DO DEBTS LAST FOREVER?

B2Prescription was introduced as means of protecting South African consumers from dishonest credit providers, who are responsible for recklessly lending credit and have contributed to the detrimental debt crisis many South Africans face today.

What does prescription mean?

  • The Prescription Act 68 of 1969 (PA) says that a debt (payment of money) is extinguished/expired after the lapse (passing) of a specific time period.
  • South Africa has different laws which specify time periods, for example, the PA says contractual and delictual debts extinguish after 3 years from when prescription starts.
  • Prescription may be delayed or interrupted.

It is important to bear in mind that not all debt prescribes after a period of three years. Debt related to a cheque, for example, only prescribes after 6 years. The purpose of prescription in South Africa is to compel creditors and collections agents to collect money owed to them within a specified period and not delay collection so that it accumulates massive amounts of interest and costs.

What are the consequences of an extinguished debt?

  • The debtor is not liable to the creditor for a debt after the time period has lapsed.
  • The creditor may not institute legal action against the debtor for a debt.

When does prescription start?

As soon as the debt is due (a debt is due once the creditor can identify the debtor and the facts from which the debt arises).

  • If the debtor prevents the creditor from gaining knowledge of the debt (excluding debts arising from agreements) prescription runs from when the creditor has knowledge of the existence of the debt.

An important point to remember is that it’s perfectly legal for a debt collector or attorney to demand payment for a prescribed debt. It is up to a debtor to raise prescription as a defence.

References:

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)

HOW DO I CANCEL A LEASE?

B1What happens when a landlord or a tenant wants to cancel a lease? What rules and what legislation apply? What protection does the law provide?

If you want to end your lease early, this can be done in situations where:

  1. the Consumer Protection Act or Rental Housing Act applies, or
  2. there’s a clause in the contract that allows for early cancellation, or
  3. if both parties agree to it.

If, on the other hand, one of the parties wants to cancel because the other is in breach of the contract, then certain notice periods come into effect – the first of which being, of course, that the aggrieved party is required to give written notice for the breach to be remedied.

For tenants

  1. If your landlord is in material breach of the lease, then cancelling your lease early will not be in breach of the contract.
  2. If your landlord has met all the conditions of the lease and you decide to cancel your lease early, you will be in breach of contract unless the termination of the lease has been mutually agreed upon. Speak to your landlord before making any rushed decisions, chances are, you may be able to come to a mutual agreement whereby you are able to find a replacement tenant or sublet the property for the remainder of your lease.

For landlords

  1. Firstly, look to the provisions of the lease itself. Most leases contain a breach clause, which indicate a period of a number of days that are necessary to be given as notice to the tenant of a breach. If there is no breach period specified, it will be a ‘reasonable period’ in terms of the common law.
  2. If you give notice of the breach, and it is not remedied in the breach notice period, this means that you can take action to sue for whatever is owed or even issue summons and attach the tenant’s goods by evoking your landlord’s hypothec, but you cannot cancel the lease and evict.

When it comes to cancelling agreements, it is always best to consult a legal expert since doing something from your own understanding and experience could lead to a court case.

References:

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)

THE BENEFITS OF CREATING A TRUST

A4bTrusts are well-known to facilitate effective estate planning and continuity planning strategies. That said, setting up a trust – whether an inter vivos (between the living) or a testamentary (created in a will) − should be carefully considered and not just implemented blindly.

The difference between testamentary and inter vivos trusts

  • A testamentary trust is established when a person (the founder) makes provision for establishing a trust in their will. The trust does not come into existence until the founder dies.
    .
  • An inter vivos trust is set up between the living. In other words, property is transferred before death to the trust by its founder and managed by the trustees for the benefit of another person or persons.

The death benefits of creating an inter vivos trust exceeds the cost – both in time and money. According to The Estate Duty Act, upon death, a duty is levied against your estate known as estate duty. The nett value of any estate will be determined by deducting all liabilities from your assets of your estate, both real and deemed.

Should you create a testamentary trust, upon death the assets are in your name and will need to be transferred to the trust posthumously, meaning all assets are taken into account when assessing the duty payable.

Advantages

Taking the above into account, here are some benefits you could experience from creating a trust:

  • Reducing estate duty:
    Inter vivos trusts can be used to minimise estate duty. No estate duty should be payable on assets owned by the trust as a trust does not die.
    .
  • Protection against creditors:
    As the trust’s assets are not owned by the beneficiaries, creditors do not have a claim on the assets. This advantage is especially important for people who could be exposed to potential liability. Companies as well as individuals are able to transfer assets into trusts.
    .
  • Efficient succession:
    Since trusts never die, beneficiaries will be able to continue enjoying the assets if one beneficiary were to pass away.

