The word “essential” has been splashed about by all levels of government since COVID-19 hit, with many industries effectively shut down by restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

But what exactly is an “essential” service in the context of your property? Can you still get a plumber to come and unblock your drain or a sparkie to fix a broken light? Can you plough on with that renovation you had planned or get that overgrown hedge trimmed?

Circumstances are changing rapidly, so it’s always worth checking the latest updates from federal, state and local governments to make sure you’re across any new rules. Under the restrictions announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on March 29, Australians are still permitted to leave home for work that can’t be carried out remotely. “If you have a job in this economy, then that is an essential job, in my view, in terms of running the economy,” Morrison said on April 2.

While some services and activities have been banned and social distancing is in force, property maintenance hasn’t been specifically mentioned at the time of writing. In practice, that means tradies have still been doing house calls and builders have still been working on construction sites, where strict distancing and safely rules have been introduced.

Many architecture and interior design practices are still working on residential projects, though the shutdown has affected their work practices.
Expect less face-to-face contact, more online consultations, potential delays and cost increases as businesses navigate the staffing and supply-chain issues caused by the lockdown.

The home-improvement website hipages, which connects consumers and tradies, declared its tradies “still open for business” in a post updated on March 27.

To help minimise its customers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19, it compiled a list of recommended protocols for homeowners and tradies, including checking in with your tradie before they visit to ensure they are well, considering rescheduling if there are high-risk people at home, offering your tradie the opportunity to wash their hands before and after the job, using contactless payment and disinfecting surfaces.

NSW Fair Trading also recently issued COVID-19 FAQs, including guidance on what is an essential service in strata buildings.

“In the current situation, any services that contribute to the safety, health of residents and maintenance of minimum living standards should be considered by the owners corporation,” the FAQs state. “For example, lighting for an underground garage may be considered more essential than lighting in a common property pool or meeting room.”

Expect many strata managers to be postponing non-urgent work, especially if it involves entering people’s individual units. If tighter restrictions come into force, maintenance might be limited to emergency works.

For now, at least, it seems it is possible to get that drain unblocked or light fixed. Just be prepared to be patient and flexible as tradies navigate the new normal like the rest of us.