Hundreds of Tshwane home buyers in limbo due to rates clearance backlog

Hundreds of people looking to buy or sell property around Tshwane are unable to do so, due to backlogs stretching back since before the lockdown, and administrators allegedly forcing people to historic debt that had technically become unrecoverable in terms of the Municipal Systems Act.

Hundreds of Tshwane property sales have effectively been put on ice as a result of a massive backlog in the issuing of rates clearance certificates, meaning the owners can’t move in and have to spend money renting elsewhere while they wait for the city to get their affairs in order

The certificates – which confirm a property’s rates are up to date – should take between five and seven days to issue, but 25-year-old Lerato Bambo has now been waiting for one for almost two months.

After having spent the last two years saving up enough money to buy her first house in cash, Bambo was over the moon when – just two weeks after she started looking – she found her dream home in Equestria.

“It was love at first sight,” she said, “It’s big, it has wine storage and it has a garden with a built in spit-braai.”

But what she was expecting to be one of the most exciting times in her life, has instead turned out to be one of the most stressful.

Without the rates clearance certificate for the property, she is unable to take occupancy and she said her repeated attempts to get hold of the city via phone and e-mail had come to nought.

“Honestly, it’s been really emotionally draining,” she said. “I’ve even been thinking ‘Why did I buy it?’ I should have just kept my money in my savings.”

Bambo had been living and working in the United States until February this year, when she decided to move back home. She said on Monday she was now also questioning this decision.

“I’ve been wanting to buy a house for a few years and I wanted to buy it in South Africa because it’s always been a goal for me to work abroad, save and then come back home,” she said. “But right now I’m actually reconsidering.”

An attorney, who asked that her identity be withheld, said between 14 and 15 of her clients had been affected by the backlog.

“And mine is a small firm. It’s chaos,” she said. “Even before the lockdown, we had problems. But then after, it became a total nightmare”.

She said worse, though, it looked like the city was using the backlog to “hold people to ransom” and force them to pay historic debt that had actually become unrecoverable in terms of the Municipal Systems Act.

“After a while, you become so desperate that you just pay it,” she said.

In June, the Democratic Alliance’s Randall Williams issued a statement saying the party had been receiving “daily complaints” about the backlog. He laid the blame squarely at the feet of the administrators whom he said had “lost control”.

“There is a growing list of properties in the city that cannot be legally sold because the property owners have not been able to source their rates clearance certificates from the city administration,” he said at the time.

“This is momentously disruptive to individuals who are currently looking to buy or sell property as they have been trapped in an ineffective and unresponsive bureaucratic process … The real estate sector and conveyancers around the city are now unable to do their work because this basic administrative process is no longer working which is threatening their businesses and livelihoods. This is bound to cause immense delays in housing transfers and disrupt the lives of residents across the city.”

The Pretoria Attorneys Association – along with the Johannesburg Attorneys Association and the Gauteng Attorneys Association – met with the city to discuss the problem earlier this month.

A memo sent out to members afterwards indicated that there were more than 600 applications still outstanding from May at that stage and noted that the city had undertaken to clear the backlog within four weeks.

City spokesperson Selby Bokaba said yesterday that a number of municipal services had been impacted by the national lockdown, including the issuing of rates clearance certificates. He said their offices had been forced to close under lockdown level five and that before they could be re-opened, they had to undergo the necessary health and safety inspections.

He said 12 offices had been re-opened so far. Bokaba apologised for the inconvenience but said the city was working to resolve the issue.

“We are working hard to try and clear the backlog and have increased the number of personnel dealing with these issues,” he said.

He said though that the recent municipal strike had also hampered their efforts.

“Staff are being forced out of the offices, intimidated and threatened,” he said.

“While we understand the need for people to have their certificates, lives come first”.

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