Disadvantages

Despite the advantages, there are also some disadvantages of having a trust. They include the following:

  • Costs:
    The costs of setting up a trust can be high. If assets are transferred into the trust, then transfer duty needs to also be paid.
    .
  • Duties of trustees:
    Trustees could find themselves personally liable for losses suffered by the trust if it can be proven that they did not act with care, diligence and skill according to Section 9 of the Trust Property Control Act.

References:

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)

THE CONSEQUENCES OF DRINKING AND DRIVING

A3bWith the zero-tolerance approach the law has towards road users, it’s necessary to address the consequences of drinking and driving. Unfortunately, holidays and weekends often bring devastating road accidents, with families being injured and losing members due to drunk-driving related incidents.

What does the law say?

  • According to the Road Traffic Act 93/96, which has been in effect since March 1998, no person shall on a public road:
    • Drive a vehicle; or
    • Occupy a driver’s seat of a motor vehicle, the engine of which is running, while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect.
  • No person shall on a public road:
    • Drive a vehicle; or
    • Occupy a driver’s seat of a motor vehicle, the engine of which is running, while the concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken part of his or her body is not less than 0,05 grams per 100 millilitres.
  • If, in any prosecution for a contravention of the provisions of subsection (2), it is proved that the concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken from any part of the body of the person concerned was not less than 0,05 grams per 100 millilitres at any time within two hours after the alleged offence, it shall be presumed, until the contrary is proved, that such concentration was not less than 0,05 grams per 100 millilitres of blood at the time of the alleged offence.

What happens if you are caught?

  • You will be arrested for being over the limit:
    If you are suspected of driving over the limit, you will be Breathalysed.
    .
  • Your blood will be taken:
    If the Breathalyser tests positive, you will be taken into custody and sent for further testing at an alcohol testing centre.
    .
  • You will be detained:
    Once you have been arrested you will be taken to a police station, where you will be detained in the holding cells for at least four hours to sober up.

After your release, a docket will be opened and you will be allocated an investigating officer who will follow up your blood test results.

Conclusion

Getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol should not be an option. People should always use an alternative option, such as getting a lift with someone else, Uber, or using a taxi. Besides the fact that drinking and driving could cost you or someone else their life, it also has severe legal consequences.

References:

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)

MUST I REGISTER AS A CREDIT PROVIDER WHEN SELLING MY FARM?

A2bPurchasers have increasing difficulty obtaining financing for the purchase of farms and other agricultural land. Many sellers of these properties consider granting the purchaser a bond for the purchase amount, to be paid off over a period of time. Worse, some accept an acknowledgement of indebtedness and consent to judgment as sufficient protection, prior to shaking hands and signing off on the transfer agreements.

Previously, the mere registration of the bond or the notice confirming the instalment sale of a property registered at the Deeds Office was sufficient. Together with the required written agreement, it constituted protection to the incidental money lender in the event of a defaulting purchaser.

The National Credit Act

The National Credit Act has changed everything. The Act provides, inter alia, that in any credit agreement where the credit amount exceeds R500 000, the lender is to be registered as a credit provider. This includes the occasional private farm seller, even if it is a once-off arrangement with no intention by the seller to provide credit to any other person ever again. Failure to register as a credit provider prior to a transaction that can be defined as a “credit transaction” is a transgression of the Act.

The consequences

Should the credit provider not be registered and the purchaser defaults on the payment agreement, section 89(5) of the National Credit Act is unequivocally prescriptive on how the courts are to deal with such circumstances. The credit agreement is void as from the date it was entered into. The credit provider must refund all payments made in terms of the agreement together with stipulated interest. Most importantly, all purported rights of the credit provider to recover any money paid or the goods that were delivered to the consumer, are cancelled, or the property forfeited to the state, unless a court finds that such forfeiture will unjustly enrich the purchaser.

Many sellers, and even attorneys, are either unaware of this provision or blatantly flaunt the requirement as they “trust” the purchaser and “know” that the full repayment will be made, including the interest. The problem only manifests when the worst case scenario does occur and the well-known and trusted purchaser defaults on the payments. Many of the sellers who acted as credit providers relied on such repayments and interest either to fund another farm purchase or worse, their retirement.

