Selling Your Home: How to be Lucky this Holiday Season

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, Roman philosopher)

History has not recorded whether Seneca himself was “lucky” in the property market of his time (Rome’s land registration records from two millennia ago have unfortunately not survived the ravages of time and Imperial collapse) but his wise words are as true today as they were then.

The two key elements of a “lucky” sale

To be “lucky” in finding the right buyer at the right price you need two key elements –

  1. Opportunity: Our Holiday Season is always a prime time to find the perfect buyer, and with our current low interest rates, local and international travel opening up again, and reports of house prices soaring globally, December promises to provide plenty of opportunity to sellers; and
  2. Preparation: We have some useful tips for you here, both from a legal standpoint and from a practical one…
How to prepare for a “lucky” house sale in 12 steps

First prize is of course a quick sale at a good price, followed by a smooth transfer process. Here are some thoughts on how to achieve exactly that –

  1. The sale agreement – avoiding the legal pitfalls: Your house is probably one of your most important assets, so be aware of and prepare for the many legal pitfalls which may await you. Falling into any one of them could instantly convert your “lucky” sale into a disaster!Note firstly that as seller you have the right to choose your own conveyancing attorney. Do not fall into the trap of giving that right up! Pick someone you trust to carry out the transfer (the formal registration in the Deeds Office of the property into the buyer’s name) quickly and professionally.You will be bound by all the terms and conditions in the sale agreement you sign, and there are far too many potential pitfalls here to list in one article. So have your own attorney prepare the offer/sale agreement for you, and if you happen to be presented with an offer on someone else’s offer form, at least have your attorney check it for you before you sign anything.Every term and every condition, no matter how “standard” it may seem, must be scrutinised to confirm that it suits your particular sale and your particular needs. Common things to go wrong include badly worded “voetstoots” and “bond clauses”, uncertainty over payment provisions, confusion over the authority of company directors and trustees of trusts to sign agreements and so on.
  2. Well in advance… Pick your attorney’s brain on a few preliminary (but deeply important) aspects like which estate agent/s to use, what sale prices are being achieved in your area and who is buying, and so on. Ask also for a list of what your costs are going to be, when you are likely to get paid the purchase price etc so you can prepare a cash flow forecast. Get a start with all your compliance certificates and provide for the cost of any remedial work needed (normally on the electrical and plumbing side). You may also have to give up to 90 days’ notice of cancellation of your home loan to your bondholder to avoid an early termination fee – check with your bank.
  3. Time it right: If you are selling a house – “holiday home” or not – in a traditional “holiday” area, the Festive Season will likely be your prime selling time. Sunny weather, everyone relaxed and in the holiday spirit, an influx of holiday makers from other cities – they all set the scene for you to show off your home to best advantage and to the best audience. Which brings us to…
  4. Describe and target your “perfect buyer”: Sit down with your family/friends/professional advisors and brainstorm who your “perfect buyer” is. Who will want your house the most? Who is going to pay you the most for it? Perhaps for example you come up with a spec like “Our perfect buyer is a young upwardly-mobile family looking for work-from-home-space, good schools in the area, and a separate flatlet for Granny.” Use that spec to inform your “market targeting” – how you plan to reach that target market, how you will tell it just how perfect your home is for them, and so on.
  5. Set the right asking price! A very common mistake, and an easy one to make, is over-pricing. Maximise buyer interest and engagement by asking for a reasonable, market-related price. With of course a margin for negotiation. Get good independent advice here – we tend to be very emotionally invested in our own “home-sweet-home” and it’s not easy to be objective about its attractiveness and value to outsiders.
  6. Advertising: Your first challenge is to get “feet through the front door” so unless you are very confident indeed of your own ability to find the right marketing channels and formats, professional advice and guidance is essential here! Remember that “a picture paints a thousand words” so bringing in a professional photographer is a no-brainer. You could seriously damage your home’s image in the public mind if you take a chance and get any of this wrong at the start.You want to highlight your property’s strengths, particularly those likely to appeal directly to your target market (identified above), so think of all the easily-overlooked things like borehole water, irrigation systems, solar power, inverters, fibre, special security features, herb garden space – the list is endless.
  7. Prioritise kerb appeal: If you get the above steps right, sooner or later your perfect buyer will be arriving at your street address. Critical here is kerb appeal – the “attractiveness of a property and its surroundings when viewed from the street”. Don’t drop the ball on this one! “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” said Will Rogers, and the same holds for your house. Ask some friends to drive down your street with a fresh pair of eyes – what jumps out to them as appealing? What could put a potential buyer off?
  8. Now comes “front door appeal”: So your perfect buyer now stops the car, decides to give your property a look-over, and parks – great going! Into your front garden we go – is the lawn cut and lush, trees and shrubs tidy, flower beds bursting with colour? Is the house exterior attractive, the paint job and roof in good condition? Does your entrance/front door shout “come on in”?
  9. Light, clean and airy sets the scene: We’re inside, now what’s the first thing your potential buyer will see? A bright, spacious, airy feel could seal the deal right there and then, whilst even the slightest trace of dim, musty airlessness could kill it stone dead. Whatever issues you identify, there is a treasure trove of advice on the internet about how to address them – lighter wall paint and curtains, more natural light from outside (a big seller!), sparkling windows, more interior lighting, a few mirrors to give a feeling of light and space, de-cluttering, re-arranging the furniture – your own house’s strong and weak points will be unique to it. Finish off with a really deep clean, calling in the professionals particularly if the house is old, if you have pets or have just got rid of old dust-gathering clutter.
  10. Deal maker kitchens and bathrooms: Your kitchen and bathrooms could be deal-makers, or they could be deal-breakers. More than perhaps any other area of your house, they are worth spending money on if they haven’t got immediate appeal already.
  11. Work-from-home office space: Depending on who you have identified as your “perfect buyer” in step 2 above, this could be critical. If you don’t have an office/study already set up, identify a space for one and be ready to answer questions like “do you have fast fibre?” and “how noisy are your neighbours?” 
  12. The DIY factor: Unless your plan is to sell a “fixer-upper with huge potential and in need of a little TLC”, have a good look around for all the “little things” that need fixing (we’re outside as well as inside the house now) – cracked tiles, broken fittings, leaking taps, a grubby swimming pool – anything really that a prospective buyer might notice and think “I wonder what else is wrong here?”

