Withholding tax on property soldA remarkable number of non-residents own property in South Africa. While non-residents are not subject to South African capital gains tax generally, an exception is to be found where non-residents dispose of South African immovable property, or shares in “South African property rich” companies.

A obvious practical difficulty arises though for SARS to collect taxes from non-residents once they have sold their properties and have no further connection with South Africa. There is very little SARS can do to collect a tax debt from such non-residents, let alone compel them to file the necessary tax returns.

Section 35A of the Income Tax Act[1] was introduced for this reason. It levies an interim withholding tax on non-residents selling South African immovable property, required to be withheld from the selling price payable by the non-resident, on the following basis:

  • 5% of the selling price where the seller is a non-resident natural person;
  • 5% of the selling price where the seller is a non-resident company; and
  • 10% of the selling price where the seller is a non-resident trust.

In clause 10(1) of the draft Rates and Monetary Amounts and Amendment of Revenue Laws Bill, which was released concurrently with the Annual National Budget earlier this year, it is proposed that the rates above be increased to 7.5%, 10% and 15% respectively and effective to disposals of immovable property from 22 February 2017.

While ultimately the withholding obligation lies with the purchaser paying the purchase amount, a conveyancer or estate agent may also be liable where the withholding tax is not withheld from payments made to the non-resident seller.[2]

As referred to above, the withholding tax is not a final tax and its purpose is merely to secure the ultimate capital gains tax liability that may ultimately be due (and which would in most circumstances be substantially less the amount withheld). To the extent that a lesser amount is due in the form of a capital gains tax exposure for the non-resident, the balance overpaid is refunded to the seller upon submission of an annual income tax return.

It is also possible for a non-resident to apply for a tax directive that no withholding tax needs to be withheld from the selling price of the property sold. The directive may be based on either:[3]

(a) the extent to which the seller is willing to provide for security for the payment of taxes due to SARS on the disposal of the property;

(b) the extent of the other assets that the seller has in the Republic;

(c) whether the seller is potentially not subject to tax in respect of the disposal of the property; and

(d) whether the actual liability of that seller for tax in respect of the disposal of the property is less than the amount required to be withheld.

[1] 58 of 1962

[2] Section 35A(12)

[3] Section 35A(2)

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as 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 financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.  Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)


Municipalities are required to issue rates clearance certificates without which a property cannot be transferred from a seller to a buyer. The rates clearance certificate certifies that outstanding debts owing to a municipality up to the date of transfer have been settled.

Property buyers relied on these certificates as proof that all previous debt on the property have been fully settled and that transfer of the property to the buyer could proceed.

However, in some cases rates clearance certificates are issued while all charges for the period before the transfer date of a property to a new owner are not yet allocated to the municipal accounts of the previous owners. The question then is: can the new owner of the property be held liable for these historic debts incurred before it became owner of the property?

The first court case

In a court case between a municipality and a ratepayer in May 2013, the judgement made by the court was incorrectly interpreted by municipalities. Based on their interpretation, municipalities held new property owners liable for municipal debt incurred by previous owners and refused to issue rates clearance certificates until all such debt were paid.

In addition, municipal services to a property would be cut off and municipalities would refuse to reconnect such services until all debt were fully settled. Buyers who wanted to take transfer of the property had no choice but to settle debt for services not consumed by themselves.

The second court case

A subsequent court case issued judgement on 8 September 2014, stating that the municipalities’ interpretation of the previous judgement was wrong. The following principles were laid down:

  • A municipality’s right to payment, although attached to a specific property, ended when a property was transferred to a new owner. Outstanding municipal debts up to date of transfer had to be recovered from the seller.
  • Payment of debt for services consumed by a previous owner remained the responsibility of that owner. The buyer of a property is not liable for debt incurred for services consumed prior to the transfer of the property.

What happened next?

The second judgement referred to above was the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality v PJ Mitchell (38/2015) [2016] ZASCA 1). The appeal was successful, with obvious serious consequences for property owners.

As a result of the successful appeal, new home owners can in law be liable for municipal debts of their predecessors in title. Consequently, it would now be up to property owners themselves to recover these amounts from previous owners, and no longer the duty of the municipality seeking to recover its debts to do so. The obligation for ensuring that no outstanding municipal debts exist upon transfer has therefore now shifted definitively to property buyers, and away from municipalities in issuing rates clearance certificates (which is different from the position prior to the successful appeal a few months ago).

This is an arduous task, and one which property buyers should take very seriously when purchasing a property to ensure that no unpleasant surprises materialise in the months (or even years) following the transfer of the property in the deeds office to their name.

Reference List:

Accessed on 21 April 2016:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as 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 financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.  Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)



Estate duty is charged on the dutiable value of the estate in terms of the Estate Duty Act. The general rule is that if the taxpayer is ordinarily resident in South Africa at the time of death, all of his/her assets (including deemed property), wherever they are situated, will be included in the gross value of his/her estate for the determination of duty payable thereon.