Forfeiture of property

The Constitutional Court previously considered the validity of this section of the National Credit Act and specifically of the clause relating to forfeiture of the property to the state in the light of the Bill of Rights, regarding the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of property and the so-called Limitation clause. J van der Westhuizen delivered a majority judgement on 10 December 2012 which declared the arbitrary forfeiture of property to the state prescribed in section 89(5)(c) of the National Credit Act to be inconsistent with section 25(1) of the constitution, and thus invalid.

This judgement should, however, sound an urgent alarm to any and all unregistered credit-providing farm sellers. The intention of the National Credit Act is to discourage the provision of credit outside the framework set by the legislature. The Act thus has to punish those that do not comply with the requirements thereof, and the punishment is severe.

The punishment

Should the farm seller therefore not have registered as a credit provider, and the purchaser defaults on his payments, the seller is at risk – a very real and serious risk. Unless a court orders that the circumstances will unjustly enrich the purchaser, the seller may not only forfeit all payments and interest, but will have to obtain a court order that the seller is entitled to recover the farm from the defaulting purchaser.

If the credit agreement is unlawful as from inception in terms of the National Credit Act, the agreement cannot be enforced and the defaulting party cannot be compelled to perform. In the law, pursuance of such agreement must then be made in terms of unjustified enrichment, and specifically the conditio ob turpem vel iniustam causam. In short, the requirements are that the ownership must have passed with transfer, transfer must have taken place in terms of an unlawful agreement, and the claimant must tender back everything received.

However, to be successful the claimant must be able to prove that he acted free of turpitude and show that the actions were not dishonourable. The banker-playing credit-providing farm seller might not forfeit the farm as the court’s discretion has been unconstitutionally curtailed in section 89(5)(c), but is still far from the position he could have been in had he simply registered as a credit provider.

Conclusion

Civil obedience regarding the legislation of the country creates a stable, safe, just and equitable society with a strong economy and an affinity with investors. Compliance with the National Credit Act not only ensures confidence in immovable property as an investment, but will protect those who want to play banker.

For further reading see National Credit Regulator vs Fillippus Albertus Opperman and others, case number CCT34/12 [2012] ZACC 29 and case law quoted by both the majority judgement and descending judgment written by J Cameron.

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)

SHOULD I PLAN MY ESTATE AS A YOUNG ADULT?

A1bIt is very important for you to plan your estate, which could include a living will, a last will and a living trust. This can help families prepare for difficult times when you are no longer around to assist or advise them. Our lives get busier and more complicated by the day, so estate planning for young and old becomes increasingly important. Young people should consider preparing certain estate planning documents, and in particular financial powers of attorney and living wills.

At the age of 18 a young man or woman officially becomes an adult in the eyes of the world. This means that you are entitled to make important financial, legal or health decisions about your lives. But what if something happens and you are unable to make these decisions at a critical time? Such situations can range from a small inconvenience to a life-threatening crisis, but if your estate is in order, it can speak on your behalf.

Financial power of attorney

A financial power of attorney allows you to appoint someone you trust, like another family member, to make financial decisions on your behalf. This document can be activated when you are incapacitated or right after it has been signed, and it will remain effective until you can resume charge of your own decisions again.

A financial durable power of attorney will allow the appointed person to handle important legal and financial matters on behalf of the grantor. In the case of a business or financial situation which involves the young adult, such as a passport or car registration renewal, it is convenient for the power of attorney to act on his/her behalf if they cannot tend to the problem. This arrangement may come in handy when there is a legal situation which requires quick action and the young adult is unable to attend. Families with a disabled family member can also benefit from the security of a power of attorney.

Living will

A living will enables you to state specific medical wishes if you are alive, but unable to communicate them. Artificial life support in the case of a coma or terminal illness is an issue often discussed in such a document. Preferences regarding administering of pain medication, artificial nutrition and other treatments can be dictated in this document.

The Terry Shaivo case shows what can happen if this document is not in place. The legal battle between her husband, family and state of Florida lasted for years before she was granted her wish and taken off life support.

Health care power of attorney

With this type of power of attorney, you give someone else the power to make health decisions on your behalf. These decisions regarding serious health and emotional crises will be made based on instructions which you have given to your power of attorney beforehand. Sometimes a living will is combined with a health care power of attorney, because both of these can be revoked, i.e. it can be cancelled at any time by destroying it, communicating your wishes to your doctor, writing a letter regarding the cancellation or by creating a new living will and health care power of attorney, indicating that the new will revokes all the previous ones.

