What is up with Cape Town’s Deeds Office?

What is up with Cape Town’s Deeds Office?

MAIN IMAGE: Clive Sinclair Hendricks, chairperson of the Cape Town Attorneys Association (CTAA); Heather van der Spuy, principal Steer International Properties; Herschel Jawitz, CEO Jawitz Properties.

The Cape Town Deeds Office is in deep trouble. Since reopening on 12 May, it was closed and reopened twice and then operated with such a small staff contingent that the number of backlogged deeds had piled up to an astronomical 14 000 by middle June.

At the beginning of June the deeds office was closed for days without a notice to explain if Covid-19 decontamination was taking place or an indication of when the office will reopen.

The turnaround time for lodging at this deeds office has slowed to 27 days. This is in stark contrast to the average turnaround time of 5-6 days at the deeds offices in Johannesburg or Pretoria. As a result of the delays the time periods on municipal rates clearance certificates expired for many of the backlogged deeds, which meant further delays as the certificates will have to be issued anew.

Conveyancers and estate agencies grew increasingly exasperated by the slow processing of deeds and having to explain the delays to frustrated and often desperate buyers and sellers.

Frustration with this untenable situation last week led to an urgent application to the Cape High Court made by Cape Town Attorneys Association (CTAA) together with the Tygerberg Attorneys Association and the Institute of Estate Agents of South Africa (IEASA Western Cape). Cited as respondents in the matter are the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, the chief registrar of deeds, the acting registrar of deeds Cape Town, the minister of public works and minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

Upon receiving the application on Friday 12 June, the Cape High Court ordered that the city’s deeds office had to reopen on Monday 15 June. This Friday 19 June the other issues on the case will be heard.

Reaction from the real estate sector

For estate agencies depended on the Cape Town Deeds Office to process their property transactions, the stop-start functioning with such reduced capacity has been a nightmare. “It’s been a roller coaster of conflicting information as to whether the offices in the Western Cape were operational,” says principal Heather van der Spuy of Steer International Properties in Cape Town.

“This certainly has a huge impact on the sellers and buyers who were expecting their properties to have been transferred many months ago. Their question is always WHEN is my property going to be registered and it is difficult to predict. The ramifications re removal dates etc. are most frustrating. One of my clients has cancelled her relocation three times.

I am sure that there will still be a significant delay as there must be quite a backlog of deeds to process,” she says and adds that hopefully the office will soon be at its full potential.

The situation is very serious agrees Herschel Jawitz, CEO Jawitz Properties. “We have clients who are also impacted by the closures. Sellers are waiting for the proceeds from the sale of their homes which in some cases are to be used for the purchase of a new property and buyers find themselves in an uncertain situation about their moving date,” he says. In addition Jawitz says that the frustration does need to be tempered in terms of the safety of the people working in the deeds office but that it remains unclear as to whether the closures are as a result of a lack of the correct safety protocols or other factors.

Also commenting on the situation, Dr Andrew Golding, chief executive of the Pam Golding Property group says, they are delighted that the Cape Town Deeds Office will be reopening. “However, the most obvious effect of the fact that certain deeds offices have opened intermittently is that there has effectively been a continuation of the lockdown environment with dramatically reduced income for real estate agents from property transfers since lockdown. This also has a severe economic impact on the agencies themselves as there has been markedly reduced income or cash flow for nearly three months now,” he says.

The fact is, without an operational Deeds Office system property transactions cannot be finalised. “As it is, the closure during the lockdown has had a major impact on the industry. As we have moved to Level 3, role players in the industry have hit the ground running to restore some sense of normalcy and work towards recovering some of the ground lost due to the lockdown and we really need the same commitment from the Deeds Offices,” adds Samuel Seeff, chairman of the Seeff Property Group.

What’s the plan going forward?

In their affidavit Clive Sinclair Hendricks, chairperson of the CTAA, explains that they had exhausted all avenues to find a remedy for the situation and was left with no choice but to take legal action. “The situation was and is unacceptable and unfair to the general public, legal practitioners, estate agents and various other stakeholders,” he says.

According to the CTAA court statements the Cape Town Deeds Office had approximately 600 deeds in their system when the country went into lockdown on 27 March. After the office reopened on 12 May, another 11 977 were lodged up to 3 June, however by 4 June only ± 17% of the lodged matters were registered.