Bottom line – make your own luck!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Community Scheme Disputes and the Ombud’s Powers to Resolve Them

“[The Ombud} has been given wide inquisitorial powers whereby such disputes can be resolved as informally and cheaply as possible by means of qualified conciliators and adjudicators, without the need for legal representation, save in certain limited circumstances.” (Extract from first judgment below)

If you have a dispute with anyone in a “Community Scheme” – sectional title, Homeowners Association (HOA) or the like – remember that your first port of call should be the CSOS (Community Schemes Ombud Service).

What disputes can the Ombud resolve?

Disputes are inevitable in any community situation, with sources of conflict ranging from noise issues to problem pets, common area usage disagreements, parking space complaints and so on – the list is endless. Another perennial battleground is owners fighting with administrators (normally a body corporate or Homeowners Association) over levies, rules and regulations, and the like.

The Ombud’s mandate here is wide, with the CSOS promising “affordable, reliable justice” via its conciliation and alternate dispute resolution process for anyone party to, or “materially affected by” any of a wide range of disputes including levy disputes, nuisance complaints, repairs and maintenance disputes, complex meetings, financial, governance and management issues, exclusive use rights and the like – the list is long and widely-worded.

How does it work?

Costs are low and the process is straightforward, with legal representation restricted to cases where the adjudicator and all parties agree to it or where the adjudicator decides that a party cannot deal with the adjudication without it. There are media reports of the CSOS struggling in practice to provide the quick and reliable service promised on its website, but all in all, it should generally be your first port of call. In fact the High Court has now warned that you will almost always have no choice in the matter.

You must approach the Ombud before you go to court, unless…

The High Court has now stated categorically that, whenever the CSOS has the power to adjudicate a dispute, you have to go that route first and can only go direct to court in exceptional circumstances –

  • The scene in this first case is an inner-city 10 storey mixed-use sectional title scheme. The parties are on the one hand a group of loft owners unhappy with a new biometric security/access control system and with a new conduct rule limiting their right to lease out their loft apartments on a short-term basis; on the other, the body corporate trying to resolve security issues in the building with the new rules.
  • The loft owners asked the High Court to intervene as a matter of urgency and were soundly defeated, with the Court ordering them to pay costs on the punitive attorney-and-client scale after finding that “…this is not only a matter which should not have been brought before this Court and should have been taken to the Ombud, but is also one which constitutes an abuse of process…”.
  • As the Court put it: “…the statutory powers which an adjudicator has in terms of the Act are extremely wide and go beyond the powers which a court has in relation to neighbourly disputes and associations in terms of common law, not only insofar as their reach is concerned, but also in relation to their ambit. In numerous instances an adjudicator has an equity i.e. fairness-based power, not only to decide what is ‘reasonable’ in relation to the conduct of, or the decisions which have been taken by an association such as a body corporate of a sectional title scheme … but also to direct what should ‘reasonably’ be done in place thereof. A High Court does not have such powers.”
  • Thus: “…where disputes pertaining to community schemes such as sectional title schemes fall within the ambit and purview of the CSOS Act, they are in the first instance to be referred to the Ombud for resolution in accordance with the conciliative and adjudicatory processes established by the Act, and a court is not only entitled to decline to entertain such matters as a forum of first instance, but may in fact be obliged to do so, save in exceptional circumstances…” (emphasis supplied).
  • Exceptions, said the Court, would include challenges to the “constitutionality or legal validity or status of a particular statutory power or a provision in the Act” plus “in certain instances it is conceivable that the High Court may be approached in the first instance, as a review court.”
  • Each case will be different so take full advice before deciding whether to approach the Ombud or go straight to the High Court. 
Going direct to court when the Ombud has no jurisdiction
  • Another recent High Court judgment concerned a sectional title scheme dispute in an industrial complex. After their unit was destroyed by fire, the unit’s owners claimed from the scheme’s insurers.
  • The insurers repudiated the claim on the basis that they had, following a previous fire, suspended the scheme’s fire cover pending the filing of valid electrical and fire equipment certificates of compliance by all the owners of units in the scheme.
  • The owners approached the Ombud, claiming some R480k from the body corporate for damage to the unit and lost rental on the basis that “the body corporate had negligently failed to comply with its statutory ‘duty of care’ to ensure that the buildings in the scheme were properly insured”.
  • The CSOS adjudicator said he had no jurisdiction to hear such a matter, and the High Court agreed, holding that the claim was personal to the individual owner “and did not pertain to the scheme itself…”.
  • Moreover “It was clearly not intended that the Ombud would have the power to adjudicate on delictual claims for damages, which involve weighty considerations pertaining to wrongfulness (which depend on prevailing societal norms and public policy) and fault, and the quantification and determination of the quantum of any damages which may have been sustained pursuant thereto, which are matters which are best left for judicial officers and Courts.”

Arrear levies – when can the Ombud help with collection?

Our courts have held that the Ombud can assist with the collection of arrear levies or contributions, but only where there is a dispute involved.

Thus (to quote from a 2017 High Court judgment): “If the claim for arrear levies or contributions is not disputed, for example if an owner simply ignores a demand for payment or simply refuses to pay, without disputing the amount of the claim or the proper determination of the levy, the Body Corporate can institute legal action in court to recover the arrear levies from the owner … If, on the other hand, the amount of the levy is disputed because it was not properly determined and this dispute is raised after the defaulter had received a demand, the appropriate forum for recovery of the levies would be the regional office of the Ombud service.”

