Up Again Austria: Premises and Workplace

Employment

1. What are the key things that employers have to consider in relation to social distancing in the workplace, e.g. open plan or spacing of desks, use of shared equipment, limited access to communal facilities, canteen / restaurant, etc.?

Employees must be instructed to keep a distance of at least one metre between them and also with other persons, provided this is possible when performing their work (otherwise, the risk of infection must be minimised by other appropriate protective measures).

To ensure, as much as possible, the minimum distance to the customer, measures such as floor markings and physical boundaries should be taken, and also constructional measures, such as transparent protective screens reduce the risk of droplet infection.

Meetings and discussions in larger groups should be avoided as far as possible. If technically feasible, such meetings should be held via telephone, video conference or Skype.

Smoking breaks or other breaks in which several employees gather in a small space increase the risk of infection and so should be prohibited by the employer. The risk of infection can also be minimised by organisational measures, for example cooperation of the same employees in teams, and no personal contact between the teams.

If a suspicious case occurs in a group, the entire team can be sent home until the situation is clarified, disinfection measures can be taken and another work team can take over.

Breaks and the start/end of the working day should be staggered to maintain the one-metre distance between employees, for example in changing rooms or while eating.

2. What key hygiene and/or infection prevention measures will employers have to take to ensure a safe workplace e.g. provision of adequate handwashing facilities, regular deep cleaning of offices, etc.?

Please see above the answer immediately above.

Real Estate

3. Are there any specific obligations, liabilities or duties of conduct imposed on landlords, tenants or visitors with respect to the use or re-use and decontamination of premises; care, cleaning and maintenance of the exclusive and common areas; reporting requirements and/or measures in case of identified infections; health and safety issues - e.g. recommissioning water systems to avoid virus, installation of plexiglass screens, moving desks to comply with distancing. remodulation of fire prevention strategies (entrance/exit routes)? Is any distinction made between asset classes?

Yes. The property manager is the representative for the owner of a property and carries out administration and management on behalf of the owner. The owner/property manager is obliged to care, clean and maintain the exclusive and common areas of the property and has reporting requirements regarding identified infections and health and safety issues.

There are no further requirements imposed on property managers or owners.

4. Are there any rent suspension measures and/or stay of recourses and actions (including eviction) or any Government support initiatives such as a furloughed building grant scheme (if so, maybe only a part of the building should be re-occupied)? When rent suspension measures are available, what is the usual payment mechanism and timing agreed to by the parties?

Tenants of business premises may invoke a reduction or complete suspension of rent due to exceptional circumstances (Section 1104 Austrian General Civil Code). The extent to which a reduction is permissible must be examined in each individual case. This is especially true regarding a remaining benefit of the premises, for example because the business is closed but online trading is carried out from there or warehouse activities may be continued.

Tenants of residential leases cannot be terminated for the period 1 April to 30 June 2020 due to non-payment of rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rent remains due for this period; interest on arrears may also be incurred. Unpaid rent from the period 1 April to 30 June 2020 must be paid by 31 December 2020, otherwise the rent may be terminated by the landlord. In the event of a dispute, tenants must provide credible evidence that the non-payment of rent is due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (COVID-19 Act).

5. Are there specific tax reliefs on payment or collection of rent instalments? Do they apply subject to actual payment or regardless? Do they apply generally or only to specific asset classes?

No.

6. Are there any measures regarding relief from the performance of real estate-related contractual obligations?

Yes, there are statutory rights to reduce the rent under exceptional circumstances that may possibly apply to the situation during the COVID-19 pandemic (Section 1104 of the Austrian General Civil Code). Please also see question four above (COVID-19 Act). Apart from that, there is no relief from the performance of real estate-related contractual obligations.

7. Are there any credit facilities in place to mitigate loss of income for landlords?

No.

8. Is there any relief from loan repayments / enforcement of loans secured against properties?

Yes, consumers and micro-entrepreneurs no longer able to meet their credit payment obligations are entitled to defer payments to be made in the period 1 April to 30 June 2020. This means that instalments, including principal and interest payments, may be suspended (deferred) for three months. Deferral means that the payments owed in the deferral period are postponed to future dates. The collateral provided to the bank shall remain with the bank for the extended term (4th COVID-19 Act).

The bank may not terminate a loan with a consumer or micro-entrepreneur in the period 1 April to 30 June 2020. This means the bank is not entitled to declare due such a loan based on non-payment of instalments that would have been payable within this period (4th COVID-19 Act).

9. Are public services necessary to complete the sale, acquisition or other operation of real estate assets or companies or to establish the right to open for business (planning authorities, notary public, Land Registry, Companies’ Registry, etc.)?

Yes. A purchase agreement on real estate has to be signed by the parties before a notary public and filed with the Austrian Land Registry.

The acquisition of shares of a company owning real property requires signing of a share purchase agreement before a notary public and filing with the Austrian Companies Registry.

10. Are there any specific processes or protocols available to consummate real estate operations enabling them to comply with any required social distancing (e.g. electronic signature, etc.)?

No. Signing of a purchase agreement regarding real property or the transfer of shares is mandatory before a notary public. Social distancing has to be assured by the persons signing (the notaries assure distancing when they are present at signing). Please question nine above.

There are no specific formal requirements regarding the signing of lease agreements so that social distancing is possible.

11. Are contractors who were carrying out works within the premises obliged to resume them? Can building sites reopen when they were closed down? Are there any specific provisions in relation to certain asset classes authorising continuation / resumption of works (e.g. healthcare structures)?

Yes, all works can be resumed and buildings sites can be reopened.

However, contractors are obliged to comply with the measures under the Austrian COVID-19 Act by using a mask, keeping distance and complying with hygiene regulations.

12. Are there remedies or contractual arrangements available to address impossibility or delay for a party to handover premises to another which are/were to be constructed or refurbished, or for such other party to take over those premises?

Yes, the party obliged to hand over premises may, under certain circumstances, invoke the impossibility of its performance due to the Austrian government's measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

13. Has the duration of validity of administrative authorisations pertaining to development/construction of real estate assets (in particular planning authorisations) been extended?

In administrative proceedings, the Austrian legislator has passed a separate federal law to interrupt time limits until 30 April 2020 (COVID-19-Begleitgesetz and COVID-19-VwBG.) These regulations came into force retroactively as of 22 March 2020.

Litigation and Regulation

14. Is the use of disclaimers for visitors or others coming on to the site of business useful for limiting potential future COVID-19 claims?

Disclaimers on the site of business will probably not be valid unless they have been explicitly agreed on. However, claims may typically only be limited for slight negligence, whereby personal injuries can never be excluded.