Countdown to SA’s electronic property deed system
MAIN IMAGE: With the Electronic Deeds Registration System Act signed into law, the countdown begins toward a new digital title deeds transfer system for SA.
With the Electronic Deeds Registration System Act signed into law, the countdown starts for our deeds registries to develop an entirely electronic and paperless system for the passing of property ownership but there is a lot that must be done before that can happen.
It is the intention that the new system will completely replace the manual system and allow for the electronic preparation, processing and registration of deeds at the deeds registries which inevitably will enable the registration of large volumes of deeds, clients being able to sign transfer documents remotely as well as more accuracy during the examination period and electronic accessibility of the Deeds Registry for everyone.
The first step in digitizing the manual system, is for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to put in place a centralized computer system known as the electronic Deeds Registration System (e-DRS) and for the Minister to make regulations relating to the procedures necessary for lodgement of deeds electronically, the requirements for electronic signatures of documents, the storing of documents, the manner of identification of the person preparing and executing the deeds, making available the information and how electronic payments are to be made. Many conveyancing software supply companies have started with the development and roll out of programs which can be used for obtaining electronic signatures from clients. Needless to say, some big opportunities exist within this sphere for development.
Since this Act has been signed, many concerns have been raised by the industry, in particular about the safety of electronic property registrations in light of so much cyber fraud being committed.
In developing the e-DRS system and especially safety aspects surrounding it, reference will be drawn from provisions contained in the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (“ECT Act”) in which it is recognised that electronic documents and signatures can serve as the electronic functional equivalent of their paper-based counterparts. Although the ECT Act does not prescribe what type of technology must be used, examples of electronic signatures include your typed name at the end of your e-mail as well as signing with signature tablets which creates a special type of electronic signature known as an “advanced electronic signature” (AES), which is a particularly reliable form of signature, and this will have to be taken into account when regulations on this detail are drafted.
Other concerns that have not yet been addressed include the cost of software acquisition, which will inevitably be required by conveyancing firms in order to continue operating on an electronic basis, and also, the effect this centralized e-DRS could possibly have on conveyancing firms which operate on income generated from the manual lodgement and registration of correspondent client’s deeds at the various deeds offices. Despite a perception which may exist that conveyancing is a simple process of “paper pushing” and that the digitalisation of it should not pose a problem, conveyancing is still an exact and almost scientific function with no room for errors or delays. Unless the e-DRS system is implemented faultlessly, immediately operational and with costs of development contained, one could be looking at mountains of possible damages which may be incurred if the systems are faulty as well as wasteful expenditure on the development and implementation of internal and external software and hardware systems.
Taking the aforementioned into account, it may be safe to say that the manual system is here to stay for a while and a digital system may not be around the corner after all.
About the author: Melanie Coetzee has practiced as an attorney, notary and conveyancer since 2002 and with conveyancing attorneys STBB since 2004. She was appointed director of the firm in 2010. She has done extensive training on the Consumer Protection Act and is a technical trainer on specialized legal topics in the Western Cape such as the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).