The bottom line

To avoid any mis-steps here, seek professional advice before deciding when and how to take community scheme disputes to the Ombud.

 The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Property Sellers: Why, How and When to Choose Your Own Conveyancer

“A great deal is at stake in the transfer of fixed property. It is generally the largest single asset that a person owns and the transaction for the purchase or sale of a fixed property is probably the most important contract undertaken by individuals” (Law Society of South Africa)

For many of us, our home is our most important asset so when it comes time for us to sell, do everything possible to ensure that your interests are fully protected, that the sale goes through quickly and smoothly, and that you are paid without unnecessary delay.

Appointing the right conveyancer is key here. Let’s have a look at the “Why, Who, How and When” of it…

Why do I need a conveyancing attorney?

Legal ownership in “immovable” or “fixed” property (that is, land and permanent attachments such as buildings) can only be transferred from seller to buyer through a formal registration process in the Deeds Office. This is carried out by specialist attorneys who have been admitted to practice as conveyancers.

Who appoints the conveyancer, and how?

As the seller, it is your right to choose which conveyancer will carry out the transfer.

The agreement of sale (it may be called an “Offer to Purchase”, “Deed of Sale” or similar) should contain a clause specifying the conveyancing (or “transferring”) attorney. Make sure you fill in your chosen attorney’s name and details in the space provided, and do not allow anyone else to dictate to you who to use!

You may occasionally come across an offeror/buyer wanting to appoint their own attorney for one reason or another, perhaps with the argument that because they are paying the transfer costs (which include the conveyancer’s fees), the choice should be theirs.  But the fact is that you carry more risk, and there is nothing to stop the buyer from employing another attorney to monitor the transfer on their behalf if they really feel this necessary.

Bottom line – stick to your guns! This is your house at stake, so the choice is yours, and yours alone.

How to choose the right conveyancer

Your choice here is critical. You need to appoint someone you can trust to handle the process with the utmost professionalism –

  • Speed will be important to you (“time is money”!), and whilst a certain amount of delay is inevitable (there are lots of formalities and red-tape requirements involved), a pro-active and committed conveyancer will keep delays to a minimum.
  • Communication: Progress updates should be regular and timely, keeping you in the loop at every step of the process.
  • Attention to detail is also vital. Conveyancing is a specialised field, calling for meticulous compliance with a host of rules and regulations. Moreover every sale agreement will be different, and its precise terms and conditions must be complied with.
  • Cybersecurity has become a major issue in recent years, particularly around the question of email integrity. You will need to play your part here too (to take just one example, don’t ever take at face value an email purporting to come from your attorneys “advising you of our new banking details”), but knowing that your chosen firm of attorneys has security protocols in place is critical to resting easy that the purchase price will indeed end up in your account.
  • The need for scrupulous integrity goes without saying – a lot of your money will be at stake here!
When should I bring my attorney into the sale process?

Ideally, from the very start. When you first decide to sell, you will find it invaluable to have your attorney’s advice on how to go about it, whether you should speak to an estate agency, how best to market your property, what pitfalls to avoid and so on.

When it comes to the agreement of sale itself, a myriad of things can go wrong if the contract isn’t professionally drawn to be clear, concise, legally enforceable and configured to protect your interests. So if you are presented with an offer or agreement drawn by someone else, take legal advice before you agree to anything!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Eviction Refused – Landowners, Unlawful Occupiers and the “Just and Equitable” Test

“PIE recognises that in appropriate circumstances the right to full exercise of ownership must give way, in the interest of justice and equity, to the right of vulnerable persons to a home.” (Extract from judgment below)

“Unlawful occupiers” of land have strong rights under our Constitution and other laws, and most property owners and landlords understand the need to tread carefully whenever the issue of eviction arises. They are required to comply fully with the provisions of PIE (the “Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act”) – certainly achievable but never to be taken lightly. Bear in mind that a court order is required before eviction, with additional restrictions applying during the pandemic lockdowns.

A recent Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) decision shows just how energetically our courts will enforce those occupier rights, even when the strict letter of the law appears to be 100% in favour of the landowner.

The 84 year old grandmother who can live on in her childhood home
  • A landowner bought on a liquidation auction a piece of land and a house occupied by an 84 year old widow and her disabled son.
  • The widow had lived in the house since she was 11 years old, her father being employed by the farm owner at the time. She in due course married another farm employee and lived on in the house with him. Widowed, she was reassured by verbal undertakings from previous owners that she had a lifelong right to live on in the house.
  • But when the new purchaser of the property (by now no longer farmland but an urban sub-division of the original farm) she was unable to produce any written agreement confirming her life right to occupation.
  • The new owner then gave the widow and her son notice to vacate and when they refused to leave, he obtained an eviction order from the magistrate’s court.
  • After a 12 year trek through the courts, the SCA finally confirmed the setting-aside of the eviction order, and the importance of this to landowners lies in the fact that the owner here had jumped through all the hoops required by PIE –
    • The verbal “lifelong right of occupation” granted by previous landowners was not enforceable against subsequent buyers,
    • The landowner had removed his consent to the occupants’ right of occupation, thereby terminating it,
    • The occupants were therefore “unlawful occupiers”,
    • The landowner had offered them suitable alternative accommodation. 
A Court’s discretion to refuse eviction – the “just and equitable” test
  • Our courts always retain a discretion to refuse eviction from residential property and “must be satisfied that the eviction is just and equitable”.
  • The SCA held that in all the circumstances and facts of this particular case, eviction would not be just and equitable. Major factors were clearly the widow’s advanced age, her 73 year history of living in the house, her disabled son, and her reliance on verbal assurances from previous owners that she had a lifelong right of occupation (which she clearly if mistakenly believed would be enforceable against new owners).
  • Had the land still been farmland the widow would have enjoyed the protection given to farmworkers by ESTA (the “Extension of Security of Tenure of Land Act”) and although the land had now changed to urban land, “her status as a vulnerable person, even in the context of PIE, has essentially remained unchanged.”
  • Commenting that “No case in which an order of eviction from a residence is sought can ignore the visceral reality of what is sought, namely the ejectment of a person from their home in vindication of a superior right to property. Nor can the legal process by which the order is obtained be divorced from our fraught history of eviction and ejectment of vulnerable persons from their homes”, the Court held in all the circumstances that this was a case in which considerations of justice and equity “outweighed protection of the exercise of the right to property that an entitlement to an order of ejectment provides.”   
  • This despite the landowner’s offer to give the widow alternative accommodation in the form of ownership of a unit in a secure residential complex, an offer she turned down because “She was accustomed to life in the house she presently occupied and enjoyed not only the freedom and space it afforded her but also the environment around it.”  
  • The offer of alternative accommodation, although made in good faith by the landowner, did not tilt the scales in favour of eviction because “This was not a case in which the reasonableness or otherwise of an unlawful occupier’s refusal to vacate was a central issue … The true issue concerned the dignity of an elderly and vulnerable woman and a person with disabilities in the circumstances of the first respondent and her son. To hold that these weighty considerations are to give way merely because an alternative abode is offered would negate the first respondent’s dignity rather than protect it.”
The lesson for landowners and landlords

