Municipal debt invalid, the Constitutional Court has ruled

On 23 May 2017, the Constitutional Court heard an application for confirmation of an order of the High Court of South Africa, that declared section 118(3) of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act, 2000, constitutionally invalid.

On 29 August, in a ruling majority written by Justice Edwin Cameron, the court found that upon transfer of a property, a new owner is not liable for old municipal debt.

Section 118 of the Municipal Systems Act

Section 118(3) explains that municipal debt on any property is a charge upon that property and enjoys preference over any mortgage bond registered against the property. However, the question was whether this means that, when a new owner buys the property, the property remains with the debts of a previous owner.

What did the court say?

The court ruled that section 118 (3) is “well capable of being interpreted”, so that the historical debt is not transferred to a new owner of the property.

“What is notable about section 118(3) is that the legislature did not require that the charge (historical debt) be either registered or noted on the register of deeds. Textually, there is no indication that the right given to municipalities has a third-party effect (to a new owner)… It (historical debt) stands alone, isolated and unsupported, without foundation or undergirding and with no express words carrying any suggestion that it is transmissible,” the court said in the judgement.

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

References:

The Constitutional Court of South Africa

“Concourt rules new homeowners not liable for debts of previous owners”, Ray Mahlaka, The Citizen, 29 August 2017. https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/1631149/concourt-rules-new-homeowners-not-liable-for-debts-of-previous-owners/

Jordaan and Another v City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality and Others; New Ventures Consulting & Services (Pty) Ltd and Others v City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality and Another; Livanos and Others v Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality and Another; Oak Plant Rentals (Pty) Ltd and Others v Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality (74195/2013; 13039/2014; 13040/2014; 19552/2015; 23826/2014) [2016] ZAGPPHC 941; [2017] 1 All SA 585 (GP); 2017 (2) SA 295 (GP) (7 November 2016)