One of the reasons was that only a small percentage of the staff have been reporting for work. The CTAA says currently only approximately 18 staff members have been regularly reporting for work. This despite a government announcement that from 12 May a third of the staff could report back to work which translates roughly to 60 staff members. From 8 June the number of employees at work could grow to 50% or around 100 employees – this has not happened says the CTAA.

He further states that the Registrar of Deeds had not been able to provide their association, its members or the public with an indication that a plan exists to normalise the operations at the Deeds Office and to work away the current backlog within the shortest period of time. For instance, the CTAA asks why the offices can’t be decontaminated every weekend as is the case already at many courts.

“This is precisely why the CTAA asked for a plan that specifically deals with the backlog. The backlog is a huge concern and needs to be addressed with focused intervention strategies,” Hendricks told Property Professional this week.

This week Chief Deeds Registrar Carlize Knoezen told the media that they had challenges in Cape Town from the start. She says for starters, they are carefully watched by the unions for compliance issues. The lodgement volumes have also doubled since the office reopened in May. A further complication is that this deeds office shares the building with other tenants including Parliament and the Surveyor. Should any of these report exposures to someone who tested positive for Covid-19, then the whole building must close for decontamination. Multi-tenant buildings could thus close more often for decontamination than others where the deeds office is the only tenant, Knoesen explains.

Knoezen says the office plans to work from 15 June with 58% of senior staff and 54% of the junior complement. She expected the Cape Town Deeds Registry to submit their action plan to deal with the backlog by Monday 15 June.

Also read: More deeds offices close due to Covid-19, serious Cape backlog – What you need to know

Hendricks on Wednesday 17 June said they were still waiting to receive the answering affidavits of the respondents wherein they deal with their intervention plans and Covid-19 specific standard operating procedures.

Showing 40 comments
  • Bartel Pieterse
    Reply

    Everybody is aware of the fact that the unions want to extend the paid holiday as long as possible. It is mind blowing how irresponsible these people are

  • Jakob
    Reply

    Who is going to pay the money back I must borrow till my house is sold?

    • S.Theron
      Reply

      I feel that the regular closing of the deeds office in Cape Town is deliberate and is not related to Covid 19, it is political. I am so disgusted and disappointed in this government.

  • Zureena
    Reply

    The deeds office should now rethink and redesign processes in the event of a 2nd pandemic wave. It’s time to move forward to implementing advanced technology that would aid remote working and quicker turn around times.

    • Yozzi
      Reply

      This form of administration is still in the dark ages and needs to come to the present day and why can’t they now work weekends to clear the backlog?

    • Sandra
      Reply

      They will only have the electronic system ready in 3 years.

    • Capetonian
      Reply

      Work from home with your title deed & other info in this corrupt climate…. No way!!!
      I’ve been at the Deeds office in CT last year & can tell you it is so backward, old and run down. People look like the 60’s. Nothing futuristic or professional. Quality of service-poor/bad. The lift looked like it was maintained 5 yrs ago, God help us

      • Tasneen
        Reply

        How will we even know if they attending to our things

      • Ian Crafford
        Reply

        Are you really surprized… These idividuals are paid in full each month and will get a bonus in their birthday month irrespective if they work or not.
        They work for the government.

  • Moira Walker
    Reply

    This is unacceptable.besides the business aspect, our family sits between the devil and the deep blue sea.
    They lodged 4 days before lockdown and have not moved up the line at all

    • Sadick
      Reply

      I bought a property where the documents were lodged on the 14.5.2020. I’m still waiting and it’s 19.6.2020 today. I have my furniture in storage and its grossly unfair that I have to pay extra storage cost due to the delay.

  • Cherrel
    Reply

    I see a chain litigation action coming.

  • Michelle Miggels
    Reply

    This is terrible. I’ve been waiting since 07 February and still nothing – that was way before lockdown. Can’t this be done at home? If buildings gets contaminated, can’t some work be done from home?

  • Togieda Ismail
    Reply

    Is deeds going to pay interest on the bridging that I had to take which I’m paying now for an extra 12 weeks because they can’t get their act together? Sorry, I’m angry because I’ve been waiting over 2 months. I’ve had to cancel relocating twice. I’m paying rental on a flat of lease I signed but cannot move because deeds is always closed. Focus on registration work away then do more lodgement of deeds. No point adding when the backlog is not seeing an end of the tunnel

  • Alton Arends
    Reply

    There are many people that are unemployed and now need jobs. Perhaps they should sit on the other side of the fence with no income.