The significance of the landowner’s defeat here is perhaps best summarised in the Court’s own words (emphasis supplied): “PIE recognises that in appropriate circumstances the right to full exercise of ownership must give way, in the interest of justice and equity, to the right of vulnerable persons to a home.”

Before buying property, check for any occupiers, “lawful” or not, and make sure that you can evict them if you need to. As a landlord, ensure that your lease is watertight, and your legal rights protected. There is no substitute for full and specific professional assistance!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Noisy Neighbours – Your Rights, and Buyers Beware!

“In common law, everyone is in general permitted to use their property for any purpose they choose, provided that the use of the property should not intrude unreasonably on the use and enjoyment by the neighbours of their properties” (extract from the “gym case” below) 

Consider this unhappy scenario – you buy your dream home (or perhaps new business premises), only to find that you are afflicted with the noisiest and most unreasonable neighbours you have ever encountered. A friendly approach to them produces no result. Can you get a court order to stop the noise?

Let’s address that question with reference to two recent court cases, but first –

What must you prove?

To get a “final interdict” (in this instance a court order compelling the offenders to put an end to the noise) you have to prove three things –

  1. “A clear right”,
  2. “An injury actually committed or reasonably apprehended”, and
  3. “The absence of similar protection by any other ordinary remedy” (in other words, you must show that you have no adequate alternative remedy available to you – an important aspect, as we shall see below).

In the suburbs: The pastor v the puppy daycare home business

 “…the courts apply a reasonableness standard, which entails a balancing of the mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations of neighbours” (extract from the judgment below)

The scene in this first case is a suburban residential area in Cape Town’s Northern Suburbs.

  • A pastor, needing “a peaceful environment to write, research, study and counsel his congregants”, applied to the High Court for an interdict against his neighbours. The problem was their home business in the form of a puppy daycare centre, operating in their garden and offering supervision, structured playtime, potty training, basic training, socialisation and so on for up to 17 dogs at a time. 
  • The complaint centered on barking on the property, triggering “a cacophony of barking from all the dogs in the neighbourhood” – starting at 6.30 am (Monday to Saturday) until 6 pm. This, said the pastor, was “disturbing and disruptive to the peaceful enjoyment of his property and to his daily activities”, plus it had seriously affected the value of his property. 
  • Before buying the property he had viewed it over a weekend when there was no noise, and, because it was important to him, had specifically asked the previous owner about whether there was a barking problem in the neighbourhood.
  • After fruitless discussions with the neighbours, he reported them to the municipal authorities (the City of Cape Town), lodging complaints for almost 4 years, resulting only in the issue of a compliance notice which the City failed to enforce, and a failed attempt at prosecution.
  • In the High Court the complainant’s attack relied not only on common law “nuisance law” but also on alleged contraventions of the Western Cape Noise Control Regulations (all local authorities have power to make such regulations in terms of National Regulations), the City’s Development Management Scheme (with its restrictions on home business activities) and Animal By-Laws.
  • The puppy daycare business raised a series of defences to these lines of attack, and disputed many of the complainant’s factual allegations, but in the end result the Court ordered the business to stop operating immediately. The business activity, said the Court, was “abnormal use” of a residential property, and “While such noise may be bearable in a busy City, where there is a lot of activity, such as large volumes of traffic, the constant movement of people and crowds and noise created by businesses, it would definitely disturb the peace and serenity of a quiet neighbourhood where such noises are not expected, and to which the applicant is entitled.” (Emphasis supplied).

In the city: the multi-storey building and the noisy gym

 “…What constitutes reasonable usage in any given case is dependent on various factors, including the general character of the area in question – persons living and working in an urban area would, for example, reasonably be expected, in general, to be more forbearing about a higher level of noise intrusion into their lives than neighbours living in a rural housing estate” (extract from the case below)

We move now to the second case, also in Cape Town but this time in the City Centre.

