conveyancing practitioner to rely on an electronically-signed A & I Form, the lawyer or conveyancing practitioner must be certain that:
Recent guidance from LINZ also requires that the electronic system provide the lawyer or conveyancing practitioner with:
As A & I Forms are used to enable changes to the land transfer register, it is crucial that lawyers and conveyancing practitioners are certain that all of the above requirements are met. We expect that the above requirements are likely only complied with if the lawyer or conveyancing practitioner sets up the electronic signing process using a program known to the lawyer or conveyancing practitioner or otherwise obtains comfort about the system used by their client.In addition, the electronic signature must be witnessed by a “trusted professional” (except for some governmental or publicly-listed entities, where no witness is required). This normally requires that a lawyer or similar professional be present when the signature is applied (through an electronic signing program or with ink) to the A & I Form. Remote witnessing by audio-visual technology is available, but that witness must then be the lawyer or conveyancing practitioner who will be relying on the A & I Form to sign the land transaction document.June 2020