Start the conversation

Every family’s legal needs are different, so perhaps you should take the first step in being prepared for the worst. Remember that every time your family composition changes, like when a child is born, you need to adapt your will to include them. Start the process and be prepared.

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)

WHAT IS A TITLE DEED?

A1bIf you are planning to buy a new property, you will need to get the title deed transferred into your name to prove that you are the owner of the property. You will need the assistance of a lawyer specialising in property transfers (also known as a conveyancer) to help you transfer the title deed into your name.

You will only become the owner of the property when the Registrar of Deeds signs the transfer. After it has been signed, a copy of the title deed is kept at the Deeds Office closest to you.

A Title Deed is documentary proof of ownership in terms of the Deeds Registries Act 47 of 1937. Each property has its own separate Title Deed. It is an important document containing all the details pertaining to a particular property.

These details are:

  • The name of the existing owner as well as the previous owners.
  • A detailed property description which includes size.
  • The purchase price of the property paid by the existing owner.
  • Conditions applicable to the zoning, use and sale of the land.
  • All real rights registered in respect of the property.

The owner will normally have the Title Deed or a copy thereof in his possession. Before signing an offer to purchase carefully scrutinize the Title Deed.

What is The Deeds Office and The Deeds Registry?

There are numerous Deeds Offices throughout South Africa. Each Deeds Office holds a Deeds Registry, containing filed Title Deeds of all the properties in its particular jurisdiction. All the Deeds Registries are linked to a computer network. Your estate agent can, via a computer-linked facility from his office, examine any Title Deed (registered from 1980) in the country’s combined Deeds Registry.

What’s the Difference Between a Property Deed and a Title?

Title is the legal way of saying you own a right to something. For real estate purposes, title refers to ownership of the property, meaning that you have the rights to use that property. It may be a partial interest in the property or it may be the full. However, because you have title, you can access the land and potentially modify it as you see fit. Title also means that you can transfer that interest or portion that you own to others. However, you can never legally transfer more than you own. Deeds, on the other hand, are actually the legal documents that transfer title from one person to another. Sometimes the Deed is referred to as the vehicle of the property interest transfer.

References:

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)

MY TENANT FAILED TO PAY RENT: CAN I KICK HIM OUT?

A2bIf your tenant has failed to pay his or her rent, it can be tempting to simply kick them out yourself and change the locks. However, do so would be considered illegal, even if the tenant has become an illegal occupant. The reason is because of the PIE Act.

In sum, the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) (1998) provides procedures for eviction of unlawful occupants and prohibits unlawful evictions. The main aim of the Act is to protect both occupiers and landowners. The owner or landlord must follow the provisions of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) (except in areas where ESTA operates) if they want to evict a tenant.

Who is covered?

Anyone who is an unlawful occupier, which includes tenants who fail to pay their rentals and bonds, is covered by PIE. It excludes anyone who qualifies as an ‘occupier’ in terms of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act.

When is an eviction lawful?

  1. For an eviction to happen lawfully, certain procedures must be followed. If any one of them is left out, the eviction is unlawful. So, if an owner wants to have an unlawful occupier evicted, they must do the following:
  • give the occupier notice of his/her intention of going to court to get an eviction order.
  • apply to the court to have a written notice served on the occupier stating the owner’s intention to evict the occupier.
  • The court must serve the notice at least 14 days before the court hearing. The notice must also be served on the municipality that has jurisdiction in the area.

After a landlord intrusts their attorney to commence eviction proceedings, the following happens:

  1. Typically, (except in a case of urgency, e.g. if the tenant is maliciously damaging the leased premises because he got notice to vacate) the attorney will call on the tenant to remedy the breach (usually failure to pay rent on time);
  2. If the tenant fails to deal with the demand, the tenant will be considered to be in illegal occupation of the property;
  3. The attorney then applies to court for permission to begin the eviction process. The court gives a directive as to how and on whom notice of eviction should be served;
  4. The attorney doesn’t give the tenant notice at this time;
  5. The application to court sets out the reasons for the application and the personal circumstances of the occupants;
  6. If the courts are satisfied that it is fair to evict the tenant and all persons occupying the property with him, it gives a directive as to how the application for eviction must be served;
  7. The sheriff then serves the notice of intention to evict on the tenant and the Local Municipality;
  8. The occupants have an opportunity to oppose the application, and explain why they should not be evicted;
  9. If there is opposition, the matter gets argued before a magistrate or judge, who decides whether an eviction order can be granted, and if so, by when the occupants should vacate the property within a stipulated time;
  10. If the tenant does not oppose, the court will grant the eviction order;
  11. If the tenant fails to move, the attorney will apply to Court for a warrant of ejectment to be issued by the Court. This process can take a further three to four weeks.