  • The owners of a property in a multi-storey building in the centre of Cape Town (a married couple living there and an attorney running a law practice in it) approached the High Court for an interdict against the neighbouring gym on the grounds of a substantial noise nuisance. The married couple’s bedroom window is just over a metre away from the window and balcony of the gym.
  • The gym’s premises are zoned for commercial use, and there was no dispute that the area was subject to “substantial traffic noise”, but the complaints centered on allegations that the gym produced “loud techno/dance music with a strong beat” and microphone-amplified voice instructions to attendees at gym classes – at times ranging from 6 am to 6.45 pm.
  • Many of the facts of the matter were, as is common in such bitterly fought matters, in dispute, and ultimately the Court declined to grant the interdict partially on the grounds of unresolved disputes of fact. Clearly the fact that the area was subject to considerable levels of “inner-city noise” anyway played a part, but the deciding factor seems to have been the Court’s finding that the complainants had declined the neighbour’s offer to follow the processes of the local Noise Control Regulations, which the Court held to provide an “adequate alternative remedy”.
  • Moral of this story – don’t expect too much peace and quiet in a city centre, and exhaust all alternative remedies before asking for an interdict!
Property buyers – do your “noise risk” homework upfront!

Which leads us to a general note of caution to anyone about to buy a property – prevention being as ever a lot better than cure, investigate and understand the potential for “noisy neighbours” disrupting your peace and quiet before putting in your offer.

For example, the pastor in the puppy case took at face value the seller’s reassurances about excessive barking in the neighbourhood – he could perhaps have saved himself 5 years of stress and trouble had he been a bit more cynical and returned to the neighbourhood at various times during the week just to check.

And bear in mind that what may be considered a totally unreasonable noise level in one context could be considered quite acceptable in another. As the Court in the gym case put it: “…the applicants cannot expect the quiet serenity of the suburbs while living in the inner-city, which comprises a mix of commercial and residential properties, and particularly having purchased a property that is immediately adjacent to a commercially-zoned property.” (Emphasis supplied).

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Buying Property from a Company – Should You Buy the Shares or the House?

“There is never a wrong time to buy the right home” (Anon)    

You find the house of your dreams, agree on the price and get ready to put pen to paper. The house is in the name of a company, and you are offered a choice – either buy the house out of the company or take over the company (which owns the house and nothing else) by buying the shares and thus avoid the delay and cost of a normal property transfer and registration in the Deeds Office.

What should you do?There are a host of both practical and legal factors to consider before deciding. Holding property in a company can come with significant advantages, but there can also be major disadvantages, so professional advice specific to your own circumstances is a no-brainer here.

Some of the many factors you should consider are –

  • Tax and estate planning considerations. These are complex and no two cases will be identical, but consider the higher capital gains tax rates payable by companies (and the annual exclusion and “primary residence exclusion” of R2m for individuals), the differential income tax rates, possible VAT considerations, your own estate planning circumstances (including the estate duty angle) and the like.
  • Asset protection. Particularly if you run your own business or are in a profession at significant risk of litigation, it may be important to you to protect your major assets (like your house) from possible attack by creditors. Any assets held in your own name will be a natural target if you run into financial problems, whilst those held in another entity like a company or trust will generally be much harder to attack. Complicated multi-level structures such as having a trust owning your company’s shares have generally fallen out of favour for a variety of reasons, but you may still be advised to consider one in your particular situation.
  • Joint ownership. Joint ownership of property comes with its own set of risks and issues, and depending on your needs you might be advised to address them with a company/shareholder structure.
  • Costs and simplicity. Running a company comes with extra costs (accounting/auditing, statutory costs etc), formalities and responsibilities, getting a bond in your own name is likely to be a simpler process than taking it in a company, and so on.
  • The hidden risks. When you buy a company’s shares you get the company as it is, with all its assets and liabilities. If the seller is in any way unreliable, you could find yourself losing the house to an undisclosed company liability that suddenly crawls out of the woodwork. Suretyships are a particular danger here – there is no central register of suretyships you can refer to, and it is common for groups of companies and other entities in particular to sign cross-suretyships without necessarily keeping a record of them all. These are risks that can be largely managed with proper advice and due diligence, but a residual whiff of doubt is inevitable.
  • Other factors. There will be many other aspects to consider, depending on your circumstances and needs, and on the company in question.
Transfer duty – you pay it either way!

As a buyer you can never lose sight of all the costs you will incur in buying a house, and the “big one” is normally transfer duty. It’s essentially a government tax, payable by you as buyer (unless the property sale is subject to VAT), and it can be a lot of money.

Do not however fall into the old (and surprisingly still-common) trap of thinking that by buying the company you avoid paying transfer duty. That was indeed a commonly used loophole in decades past and it is still sometimes referred to. But in reality that all changed many years ago, and (subject to what is said below) you should budget to pay transfer duty as set out in this table –

Source: SARS “Budget Tax Guide 2021

So for example if you buy a house for R3m you will pay R146k in transfer duty. Or R916k on a R10m house. Finding a way to avoid or reduce such a cost is an attractive proposition, and indeed until 2002 it was a common way for buyers and sellers to save transfer duty and to instead pay only ¼% “Securities Transfer Tax” – a huge saving.

That loophole closed however many years ago – on 13 December 2002 to be precise – and since then the sale of shares in a “residential property company” (a company with over 50% of its asset value in residential property) attracts transfer duty on the “fair value” of the property. No savings there!

What about “buying” a property-owning trust?

Similarly, before 2002 a common transfer duty avoidance strategy was to hold property in a trust, then to “sell” the trust to a purchaser by substituting him/her as a beneficiary of that trust. That loophole was also closed in respect of beneficiaries holding “contingent interests” in the property – the situation here is a bit more complicated than it is with companies as there are various types of trust you could be dealing with, so specialist advice is essential.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

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Bodies Corporate: Before You Sequestrate to Recover Arrears…

“Bankruptcy – a fate worse than debt” (Anon)

One of a Body Corporate’s fundamental duties is to collect monthly levies from the scheme’s members, and to take robust action to recover any arrears. As with any other creditor/debtor relationship however, trying to recover debt can be an exercise in frustration and delay, and the more recalcitrant the debtor, the greater the temptation to “go straight for the jugular” by applying to sequestrate the debtor’s estate.

