By Zunaid Latief, Cape Town intern
In South Africa the conventional purchase and sale of immovable property is administered by registered estate agents who analyse the property market, accompany clients to property sites, discuss and advise on conditions of sale and prepare agreements of purchase and sale between buyers and sellers. The process is further overseen by a conveyancer, who ensures that the necessary legal formalities are complied with and essentially ensures that transfer and registration take place.
Although it is legal for owners and prospective purchasers to buy and sell immovable property privately, it has become apparent that the Cape Flats and township areas within the Western Cape have been plagued by the presence of ordinary community members, who undertake to facilitate the process without the necessary mandate, or complying with the relevant legal framework. These individuals are often referred to as “agents” but are neither legal practitioners nor registered estate agents. In essence, their sole aim is to benefit from a healthy commission on conclusion of an unlawful transaction.
Common practice amongst these individuals entails the facilitation of a purchase and sale of immovable property by way of an affidavit and cash transaction. In the event that either the buyer or the seller has a legal dispute after the agreement has been concluded, it places them in a precarious position, as they find they have limited legal recourse available to them. At this stage, the “agent” has already received his or her compensation and is nowhere to be found.
The Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 (PIE Act) safeguards South Africans from being unlawfully evicted from the land or property they occupy. It further sets out the procedure for the eviction of unlawful occupiers of land and avers that no person may be arbitrarily evicted from their home. Attorneys are therefore often appointed to ensure that eviction proceedings comply with the provisions of the Act. However, in light of consultations held with affected parties, it is evident that these “agents” blatantly disregard the provisions of the Act. In situations where the seller’s property is occupied by tenants or backyard dwellers, the “agent” often acts as an enforcer and proceeds to eject these occupiers forcefully and illegally.
It has become clear that a number of underprivileged and marginalised individuals are completely misguided and have little to no knowledge regarding the legalities related to the purchase and sale of immovable property, as well as the eviction process, and they become easy targets for these so-called “agents”. In an attempt to combat this scourge, ProBono.Org Cape Town has embarked on a mission to host several community legal education workshops in affected areas. The aim of these is to empower and enlighten marginalised individuals with basic knowledge in respect of the acquisition and disposal of immovable property and the legal implications in respect thereof. These workshops also focus on and break down the PIE Act, with the aim of educating community members in respect of their rights and responsibilities relating to eviction disputes.