Answer to a question from a reader

If two unwed people owned a house together and one died after getting married to someone else, can the spouse sell the house?

The short answer

The two title deed holders need to come to an agreement about the sale of the house.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

Two people who never got married own an RDP house together (both their names are on the title deed). The man moved out of the house when he got married, while the woman stayed in the house after she got married to someone else. They both had children with their respective spouses.

The man passed away and now his widow wants to sell the house. Can she do that?

The long answer

An RDP house cannot be sold before eight years. Also, neither of the title deed holders can apply for another RDP house with a new partner because you can only ever get one subsidy.

Both the woman who stayed on in the house and the man who moved out are the joint owners of the house as both their names are on the title deeds. If one of the title deed holders wants to sell now that her husband has died, she needs to come to an agreement with the other title deed holder to sell it. It may be that one of them can buy out the half share of the other at a fair market price. If that is not possible, both title deed holders can agree to sell the house and share the proceeds. In this case, the ownership of both their half shares would have to be transferred to a third party. 

This transfer of the title deed into the name of a new owner is done by a lawyer called a conveyancing attorney. The conveyancing attorney sees to it that the title deed is signed into the new owner’s name by the Registrar of Deeds and files a copy in the Deeds Office. The conveyancing attorney will charge a fee of which can be around R7,700 for all the paperwork that must be done to transfer the title deeds. If the title deed is not transferred in this way, the person who has bought the house is not the legal owner and may well lose it. 

Though the children of both the title deed holders may wish to inherit the house themselves someday, it may be that they would need to come to an agreement to sell it, too. 

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Sept. 23, 2021, 1:15 p.m.

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