You will have to show that the sequestration is to the advantage of creditors as a whole – not just to you – but that isn’t the only consideration. You will be throwing good money after bad if you end up having to pay a “contribution to the costs of sequestration”.

The recent case of a sectional title Body Corporate, which perhaps thought that it was protected from this particular danger because of its statutory preferences for recovery of arrear levies prior to transfer, illustrates the danger.

But before we get to the facts and the outcome of that case let’s have a quick look at the general principles involved.    

What is a “contribution to costs” and who has to pay it?

If you want to share in the net proceeds of an insolvent estate, you must formally prove your claim at a meeting of creditors convened by the trustee of the insolvent estate. If you don’t do that, you wave goodbye to any possible dividend and will be writing off the debt.

On the other hand, if you decide to prove your claim you may be at risk of having to pay into the estate as well as writing off the debt – talk about adding insult to injury! That danger arises if the costs of sequestrating the estate exceed the funds in the estate available to pay them. In that event the trustee of the insolvent estate will recover a “contribution to costs” from proved creditors – including you if your claim was proved as above.

The special danger of being the “petitioning creditor”

The creditor who applies for the debtor’s sequestration is – as “the petitioning creditor” – liable to contribute to the shortfall even without proving a claim. In other words, unlike other creditors, you cannot protect yourself from contributing to costs by holding back the claim – you are “deemed” to have proved it. That’s why, although applying for sequestration can be an excellent way of recovering debt from a recalcitrant debtor, it is essential to first consider the danger of contribution.

How “secured creditors” can protect themselves

Also relevant to our story is that a creditor holding security (such as a bond over the insolvent’s property) must prove its secured claim in order to be paid out the net proceeds of its security. A secured creditor can, if it suffers a shortfall after being paid out those net proceeds of its security, also share in the “free residue” of the estate. The “free residue” is the net proceeds of all unencumbered assets available for distribution to creditors. The secured creditor’s share in this event will be based on the “concurrent” portion of its claim, in other words it is now a concurrent creditor.

This is where the danger comes in because any contribution payable is payable in the free residue by concurrent creditors. A secured creditor can largely protect itself from this danger by “relying on the proceeds of its security” to satisfy its claim. By doing so it waives its concurrent claim for the shortfall, but equally it no longer has to contribute along with the other proved (or petitioning) concurrent creditors. It will now only have to contribute when there are no other such creditors, or when other contributors are unable to pay their share.   

The case of the Body Corporate that sequestrated to recover arrears – and paid the price

Let’s see how those principles were applied in a recent Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) case –

  • The owner of two sectional title units, bonded to separate banks, was unable to pay his levies. The Body Corporate sequestrated his estate, and his two units were sold. Only the two banks proved claims.
  • This was where the Body Corporate’s statutory protection for arrear levies came in. No transfer can be registered in the Deeds Office until all rates and taxes (and levies in the case of Bodies Corporate and Homeowners Associations) have been paid in full. Thus the arrear levies were paid in full to the Body Corporate by the transferring attorneys. “Done and dusted” thought the Body Corporate, but it was not to be.
  • There was a shortfall in the insolvent estate, and the trustee tried to recover the resultant contribution from the two banks (the bondholders) who had proved their claims in the estate.
  • The banks objected, arguing that because they had relied on their security in proving their claims, they were not liable to contribute (as above). The Body Corporate, they argued, was as the petitioning creditor liable for the contribution despite not having proved its claim.
  • The Body Corporate on the other hand argued that it could never be liable for a contribution. Although it was indeed the petitioning creditor, it had never proved a claim against the estate and the arrear levies had been paid to it in full, as required by law, before transfer of the properties.
  • To cut a long story short, the dispute wound its way through our courts and ended up in the SCA, which, after a detailed examination of the relevant law, held the Body Corporate as petitioning creditor to be solely liable for the full amount of the contribution to costs (R46 663.16). 
Bodies Corporate beware!

The Court’s reasoning in reaching this conclusion will be of great interest to the lawyers amongst us, but the bottom line for Bodies Corporate is this – if you sequestrate to recover arrears, you could well end up carrying the full brunt of any contribution to costs.

So perhaps take advice on whether you can/should rather use other debt collection processes, including perhaps applying to the CSOS (Community Schemes Ombud Service) to order and enforce payment of the arrears.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

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11 POPIA Questions to Ask Yourself Before 30 June 2021

Note: This is a complex topic and there is no substitute for tailored professional advice. What is set out below is of necessity no more than a simplified summary of some practical highlights.

You and your business are at substantial risk if you aren’t fully compliant with POPIA (the Protection of Personal Information Act) on 1 July 2021.

The clock is ticking! Have a look at the Information Regulator’s Countdown Clock here to see exactly how many days (and hours, minutes, and seconds!) you have left.

