JURISDICTION OF COURTS IN MATTERS INVOLVING COMPANIES

A4_b_MarTraditionally, and under the previous Companies Act, a company could have a principal place of business and a registered office. A company could, for instance, conduct its business at one office and also have a registered office with its auditors. In terms of the 1973 Companies Act any division of the High Court where a company’s registered office or its principal place of business was located, would have jurisdiction. More than one Court could, as a consequence, have jurisdiction in proceedings where a company was involved.

The new 2008 Companies Act, which repealed to a large extent the 1973 Act, does not have a similar wording that provides for more than one address. In the matter of Sibakhulu Construction (Pty) Ltd vs Wedgewood Village Golf Country Estate (Pty) Ltd (Nedbank Intervening) 2013 (1) SA 191 the Western Cape High Court dealt with the question of which Court would have jurisdiction where a company has a registered address different from its principal place of business.

The matter revolved around business rescue proceedings and winding up proceedings. The Court remarked that Section 128 of the Act makes reference to only “…the High Court…” This wording denotes that a single Court would have jurisdiction over a company, and not more than one Court as in the previous Act. In dealing with the matter the Court considered the interpretation of the new Act.

Section 23(3) of the new Act specifically states that a company must continually maintain at least one office and register the address of its office or of its principal office if the company has more than one office. This office will, under the new Act, be the company’s registered office. Section 23 makes it clear that this office must be maintained by the company itself and the following Section deals with documentary records to be kept at the address. The Court remarked that the new Act retained the institution of a registered office with which the outside world could make contact.

Unfortunately the Act does not define “principal office” but the Court remarked that, from a reading of the Act, it is clear that the intention is to denote the place where the administrative business of the company is centred. It follows, the Court suggested, that this office should also be the principal place of business. The Court concluded that the principal place of business and the registered office have to be at the same address under the new Act.

Reference was further made to Section 7 of the new Act where it is stated that the purpose of the Act is to provide a “predictable and effective environment for the efficient regulation of companies”. The Court held the view that to give effect to the purpose of the Act as set out in Section 7 it would follow that, in terms of Section 23, a company can only reside at its registered office, which means that only a single court can have jurisdiction.

Companies should be aware of this judgement and make sure that they register their principal place of business as their registered address.

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

 

PAY YOUR LEVIES, OR ELSE…

A3_b_MarDear Mr LawyerI am the owner of a sectional title, and I have paid my levies every month as required, until the water started seeping through the ceiling of my enclosed balcony into my section when it rains. The leak was clearly emanating from a defect in the common property. I asked the body corporate on numerous occasions to repair the defect, yet after four months of writing letters and sending emails the body corporate still has not done anything to honour this simple request. As a frustrated owner I resorted to desperate measures and employed a contractor to repair the property defect. I settled the bill myself.May I withhold my levies for a period to set off the money that is owed to me by the body corporate?

Dear Mr Owner

Although this action may sound reasonable, the right to stop paying or to set off a debt against levies is not legally justified and owners are not, under any circumstances, entitled to simply withhold levies.

There is no provision in the Sectional Titles Act 95 of 1986 or the rules that gives an owner the right to withhold levy payments. Even if an owner incurs expense in performing an emergency repair to the common property, and believes that the body corporate owes him money, the owner may only set off the debt against the levies once it becomes liquid.

An amount can only be liquid once it has been agreed upon. An owner cannot set off the amount he believes he is entitled to deduct. The trustees, judge or arbitrator must have confirmed the amount.

If Mr Owner does withhold his levies without the amount being liquid, he is subject to the following sanctions in terms of the prescribed rules:

  • Firstly, the trustees are entitled to charge interest on arrear amounts at a rate determined by them, and so the defaulting owner may receive a larger account, due to the interest on his arrears, than if he had paid his levies.
  • What is more, The Sectional Titles Act imposes a positive obligation on trustees to recover levies from defaulting owners. Not only does the Act empower them to charge interest, the scheme attorneys will most likely issue summons against the defaulter for all costs that the Body Corporate may incur in recovering any arrears.
  • Secondly, the prescribed management rules provide that, except in the case of special and unanimous resolutions, an owner is not entitled to vote if any contributions payable by him in respect of his section have not been duly paid. Therefore, an owner who withholds his levies is unable to vote for ordinary resolutions in respect of the section that he is withholding levies on.

Mr Lawyer, how does an owner deal with a situation where he believes the body corporate is liable for payment?

A dispute must be declared with the Body Corporate by written notice of the dispute or query to the trustees. The trustees or Body Corporate then have 14 days from receipt to resolve the dispute. During this period, the parties should meet to try and resolve the dispute. If there is no resolution after the 14-day period, either party may demand that the dispute be referred to arbitration. The arbitrator must make his/her recommendations in settlement of the dispute within 7 days from the date of commencement of the dispute. The decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding and may be made an order of the High Court.

It is clear that prescribed processes are in place according to which disputes and related issues can be settled. Not only will this ensure that you act within the legal guidelines, but it will also eliminate unnecessary frustration.

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

SHOULD I DRAFT A WILL?

A1_b_MarA mother who has always wanted her daughter to inherit her diamond engagement ring may never get her wish if she dies without leaving a valid written will. The mother’s estate would then be distributed in terms of the Intestate Succession Act No. 81 of 1987.

Taking the time to draft a will can leave you with the peace of mind that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes as far as possible. Your will should reflect exactly how you want your assets to be dealt with after your death and should not be contra bonos mores (against good morals). It should also not amount to “ruling from the grave”.