References:

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)

CO-OWNING PROPERTY WITH SOMEONE ELSE: THE UPS AND DOWNS

A3bWhat is co-ownership?

Co-ownership is when one or more people jointly own the same property. In essence, it is when they legally share ownership without dividing the property into physical portions for their exclusive use. It is thus commonly referred to as co-ownership in undivided shares.

It is possible to agree that owners acquire the property in different shares; for instance, one person owns 70 percent and the other 30 percent of the single property. The different shares can be recorded and registered in the title deeds by the Deeds Office.

The benefits

On paper, it’s a great idea. For starters, the bond repayments and costs of maintaining the home are halved. However, there can be problems and although not every friendship or relationship is destined to disintegrate, there does often come a time when one of the parties involved wants to sell up and move on to bigger and better things.

The risks

If ownership is given to one or more purchasers, without stipulating in what shares they acquire the property, it is legally presumed that they acquired the property in equal shares.

The risks, the benefits and the obligations that flow from the property are shared in proportion to each person’s share of ownership in the property. For instance, one of the co-owners fails to contribute his share of the finances as initially agreed, resulting in creditors such as the bank or Body Corporate taking action to recover the shortfall.

Having an agreement

If two people own property together in undivided shares it is advisable to enter into an agreement which will regulate their rights and obligations if they should decide to go their own separate ways.

The practical difficulties that flow from the rights and duties of co-ownership are captured by the expression communio est mater rixarum or “co-ownership is the mother of disputes”. It is therefore important that, when the agreement the co-owners entered into does not help them solve disputes, certain remedies are available to them.

The agreement should address the following issues:

  1. In what proportion will the property be shared?
  2. Who has the sole right to occupy the property?
  3. Who will contribute what initial payments to acquire the property.
  4. Who will contribute what amounts to the ongoing future costs and finances.
  5. How the profits or losses will be split, should the property or a share be sold?
  6. The sale of one party’s share must be restricted or regulated.
  7. The right to draw funds out of the access bond must be regulated.
  8. A breakdown of the relationship between the parties.
  9. Death or incapacity of one of the parties.
  10. Dispute resolution options before issuing summons.
  11. Termination of the agreement.

References:

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)

THE SALE AGREEMENT: CAN I USE THE COOLING-OFF PERIOD IF I CHANGE MY MIND?

A4bThe Consumer Protection Act has some serious implications for agents selling property – for one, a disgruntled purchaser can get out of a sale agreement within 5 days of signing it.

Section 16 of the Consumer Protection Act states as follows:

“A consumer may rescind a transaction resulting from any direct marketing without reason or penalty, by notice to the supplier in writing…, within five business days after the later of the date on which

  1. The transaction or agreement was concluded; or
  2. The goods that were the subject of the transaction were delivered to the consumer.”

However, the CPAs Cooling-Off Period will not help you when you change your mind. People are under the misconception that the CPA protects them, by providing the “cooling-off period”.

The Alienation of Land Act

In terms of The Alienation of Land Act, residential property transactions of R 250 000.00 or less are subject to a “cooling-off” period of five working days, calculated from the date of signature of the Offer to Purchase. It does not apply to residential properties sold for more than R 250 000.00. This provision remains in place and is not affected by the CPA.

A Purchaser who purchases a property, as a result of direct marketing, has the right to cancel the sale within five business days – the “cooling-off” period. This applies only to sales that result from direct marketing.

Direct marketing in terms of the Act includes to “approach” a person (i) in person, (ii) by mail or (iii) by electronic communication (this includes email and sms) for the purpose of promoting or offering to supply goods or services to the person.

The “cooling-off” period does not apply to sales that result from any other form of marketing such as any purchase made by a client that the agent is already working with or conventional print advertising or show houses.

The cooling-off period creates rights for the consumer buying property while regulating closely how suppliers or estate agents operate. Estate agencies and property professionals need to be aware of the implications and prepare for changes in the way they will interact with property buyers and sellers in the future.

References:

  • Anderson, AM. Dodd, A. Roos, MC. 2012. “Everyone’s Guide to South African Law. Third Edition”. Zebra Press.
  • The Estate Agency Affairs Board. “Purchaser’s Cooling-Off Right: Guidelines for Estate Agents”. [online] Available at: https://www.eaab.org.za/ [Accessed 31/05/2016].
  • http://www.privateproperty.co.za/

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)