  • Derick
    Reply

    I am required to pay occupational rent every month even though since lockdown I have not received any income. I am desperate already and do not know how I am going to manage going forward. These people earn their full salaries even when they are sitting at home, so what do they care? Fully state employed people who keep getting paid every month would always have someone who knows someone that has Covid or have been in contact with a so-called someone just so they can stay at home. Why go work if one gets one’s full salary when you can stay at home? Stop all state employees salaries also if they are not at home. They must suffer the same fate as all of us.

  • Charmaine pather
    Reply

    Government wanted the private sector to work remotely – what have they done to make their offices do the same? We have been waiting since March for our transfer. In the interim incurring costs for rent which we did not budget for. Will the government pay that back to us?

  • Alfred Bester
    Reply

    Same must be done with the Master’s office in Cape Town and indeed many other Master’s offices. Lack of effective management and the unions rule the roost

  • P Fagan
    Reply

    I have been waiting since before lockdown started for Stellenbosch municipality to grant a rates clearance certificate so I can have a house lodged. Then I will still need to wait again for transfer at the deeds office. I’m running out of patience. My current house transfer has also been delayed for 3 months already – totally unacceptable.

  • Raymond Esterhuizen
    Reply

    We are waiting for 3 years for a will dating 1987 to be finalised in order to sell a house which has now fallen into disrepair. Masters office keeps on misplacing the file of the deceased. All except one of the named beneficiaries have already died.

    • Mthetho
      Reply

      Is deeds office operational? The excuse about audit finding when taking work home is unacceptable
      The policy is there to guide and when there is a pandemic surely the same policy can be amended to accomodate the current situation
      This is unacceptable
      Bills are piling up.

  • Olivia
    Reply

    While everyone understands the need for business to carry on, the glaringly obvious here is that people are to forced to risk their lives to deal with property registrations, no matter the cost. It’s ordinary people who have to process these transactions, not attorneys or estate agents.

  • NAZLIE CADER
    Reply

    ABSOLUTELY DISASTROUS. NOTHING EVER WORKED PROPERLY SINCE 1994

  • Isaac
    Reply

    I’m not happy with the arrangement, Cape Town deeds office failing again

    • Mthetho
      Reply

      Is deeds office operational? The excuse about audit finding when taking work home is unacceptable
      The policy is there to guide and when there is a pandemic surely the same policy can be amended to accomodate the current situation
      This is unacceptable
      Bills are piling up.

  • Tania Ross
    Reply

    Also waiting on my house sale to be logged. My husband has moved to UK in Dec already and I am stuck here due to the house sale. So frustrating

    • Herman
      Reply

      Who is the DG and minister in charge of this?

  • GraStuCo
    Reply

    What is the current estimated turnaround time from lodging to registration?

  • Leah Hofmeyer
    Reply

    Very disappointing! I am waiting since March 2020 just before the lock down started! No one can give us dates!!!!

  • The saint
    Reply

    Does anyone know the current turnaround time?

    • Helene Meissenheimer
      Reply

      That would be interesting … anyone know?

    • Frikkie
      Reply

      42 days

      • Sandra
        Reply

        42 days counting from when. mid May or Mid June?

        • Frikkie
          Reply

          From date of lodgement

    • Sandra
      Reply

      +-27 working days if they are full staff which will only happen in the next two weeks and no more closure due to covid19

  • the saint
    Reply

    i believe they closed yesterday morning again-covid related. i feel for the safety of the staff and no staff should be placed in danger but im disgusted at management for not using there brains and come up with a work around.

  • the saint
    Reply

    Knoesen says if she decides to allow Working from Home with the necessary security protocols in place, she “will have to face the music if there is a negative audit finding.

    chief registrar…. taking the easy route out instead of thinking outside the box within the framework of the law.

  • Pumkin
    Reply

    I am a very frustrated buyer and I just want to cancel the purchase all together because it is such an inconvenience, its hard to even explain to my landlord by what time I will have moved for her to find a tenant.

  • Ray
    Reply

    This is very sad, My plot is still not registered on my name and the builder has a estimated time to finish my house, if can’t start 15 July I’ll have to wait till January next year. My municipality plans are only valid till August after that I must pay again all because of the deeds office. I’m getting very fed up.

  • The saint
    Reply

    Any news on official turn around time?

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