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Toolbox: LawAccess

Continuing our series on software and technology aids for property investors, Diana Clement reviews Law Access, a wealth of law-related resources.

Wednesday, November 7th 2007, 12:00AM

by The Landlord


 


Product: Law Access
Price: Free
Overall rating: 3 out of 5
Website: www.lawaccess.lsa.govt.nz


I chanced upon the Legal Services Agency’s (LSA) LawAccess website while doing a Google search for something completely unrelated. My instant summation of the website was: ‘Ooh. This would be useful for property investors’. And it is.



The government-run website LawAccess is quite simply a catalogue of law-related information and resources from more than 150 organisations. It doesn’t masquerade as whiz bang and flashy.

The resources include fact sheets, pamphlets, videos, website links and freephone numbers. It its own words: “LawAccess helps you track down law-related information”.

Experienced investors may never need this website as they may know laws such as the Resource Management Act, New Zealand Building Code like the back of their hand. But many don’t.

Investors may also come across issues they need to address that are unrelated to those acts of parliament. For example, when I did exploratory searches on LawAccess I found links landlords might need such as:

  • Illegal parking and towing. LawAccess’ link on this subject leads to the Neighbourhood Support New Zealand website where case law is discussed in plain English and a fact sheet can be downloaded.
  • Tenancy law information for refugees in English, Somali, Arabic and Amharic from the Refugee and Migrant Service – useful if you have tenants who fit the bill. There are also links to legal information and organisations concerned with refugees.
  • Fact sheets on the Privacy Act (2003) and information on how to access personal information from the law enforcement system.
  • Information about the Property Relationships Act including fact sheets about how marital status and de facto relationships affect property matters and what happens if your relationship breaks up.
  • How the law of bankruptcy works and what your rights and obligations are if you’re declared bankrupt.
  • A guide to making a claim with the Earthquake Commission (EQC). Find out how much the EQC will pay and if, for example, retaining walls are covered.
  • Tips from the Law Society of New Zealand on buying or selling a property.
  • Fencing. I found details about how to obtain an 11-page booklet covering everything from fencing notices to adequate fences for urban and rural properties as defined under the Fencing Act 1978.
  • Trusts and companies, and legal matters including contracts.

Where relevant, links on the site also list freephone numbers for related agencies.

When I clicked on the Housing section, for example, the page brought up numbers for Tenancy Services, the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, Building Controls at the DBH and more.

There aren’t really many downsides about this website. It’s just plain, simple and useful. An advanced search engine might be more helpful because the search sometimes returned information that was too general. The ability to sign up to an email service to be kept informed when specific information is added might help.

The LawAccess website is in the process of being expanded to include plain English printable information sheets on many topics. These have been written by the Legal Services Agency based on legislation. They aim to help people understand the legal side of their situation and their rights and responsibilities. Of particular interest to property investors are information sheets about tenancy, neighbours and the Disputes Tribunal, which should be available next month.

Investors and landlords who know their way around the Department of Building & Housing website Dbh.govt.nz, may want to go straight there for building, housing and tenancy-related law.

As an exercise I typed in the words “fire sprinkler system” into both LawAccess and the DBH website. On the LawAccess site, the first link returned led to information on Standards New Zealand website about NZS 4515:2003 standard fire sprinkler systems for residential dwellings. The DBH site returned a link about a course aimed at building officials offered by WelTec. The moral of the story is that it’s well worth searching around, not relying on one website. The most useful search on “fire sprinkler system” I conducted was on Google.co.nz, because it brought up links to organisations such as the Fire Service, Fireprotection.org.nz, and Consumerbuild.org.nz.

I managed to find one technical glitch in the LawAccess search engine, which objected to the term P-lab and returned a page that told me: “An unhandled exception was generated during the execution of the current web request.” A bit unfortunate because P-labs are something landlords need to concern themselves about. The good news is that the LSA took note of my feedback and promised to post information for landlords about P-labs as soon as possible.

Contact: info@lsa.govt.nz or telephone 04 495 5910
System requirements: Internet access


Verdict: A good starting point for investors in need of legal information
Pros: A portal to sometimes hard-to-find legal information
Cons: LawAccess could do with a better search engine







« Book: Property Law - A NZ Investors GuideRegional Review: Christchurch »

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Median 4.55 2.79 2.99 2.80

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