Answer to a question from a reader

Can you transfer a property to your name if you're willing to pay off the utilities bill?

The short answer

No, you need to find out who the owner of the property is.

The whole question

I'm renting an RDP house, along with another family who lives in a wendy house on the same property. I recently found out that these people are not the owners of the property. The owner apparently left years ago. Now, I've received a water bill that's overdue with a huge amount of money. Is it legal to charge for property that is not in your name? And how do you go about transferring the property to your name if you're willing to pay off the bills that need to be settled?

The long answer

Firstly, no one is supposed to rent out an RDP house because the government gives RDP houses to beneficiaries to provide them with homes, not to make money from. In the first eight years after a beneficiary receives an RDP house, the beneficiary may not sell it. The housing department is on record saying that anyone found to be renting out an RDP property especially within the eight year period gives the impression that they did not need a house in the first place. It takes about eight years for the beneficiary to receive title deeds for the house. The title deeds are the only legal proof of ownership.

That is government policy. But in reality, many RDP houses are sold before title deeds are issued. And if they are issued, many RDP houses are sold without the title deeds being transferred, because it is a long drawn out and expensive business to transfer title deeds. This means that in many cases it is hard to find the real owner, as the house could have changed hands several times.

You can only find out if there was a title deed issued for the house from the Deeds Office in person and you would need the name of the owner / ID of the owner and the erf number of the property, not the street number. The search costs R14.00 and if there is a title deed, you can get a copy.

The ownership of a property is only transferred through the Deeds Office after the property is sold or inherited, and the transfer of the title deeds is done through a special lawyer called a conveyancer. 

You will not be able to get the property transferred to you by paying the overdue municipal bills.

When there are outstanding debts with the municipality, an owner cannot transfer property to a prospective new owner because a rates and tax clearance certificate must be submitted to the registrar of deeds. A municipality will not issue such a certificate unless the last two years of the municipal debt is settled.

Perhaps you could start by asking the municipality if they know who the owner is, and if there is any advice they could give you. 

Answered on Aug. 14, 2020, 10:18 a.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.