There are a number of legal requirements that have to be complied with for a will to be valid. If it does not comply with all of these requirements it could be found to be invalid. Your estate would then also be dealt with in terms of the Intestate Succession Act of 1987. It is therefore of the utmost importance that you obtain the assistance of someone with the necessary specialised skill and knowledge to assist you with the drafting of your will.

A will should also regularly be revised and updated to adapt to your changing circumstances, for example after getting married, and when there is a child on the way. Section 2B of the Wills Act No. 7 of 1953 (as amended by the Law of Succession Act No. 43 of 1992) deals specifically with a change in marital status by way of divorce, and reads as follows:

If any person dies within three months after his marriage was dissolved by a divorce or annulment by a competent court and that person executed a will before the date of such dissolution, that will shall be implemented in the same manner as it would have been implemented if his previous spouse had died before the date of the dissolution concerned, unless it appears from the will that the testator intended to benefit his previous spouse notwithstanding the dissolution of his marriage.”

This can be explained by way of the following example: A and B get divorced and B dies within three months of the date of the divorce. B’s will was executed before they got divorced. Unless B’s will specifically indicated that A must benefit from B’s estate despite the divorce, B’s estate will then be distributed as if A died before they got divorced. A will therefore not inherit from B’s estate in this scenario. However, should B die more than 3 months after the divorce and B’s will, which benefits A, was not changed, then it will be seen as if B intended A to inherit, despite the divorce.

A person who was previously married and who remarries, should ensure that the necessary changes are made to his/her will. If not, this could have profound consequences for the “new” spouse, especially if the will still benefits the spouse from the previous marriage.

When there are minor children in the picture, it is advisable to make adequate provision for their living costs and education in your will. This can be done by creating a testamentary trust of which the minor children can be beneficiaries.

Thinking and talking about one’s passing is not a pleasant subject. Having a valid, clear and unambiguous will can prevent unpleasant family feuds caused by them having to make decisions about the distribution of your estate. It is certainly worth the time and effort to have a valid written will in place.

References:

Drafting of Wills 2013 – LEAD

Intestate Succession Act 81/1987

Wills Act 7/1953

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

 

WHO MAY BE APPOINTED AS DIRECTOR?

A2_b_MarCertain people are not eligible to be appointed as directors of a company. In this article we look at who is disqualified from being a director as well as the effects of the actions of such persons while still acting as director.

A company must not knowingly permit an ineligible or disqualified person to serve or act as a director, according to section 69(3) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008. “Knowingly” includes the situation where the company should reasonably have known that the person is ineligible or disqualified.

Section 69(7) lists the persons on which there are an absolute prohibition, being juristic persons, minors or any persons disqualified in terms of the Memorandum of Incorporation. Section 69(8) lists the persons that are disqualified on a temporary basis, being someone who has been prohibited by the court or whom the court has declared a delinquent, unrehabilitated insolvents, persons who were removed from an office of trust on the grounds of misconduct involving dishonesty, and persons who were found guilty of a criminal offence and imprisoned without the option of a fine, or were ordered to pay a higher fine for being found guilty of any dishonesty crimes.[1]

A question that arises here is what the effect would be of appointing a prohibited director. Section 69(4) says that a person immediately ceases to be a director if they are prohibited from being a director, but section 71(3) states that if a shareholder alleges that a person is disqualified then the person must be removed by a board resolution before they cease to be a director. This means that any act done by such a person, despite his disqualification, will be valid and binding on the company unless the third party who was involved in the act was aware that the person they were dealing with was disqualified.[2]

Section 162(5) (a)-(f) sets out the grounds for an order of delinquency. A court must make an order declaring a person to be a delinquent director if the person:

  1. consented to serve as a director, or acted in the capacity of a director or prescribed officer, while ineligible or disqualified to be a director;
  2. acted as a director in a manner that contravened an order of probation;
  3. grossly abused the position of director while being a director;
  4. took personal advantage of information or an opportunity, or intentionally or by gross negligence inflicted harm upon the company or a subsidiary while being a director;
  5. acted in a manner that amounted to gross negligence, wilful misconduct or breach of trust while being a director; or as contemplated in section 77(3) (a), (b) or (c);
  6. has repeatedly been personally subject to a compliance notice or similar enforcement mechanism;
  7. has been convicted of an offence at least twice, or subjected to an administrative fine or similar penalty; or
  8. was a director of a company or a managing member of a close corporation, or controlled or participated in the control of a juristic person that was convicted of an offence, or subjected to a fine or similar penalty, within a period of five years. [3] & [4]

If a person is declared a delinquent in terms of section 162(5) (a) or (b) it is unconditional and for the lifetime of the person. If a person is declared a delinquent in terms of section 162(5) (c)-(f) this is temporary for a minimum of 7 years.[5]

It is therefore very important, when appointing a director, to make sure that he is qualified in terms of the new Companies Act. One must do proper research about a person accordingly before appointing him as a director of a company because it is possible that if you do not do so, the company in which you are a shareholder may have to bear the consequences of the actions of this disqualified person.

References:

l Companies Act 71 of 2008

l FHI Cassim et al Contemporary Company Law (2012)

[1] Section 69(7) – (8) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008.

[2] Section 69(4) and 71(3) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008.

[3] Section 162(5) (a)-(f) of the Companies Act.

[4] FHI Cassim et al Contemporary Company Law (2012) 435 – 437.

[5] FHI Cassim et al Contemporary Company Law (2012) 438.

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