Be ready! Be compliant! Ask yourself these eleven questions –

  1. Does POPIA really apply to us?
    As soon as you in any way “process” (collect, use, manage, store, share, destroy and the like) any personal information relating to a “data subject” (suppliers, customers, members, employees and so on – whether individuals or “juristic persons” such as corporates and the like), you are a “responsible party”.The formal definition of a responsible party is “a public or private body or any other person which, alone or in conjunction with others, determines the purpose of and means for processing personal information” – very few businesses and organisations will fall outside that net. Equally you are unlikely to fall under exemptions such as that applying to information processed “in the course of a purely personal or household activity”.But don’t panic –. compliance is easily attainable for most businesses, particularly if you are a smaller operation with little in the way of sensitive personal information. Answer the questions below to get a feel for areas you need to concentrate on now.
  2. What risks do we run if we don’t comply with POPIA?
    If a data subject suffers any loss as a result of your breach of POPIA, the subject (or the Regulator at the request of the subject) can sue you for damages and you will be liable even if your breach was unintentional and not negligent. You also face criminal prosecution, penalties and administrative fines for some breaches.
  3. Have we registered our Information Officer/s?
    You must register your Information Officer (“IO”) with the Information Regulator – go to the Regulator’s Online Portal for the online and PDF versions of the registration form, plus the email address for support enquiries and a link to the Search page. The IO is responsible (and liable) for all compliance duties, working with the Regulator, establishing procedures, and the like. You are automatically your business’ IO if you are its “Head” i.e., a sole trader, any partner in a partnership, or (in respect of a “juristic person” such as a company) the CEO, MD or “equivalent officer”. You can “duly authorise” another person in the business (management level or above) to act as IO and you can designate one or more employees (again management level or above) as “Deputy Information Officers”.
  4. Do we have a list of all personal information we hold, and how and why we hold it?
    Make a full list of all the personal information you hold/process, whether physically or in electronic form. Then evaluate it against the test that, to collect and “process” personal information lawfully, you need to be able to show that you are acting safely, lawfully, and reasonably in a manner that doesn’t infringe the data subject’s privacy.You must show that “given the purpose for which it is processed, it is adequate, relevant and not excessive”. Data can only be collected for a specific purpose related to your business activities and can only be retained so long as you legitimately need to (or are allowed to) keep it for that purpose.
  5. What security measures do we have in place?
    You must “secure the integrity and confidentiality of personal information in [your] possession or under [your] control by taking appropriate, reasonable technical and organisational measures to prevent … loss of, damage to or unauthorised destruction of personal information … and unlawful access to or processing of personal information.”You are at great risk of liability and penalties if you suffer any form of data breach from a risk that is “reasonably foreseeable” unless you can prove that you took steps to “establish and maintain appropriate safeguards” against those risks. If you haven’t already done so, brainstorm with your team all possible internal and external vulnerabilities (physical as well as electronic) and address them.
  6. Do third parties hold/process personal information for us?
    If third parties (“operators”), hold or process any personal information for you, they must act with your authority, treat the information as confidential, and have in place all the above security measures. Further restrictions apply if the third party is outside South Africa.
  7. Do we know what to do if we suffer a breach?
    Any actual or suspected breaches (called “security compromises” in POPIA) must be reported “as soon as reasonably possible” to both the Information Regulator and the data subject/s involved.
  8. Do we do any “direct marketing” and if so do we comply with all requirements?
    Most businesses don’t think of themselves as doing any “direct marketing”, but the definition is wide and includes “any approach” to a data subject “for the direct or indirect purpose of … promoting or offering to supply, in the ordinary course of business, any goods or services to the data subject…”. So for example, emailing or WhatsApping your customers about a new product or a special offer will put you into that net.If your approach is by means of “any form of electronic communication, including automatic calling machines, facsimile machines, SMSs or e-mail”, you must observe strict limits. Whilst you can as a general proposition market existing customers/clients in respect of “similar products or services” (there are limits and recipients must be able to “opt-out” at any stage), potential new customers can only be marketed with their consent, i.e., on an “opt-in” basis. They can be approached only once for that consent so keep a record of everyone you have asked.
  9. Does our website use cookies and if so do we have a cookie notice and policy in place?
    As countries around the world ramp up their privacy laws, we will all see many more examples of “cookie notices” on websites we visit. You may wonder how your own website should be configured, and the short answer is that if it uses cookies (almost all do), POPIA very likely applies despite the fact that there is no specific mention of cookies in the current legislation. Bottom line – to be on the safe side, have a cookie notice and policy in place. Keep yours simple and user-friendly.
  10. Do we have a privacy policy and a POPIA manual in place?
    POPIA – unlike PAIA (the Promotion of Access to Information Act) – doesn’t require you to have a POPIA manual in place but in larger businesses it is certainly a good idea to prepare one.However you should certainly have a privacy policy in place. Make sure that everyone in your organisation is aware of it and of how critical it is to comply with it at all times.
  11. Is our staff team ready?
    Check that everyone in your business understands your compliance plan and their own individual roles and responsibilities in it. Make sure that nothing falls through the cracks – assign specific tasks to specific staff members.
Bodies Corporate and Homeowners Associations – how POPIA affects you

Bodies Corporate and Homeowners Associations (HOAs) fall into the POPIA compliance net and should be asking themselves the questions above.

In assessing what personal information you hold, how and why you hold it, and who you are sharing it with, remember to include not only scheme owners and HOA members but also your auditors, attorneys, managing agents, the CSOS (Community Schemes Ombud Service), security service providers and the like.

If you have gate security in the form of visitor registers, scanning of licence plates and driver’s licences and so on, be ready to address questions around having lawful reason for collection and retention of all the personal information you are gathering in this manner.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

When Bond Clauses Sink Sales

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success” (Alexander Graham Bell)

You sell your house, give the signed sale agreement to your attorney, and wait to get paid out as soon as the property is transferred in the Deeds Office. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit as it turns out, but perhaps the most frequent “sinker of sales” is a failure by one party or the other to meet a “suspensive condition” (often also referred to as a “condition precedent”).

As our courts have put it “a suspensive condition suspends the operation of all obligations flowing from a contract until occurrence of a future uncertain event. If the uncertain future event does not occur, the obligations never come into operation.” In other words, there is no binding sale at all until all suspensive conditions have been met.

The bond clause

A very common suspensive clause in property sale agreements, where the buyer cannot pay the purchase price in cash, is the “bond clause” making the sale subject to the buyer obtaining a “bond approval” from a financial institution (usually a bank). The bank loans the money to the buyer against the security of a mortgage bond over the property.

The bond clause is of course an essential escape route for you if you are a buyer needing to raise a loan. As a seller on the other hand you want the clause tightly drawn to stop the buyer using it as an excuse to pull out of the deal if the dreaded “buyer’s remorse” should set in after the sale.

For both parties it is essential to ensure that the clause is properly drawn to reflect clearly and correctly what you are both agreeing to. Preparation is key here! Our law reports are replete with bitter and expensive disputes over bond clauses, many of them avoidable had the parties proactively sought legal assistance before signing the sale agreement.