The current estate duty rate is 20% of the dutiable value of the estate. Foreigners/non-residents also pay estate duty on their South African property.

To minimise the effects of estate duty you need to understand the calculation thereof. The following provisions apply in determining your liability:

1. Which property is to be included.

2. Which property constitutes “deemed property”.

3. Allowable deductions: the possible deductions that are allowed when calculating estate duty.

Property includes all property, or any right to property, including immovable or movable, corporeal or incorporeal – registered in the deceased’s name at the time of his/her death. It also includes certain types of annuities, and options to purchase land or shares, goodwill, and intellectual property.

Deemed property

A. Insurance policies

1. Includes proceeds of domestic insurance policies (payable in South Africa in South African currency [ZAR]), taken out on the life of the deceased, irrespective of who the owner (beneficiary) is.

2. The proceeds of such a policy are subject to estate duty, however this can be reduced by the amount of the premiums, plus interest at 6% per annum, to the extent that the premiums were paid by a third person (the beneficiary) entitled to the proceeds of the policy. Premiums paid by the deceased himself/herself are not deductible from the proceeds for estate duty purposes.

3. If the proceeds of a policy are payable to the surviving spouse or a child of the deceased in terms of a properly registered antenuptial contract (i.e. registered with the Deeds Office) the policy will be totally exempt from estate duty.

4. Where a policy is taken out on each other’s lives by business partners, and certain criteria are met, the proceeds are exempt from estate duty.

B. Benefits payable by pension and other funds by or as a result of the death of the deceased

Payments by such funds (pension, retirement annuity, provident funds) usually consist of two components – a lump sum payment on death and an annuity afterwards. The lump sum component used to be subject to estate duty. However as from 1 January 2009, no amount received from such a fund is included in the estate of the deceased for estate duty purposes.

C. Donations at date of death

Donations where the donee will not benefit until the death of the donor and where the donation only materialises if the donor dies, are not subject to donations tax. These have to be included as an asset in the deceased estate and are subject to estate duty.

D. Claims in terms of the Matrimonial Property Act (accrual claim)

An accrual claim that the estate of a deceased has against the surviving spouse is property deemed to be property in the deceased estate

E. Property that the deceased was competent to dispose of immediately prior to his/her death (Section 3(3)(d) of the Estate Duty Act), like donating an asset to a trust, may be included as deemed property.


Some of the most important allowable deductions are:

1.  The cost of funeral, tombstone and deathbed expenses.

2.  Debts due at date of death to persons who have their ordinary residence in South   Africa.

3.  The extent to which these debts are to be settled from property included in the estate. This includes the deceased’s income tax liability (which includes capital gains tax) for the period up to the date of death.

4.  Foreign assets and rights:

a. The general rule is that foreign assets and rights of a South African resident, wherever situated, are included in his/her estate as assets.

b. However, the value thereof can be deducted for estate duty purposes where such foreign property was acquired before the deceased became ordinarily resident in South Africa for the first time, or was acquired by way of donation or inheritance from a non-resident, after the donee became ordinarily resident in South Africa for the first time (provided that the donor or testator was not ordinarily resident in South Africa at the time of the donation or death). The amount of any profits or proceeds of any such property is also deductible.

5. Debts and liabilities due to non-residents:

a. Debts and liabilities due to non-residents are deductible but only to the extent that such debts exceed the value of the deceased’s assets situated outside South Africa which have not been included in the dutiable estate.

6. Bequests to certain public benefit organisations:

a. Where property is bequeathed to a public benefit organisation or public welfare organisation which is exempt from income tax, or to the State or any local authority within South Africa, the value of such property will be able to be deducted for estate duty purposes.

7. Property accruing to a surviving spouse [Section 4(q)]:

a. This includes that much of the value of any property included in the estate that has not already been allowed as a deduction and accrues to a surviving spouse.

b. Note that proceeds of a policy payable to the surviving spouse are required to be included in the estate for estate duty purposes (as deemed property), but that this is deductible in terms of Section 4(q).

c. Section 4(q) deductions will not be granted where the property inherited is subject to a bequest price.

d. Section 4(q) deductions will not be granted where the bequest is to a trust established by the deceased for the benefit of the surviving spouse, if the trustee(s) has/have discretion to allocate such property or any income out of it to any person other than the surviving spouse (a discretionary trust). Where the trustee(s) has/have no discretion as regards both the income and capital of the trust, the Section 4(q) deduction may be granted (a vested trust)

Portable R3.5 million deduction between spouses

The Act allows for the R3.5 million deduction from estate duty to roll over from the deceased to a surviving spouse so that the surviving spouse can use a R7 million deduction amount on his/her death. The portability of the deduction will only apply when the entire value of the estate of the first dying spouse is left to the surviving spouse.

Life assurance for estate duty

Estate duty will also normally be leviable on these assurance proceeds.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as 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 financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.