Property Law Update: Electronic Signing of Leases and Mortgages During COVID-19

Social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have posed challenges for individuals and businesses needing to execute important legal documents. The legal formalities required for the execution of a document often require the document to be signed in the presence of a witness who must then also sign the document. The good news is that the Victorian Government has responded with a solution to deal with this challenge.

On 12 May 2020,  the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) (Electronic Signing and Witnessing) Regulations 2020 (“the Regulations”) were passed. The Regulations, which were enacted under the COVID-19 (Emergency Measures) Omnibus Act 2020, allow for certain documents commonly used in property law practice to be signed and witnessed without the need for the party signing and the witness to be present at the one location in a face-to-face meeting.

Despite the slight easing of restrictions in Victoria, the new Regulations come as a relief to legal practitioners and clients alike, providing a safe and practical avenue for business to continue.

How does electronic signing and witnessing of documents work?

The Regulations, which modify the Electronic Transactions (Victoria) Act 2000, permit the signing of documents and the witnessing of signatures via an audio-visual link. In the property law space, this includes documents such as leases and mortgages.

An audio-visual link (via such mediums as Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams) must be established between the parties and their lawyer when the document is signed. Leases and mortgages can then be signed by the client in one location and witnessed by the witness usually the lawyer in another physical location provided the requirements of the Regulations are strictly adhered to.

The property and business lawyers at Robertson Hyetts are available to take instructions by videoconference, email and telephone and can arrange for documents to be signed and witnessed by audio-visual link if required.

For further information on signing and witnessing documents remotely, please contact our Castlemaine office on 5472 1588 or Bendigo office on 5444 6666.