Answer to a question from a reader

How can I get the title deed of an RDP house I've lived in since 1998?

The short answer

You need to visit your nearest Deeds Office.

The whole question

I was the first person to live in my current RDP house. I've been living there since 1998 but I don't have the title deed. When I went to the housing office they told me the house already had an owner. They gave me the ID number of the current owner, but I've never met this person. What should I do?

The long answer

Thank you for your email asking how you can get the title deeds of the house you have lived in since 1998.

Firstly, (after the lockdown is over) you should take the ID number of the owner to your nearest Deeds Office and check whether there was ever a title deed issued for the house. You have to go in person and fill out a form at the Deeds Office asking them to do a data search. It will cost about R14.00 for them to do the search. You will need to give as much information as you can about the house: the ID number of the person is useful, and the erf number of the house, not the street number. If there was a title deed issued for the house which was lost or destroyed, you can get a computer printout copy at the Deeds Office.

The title deed will give the name of the person. The problem is that the person whose name appears on the title deeds is the legal owner and has the right to sell the house or leave it to a beneficiary. You would need to find out if the person is still alive and where they are.

All births and deaths are supposed to be recorded by Home Affairs in the National Population Register. Home Affairs won’t do this now during the lockdown, but usually you can SMS the letter L, followed by the ID number to 32551. A reply SMS will be sent back confirming status as either “alive” or ‘deceased”. The SMS will cost R1.00.

If the person is still alive, and you have their name and ID, you can try to trace them yourself through social media, or as a last resort, engage a private investigator. This is likely to be expensive, but reliable investigators will only charge if they successfully find the person.

If the person is no longer alive, and did not leave the house to a beneficiary or beneficiaries in his or her will, and there are no children or spouses coming forward to claim the house, you could take the copy of the title deeds to the housing board and ask them to assist you to get the title deeds transferred into your name.

This process of transferring the deed into your name must be done by a lawyer called a conveyancing attorney who sees that the change of ownership is signed by the Registrar and that a copy is kept at the Deeds Office. It is an expensive process which could cost over R7000. Perhaps the housing board or the municipality can assist you to do it more cheaply.

You could contact the Housing Enquiries of the Department of Human Settlements at the toll-free customer service hotline:

0800 146 873 / 012 421 1915

If no title deed was ever issued, you can ask Legal Aid to help you apply to the high court to ask for a declaratory order that the house be transferred into your name. You should take all the documents you have that prove you have lived in the house since 1998.

Legal Aid is a means-tested organisation, which means that if they find that you cannot afford a lawyer they must assist you.

Contact information for Legal Aid:

0800 110 110 (Monday to Friday 7AM - 7PM) 

079 835 7179 (Please Call Me) 

communications2@legal-aid.co.za

Answered on April 6, 2020, 5:38 p.m.

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