What should be in the bond clause?

In broad terms a bond clause will provide that the sale agreement is suspended until the bank approves the bond, and that the agreement will lapse if approval is not given by the date and in the amount specified in the clause.

Beyond that, make sure that there are no grey areas around what the deadline is or around what exactly will constitute “bond approval”. What format must it be in? Is it enough that an approval is granted, or must it be communicated to the seller before deadline? Is the bank’s offer to the buyer subject to the National Credit Act and if so on what basis can the buyer reject the offer? Is it enough to specify that the bond approval should be on the bank’s “usual terms and conditions”?  What if the buyer rejects a reasonable offer from the bank in order to get out of the sale? And so on…

As a seller, if you are concerned about your buyer not being able to raise the required finance, consider adding a “72-hour clause” to the sale (ask your attorney for advice on this).

As a buyer, consider specifying the maximum interest rate at which you will accept the bank’s offer of a loan, or you could find yourself tied to unaffordable bond repayments.

Each case will be different, and our courts will always look at the specific wording of each particular case. So make sure the clause is specifically tailored to protect both parties in your respective circumstances.

Amending or waiving the bond clause

What if the buyer can’t get an offer from a bank by due date or in the required amount or (if the buyer specified a maximum interest rate as suggested above) at the required interest rate?

If that happens, the parties can agree to vary the agreement – perhaps to give the buyer more time to raise the bond, or to change the amount of the bond. Just remember that that must be done in a written, signed agreement before the due date. After the due date the whole agreement will have lapsed and there will be no contract left to amend.

Alternatively as a buyer, you have the option to “waive” the bond condition. You can do so unilaterally (i.e., without the seller’s agreement), provided again that the agreement hasn’t already lapsed, and provided that nothing in the agreement prevents such a waiver.

Importantly, you can only waive a suspensive condition where it is for your “exclusive benefit”. A bond clause will usually qualify in that it is normally there purely to protect you from being tied to an agreement you cannot afford – but perhaps avoid any possible doubt by specifying that in the clause.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews


Landlord Liable for a Tragic “Freak” Flood Drowning

“Nature has the ability to spring a surprise when least expected” (extract from the judgment below)

A recent High Court decision dealing with the tragic drowning of a toddler highlights once again the legal dangers faced by property owners who let out accommodation to the public. 

This particular case related specifically to a Holiday Let on a guest farm and a natural disaster in the form of a flood, but of course any loss however caused could lead to your visitors/guests suing you. 

And weather-related disasters – think storms, floods, wildfires and the like – will almost certainly increase in both frequency and intensity if climate change predictions hold true. 

A “freak” flood and a tragic drowning
  • It should have been an idyllic holiday on a riverbank. A family booked a week’s vacation in one of three chalets built by a farmer on the banks of a river. The family was particularly attracted by the fact that this was the closest chalet to the river, with a wooden balcony from which the children could fish. 
  • The family arrived in fair weather but a violent storm and heavy rains in the river’s catchment area led to overnight flooding when the river burst its banks. They awoke at midnight to flooded rooms, struggled to escape from the chalet and were unable to save their toddler, who was swept away and drowned in the flood (according to media reports at the time, he was torn from his father’s arms whilst his father and an older brother clung to a tree in the raging flood).
  • The family sued the farmer as owner of the farm, chalet and guest house business. They also claimed against his wife, but this part of the claim failed as she was married to the farmer out of community of property, and had merely assisted him with bookings and administration. 
  • As regards the farmer as property owner, although he denied any element of “wrongfulness” (unlawfulness), the Court found that he had built the chalets in a dangerous area, known to experience occasional flooding, and therefore had a legal duty to ensure that they were safe for use by members of the public.
  • The owner also denied any negligence. The flood, he said, was a “freak of nature” and not foreseeable, no such event having been experienced for over 40 years. He had built the chalet 6m above the normal river level and 2.8m over the high water mark pointed out to him by the previous owner. 
  • Expert evidence was that the year in question had seen a normal rainfall pattern and that the day in question experienced “high but not abnormal” rainfall. The chalet was built in the “dangerous area” of a 100-year flood line area with no escape route nor flood warning mechanism. Such floods, the expert said, could be expected once every 17-18 years. 
  • Critically, the Court found on the evidence that the possibility of heavy flooding was “foreseeable” and that the owner’s failure to take steps to protect chalet occupants rendered him liable.
  • The owner also argued that the family had no right to sue because of disclaimer notices which he said were at the farm entrance warning visitors that they entered at their own risk. He also claimed to have taken reasonable steps to warn occupants of the danger of flooding. On its assessment of conflicting evidence however the Court found that even if there were warning and indemnity notices as claimed, the owner had not proved that they were brought to the family’s attention. In any event, said the Court, it would in this case be unjust and unfair to deny the family its claim.
  • The owner is accordingly liable for whatever damages the family can prove.
Property owners – protect yourself!
  • From a practical point of view you will want to pro-actively investigate any potential risks, manage them, warn your guests/tenants about them and make sure they know how to protect themselves should Mother Nature suddenly spring one of her nasty surprises. 
  • The legal side to all that of course is that you should always be able to show that you have taken reasonable steps to protect your guests from all foreseeable risks.
  • Comply also with all building and safety regulations – not doing so immediately puts you in the wrong.
  • Take advice on the use of indemnity/disclaimer/exemption notices on your website, all advertising materials, booking platforms etc, also on the premises themselves and in your contracts. Bear in mind that there are limits to their effectiveness particularly where the Consumer Protection Act or constitutional considerations apply. 
  • Insurance – make sure you are covered for any claims of this nature, and that you comply fully with any requirements imposed on you by the insurers.

Most important of all, take professional advice specific to your circumstances!