The short answer
Go to the municipality with all the documents proving the house belonged to your parents and ask them for help.
The long answer
As you probably know, the only legal proof of ownership of a house is a title deed. If your parents’ house was an RDP house and they had not yet received the title deeds from the municipality, their names as beneficiaries would be kept by the municipality. An RDP house may only be sold after eight years of occupation by the beneficiaries.
If they did have a title deed for the house, the buyer would have to pay the conveyancing attorney to transfer the title deed into their name at the Deeds Registry before the house would legally belong to him or her.
The problem is that because it is expensive to pay the conveyancing costs, many people buy and sell houses using an affidavit and cash transaction. Then, if disputes arise afterwards between the buyer and the seller, they are difficult to resolve because it is not a legal way to transfer property. The person with a title deed is the only legal owner of the property.
A person may also pay a middleman or “agent” a fee for negotiating the sale, and that person may well disappear once the fee has been paid.
But South African law says that a property owner cannot be unlawfully deprived of the ownership of that property. If the property has been illegally sold, the rightful owner has the right to recover it, whether or not the buyer believed they were buying the property legally.
A 2006 Lexis Digest article says that “a court will, on application of the dispossessed owner, order the current title deed to be cancelled and the true owner's title deed to be reinstated (section 6 of the Deeds Registries Act). This will restore the record of his ownership.”
Perhaps the place to start is with the municipality, taking all the documents that you have to prove that it was your parents’ house. You could ask them whether there was a title deed issued and what the erf number of the house is.
You could also tell them about your suspicion that your parents’ house was sold illegally, and ask for their help. In terms of section 26 (2) of the Constitution and section 9 of the Housing Act, municipalities have an obligation not only to provide RDP houses to people who qualify but to prevent fraudulent activities and to take steps to resolve issues that are brought to them by applicants for RDP houses – or in your case, the child of beneficiaries of an RDP house.
If there was a title deed issued but you don’t know where it is, you can go to your nearest Deeds Registry Office and ask them for a copy. You would need to give them your late parents’ full names, their ID numbers and the erf number of the house (rather than the street address). You would need to pay R87 for a copy of the title deed.
If you need to take legal advice, you can approach Legal Aid, which is a means-tested organisation that must assist people who cannot afford a lawyer. You can contact them here:
Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110
Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179
Here are the contact details of two other organisations that may also be able to help you:
ProBono.org (Pro bono means without charge, if the case is in the public interest.)
Johannesburg: tel: 011 339 6080
Cape Town: tel: 087 806 6070/1/2
For free paralegal advice:
Helpline: 072 66 33 739
Wishing you the best,
Answered on Aug. 15, 2022, 12:45 p.m.
Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.