The COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented impact on the property market, with the extended lockdown adding more uncertainty to the road to the market’s recovery.
In an effort to lessen the effect of the lockdown on the property market, many high-level discussions have been held to consider the possibility of having the Deeds Office declared an essential service. However, no final verdict regarding these discussions has been reached at this time.
One of the major concerns is that the Deeds Office cannot function effectively on a skeleton staff as various channels are needed for the scrupulous analysis conducted during every transaction. This means that the Deeds Office will not be able to keep in place the necessary social distancing needed during this time.
This does not mean that there are no changes, though.
Deeds Office & Master’s Office
An unfortunate result of the lockdown relates to the computer system that is used to manage the Deeds Office. This system is programmed to automatically reject deeds if they remain unmoved in the system for more than 12 days. This means that all transactions lodged immediately before the lockdown have since been rejected and will have to be lodged anew.
Due to the circumstances of these rejections, leniency from the Registrars of Deeds may be forthcoming and the Director General is expected to implement the necessary operational guidelines once the Deeds Office re-opens.
The Director General has issued a directive requesting Master’s Office staff to return to work on a skeleton crew and roster basis during the final week of the extended lockdown. Their doors will still be closed to the public, including property practitioners, but affairs will be put to order in preparation for the commencement of business.
For many, expired rates clearance certificates have also proven to be a point of concern. The Chief Registrar of Deeds has already been engaged by the City of Cape Town to request leniency regarding matters that were lodged before the lockdown. The possibility of extensions for lapsed rates is also currently being debated. Turnaround time for any rates clearance transactions may also be reduced as municipalities are working on a skeleton crew.
While the Transfer Duty offices remain operational, it must be kept in mind that they are running on reduced staff to ensure social distancing measures are kept intact. The general turnaround time for transfer duty transactions is currently 9 working days, but property practitioners have been asked to allow additional time for completion of transactions and that they refrain from lodging duplicate requests during this time.
The property market has undoubtedly been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and the national lockdown, but active measures are being taken by the Government and local municipalities to ensure its quickest recovery.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other 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 legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)