Up Again Qatar: 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 maintain social distancing of at least 2 m in all common areas, including elevators. Elevators may not be more than 30% occupied in the general guideline. Under phase 2, no more than ten people may be present in a meeting. Any equipment used by employees or customers must be regularly sanitised, and disposable utensils/cups should be used at all times in any kitchen or dining areas.

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.?

All communal areas, including toilet facilities, must be cleaned after each use and all entrances sterilised. Masks and hand sanitiser must be provided, and disposable cups and utensils must be used when providing refreshments to visitors or customers. Please see question 4 in the People section of these FAQ for the reference to the guidance provided by the Ministry of Health.

These measures include a requirement to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection and performing “intensive cleaning” and disinfection throughout the day, particularly in certain areas/parts of the building such as receptions, door handles, elevator buttons and meeting rooms. All cleaning and disinfecting must be documented.

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?

The Ministry of Health has issued guidance for environmental cleaning in non-healthcare facilities in relation to COVID-19. This guidance for public places can be found here.

Under phase 2, shopping malls are being gradually reopened with restrictive measures such as:

  • age limits for shoppers entering;
  • sanitation gateways for members of the public;
  • thermal camera installations;
  • restricted hours and limited capacity; and
  • requiring customers and staff to wear protective masks.

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?

The government has pledged QAR75 billion (USD20 billion) in financial and economic incentives to the private sector. This incentive takes the form of:

  • rent exemptions for tenants in certain sectors in Qatar, primarily small and medium-sized enterprises operating within the Doha Industrial Zone, Meesaied Industrial Zone and other areas for a period of six months effective from 15 March 2020;
  • exemptions from paying water and electricity bills for companies operating in a prescribed list of economic sectors, including the hospitality and tourism sector and the retail sector, for a period of six months;
  • postponement of outstanding business loan instalments and interests on such loans for a period of six months effective from 16 March 2020; and
  • an allocation of QAR3 billion within a support package for granting soft loans without commission or fees for (National Guarantee Program).

The National Guarantee Program, launched by the Qatar Development Bank under the directive of the government, ultimately provides guarantees of QAR3 billion to local banks to grant interest-free loans to private companies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The particulars of the National Guarantee Program are as follows.

Components: the benefits under the National Guarantee Program extend to:

  • staff payroll according to an entity's Wage Protection Scheme registry for a period of up to three months paid on a monthly pro-rata basis; and
  • rental for a period of up to three months paid on a monthly pro-rata basis.

Eligibility: for an entity to be eligible to benefit from the National Guarantee Program, it must:

  • be wholly privately owned;
  • be adversely affected by COVID-19;
  • hold a commercial registration issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; and
  • operate in any sector of the economy with the exception of the real estate, construction and contracting sector.

Tenor and grace period:

  • The guarantee will be issued for a period of up to three years to cover banking facilities.
  • The tenor period is up to two years.
  • A grace period of up to one year.

Collateral: an entity wishing to benefit from the National Guarantee Program must provide collateral, and this collateral is in the form of personal guarantees issued by the shareholders in an entity holding no less than 10% equity interest in the entity.

Application: an entity must submit a request to benefit from the National Guarantee Program to the bank which administers the entity's Wage Protection Scheme payroll. This application must be supported by:

  • a copy of the Qatari identification card of the applicant (this individual would typically be an individual listed on the entity's commercial registration as a manager/authorised signatory with full and absolute authorities or banking authorities);
  • a copy of the entity's valid commercial registration;
  • proof that the entity is party to a valid rental agreement; and
  • the personal guarantee mentioned above.

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?

There are no specific tax reliefs on rent instalments.

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

No changes to legislation governing commercial and residential tenancies have been proposed regarding real estate-related contractual obligations.

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

There are no credit facilities in place to mitigate loss of income specifically for landlords.

The government’s financial and economic incentives and the National Guarantee Program offer relief to the private sector generally, and this could include landlords affected by COVID-19. Please see question above.

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

The government’s financial and economic incentives and the National Guarantee Program offer relief to private sector businesses affected by COVID-19. Please see question 4 above. There is no specific relief from repayments/enforcement of loans secured against properties.

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.)?

There have been no significant adaptations announced for certain public services to accommodate the obvious restrictions and challenges in completing real estate transactions in Qatar due to COVID-19.

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.)?

Electronic signatures are governed by E-Commerce Law, Decree-Law No. (16) of 2010 on Electronic Commerce and Transactions, and are deemed an authentic proof of signature if certain conditions are satisfied.

Though businesses have been relying more heavily on the use of e-signatures during COVID-19, there are certain transactions that are not eligible. These include transactions involving the sale, purchase, lease (for a term of more than ten years) and other dispositions of immovable property, and the registration of other rights relating to immovable property.

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)?

Engineering contractors working on construction projects in the private and public sectors are exempt from COVID-19 working restrictions. This means that it is business as usual for Qatar construction projects, and engineering contractors are permitted to have their full workforce on site working full shifts.

This is subject to relevant health and safety measures being applied properly to protect employees. Such health and safety measures include:

  • increased frequency of sanitising any equipment used;
  • limiting any gatherings or meetings;
  • use of face masks;
  • social distancing of 2 m in specific areas;
  • temperature checking on entry and exit to the premises and refusal of entry to any employees showing symptoms; and
  • buses transporting workers to and from site can only be 50% full.

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?

The contractual arrangements will vary and the remedies for impossibility or delay for handover of the premises is contract-specific.

Frustration and force majeure may also be relevant.

There are several grounds under the FIDIC Red Book on which contractors could seek to bring a claim for extension to the time for completion. The success of such claims will depend on whether they meet the necessary contractual requirements.

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

At present, there have been no legislative changes relating to the duration of resource consents and building consents due to COVID-19.

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?

Asking visitors or others to sign a disclaimer may prompt people to take more responsibility for themselves and deter claims being made in the first place.

But it is unlikely that such a disclaimer can be used to abrogate duties imposed on business owners during the crisis, including those under the Supreme Committee for Crises Management’s controlled Phased Lifting of COVID-19 Restrictions, such as implementing social-distancing procedures, providing enhanced sanitisation, and carrying out temperature checks.