Answer to a question from a reader

Is it safe to buy an RDP house without a title deed?

The short answer

A title deed is the only legal proof of ownership. Here's how to get one.

The whole question

I want to buy an RDP house but the seller has only a letter of authority from the court to show that she owns the property. She said the house belonged to her late son who has no wife and children. She showed us a letter of authority, a death certificate and a letter from the municipality. How safe is it to buy the property? 

The long answer

A letter of authority gives the mother permission to sell the house, and I presume the letter from the municipality states that there is no objection to selling the house, but the problem is that the title deed is the only legal proof of ownership, and it needs to be transferred to your name through the Deeds Office.

You become the owner of the property when the Registrar of Deeds signs the transfer. After it’s been signed, a copy is kept at the Deeds Office closest to you.

If the title deed was lost or destroyed, a copy in the form of a computer printout can be obtained from the Deeds Office. In that case you would need to go in person to the information desk at your nearest Deeds Office and they would help you fill out the prescribed form. They will only give out this information if you have the full names and / or ID number of the owner of the property, or at least his date of birth. You would also need the correct erf number and township or farm name and number, not the street address. You would have to pay R8 for them to do this data search which would take about 30 to 60 minutes.         

You can also do an online search for the title deed via DeedsWeb, which is a national government website.

It’s obviously more of a problem if the late son never received the title deed in the first place, which has been the case for many RDP house beneficiaries. This seems to have happened when the developers were allowed to go ahead with building the houses before they had registered the deeds, and in many cases they simply didn’t bother to register the deeds as this represented a small amount of money compared to the much larger amount for the building work. This meant that the work of registering the deeds fell to the municipalities to do, and often they didn’t have the budget, the staff or the know how to register all the properties. In 2016 there was an estimated backlog of 900,000 title deeds for RDP houses.   

This means that many of the sales of RDP houses have been done informally – without the transferring of title deeds, and so there is no formal record of the sale. But if you want to use the house as collateral, for example, the banks will demand a title deed; if you want to sell it again, you will need to have the title deed.

The Department of Human Settlements is said to be trying to “fast-track” the issuing of title deeds through the Estate Agency Affairs Board, and an electronic system is being contemplated to speed up delivery.

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 the owner never had a title deed for his house, you (the buyer) can bring an application to the high court to ask for a declaratory order that the house be transferred into your name.

You could ask Legal Aid for advice and assistance here:

0800 110 110 (Monday to Friday 7AM - 7PM) 
 079 835 7179 (Please Call Me)


Answered on June 26, 2019, 10:21 a.m.

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