Registrars Conference Resolutions 2017

In the news: Attorneys up in arms over deeds offices

Business Report / 27 November 2017, 09:05am / Roy Cokayne

The offices of the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs’s registrar of deeds in Pretoria could be in jeopardy.

The legal fraternity in Pretoria is up in arms over proposed plans by the government to change the demarcation of the Pretoria and Johannesburg deeds offices – a move it believes will lead to the closure of firms in the capital city and a loss of jobs.

But Linda Page, the chief director strategic communications at the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs, said there was no intention to make the Johannesburg Deeds Office the main deeds office.

“The realignment process intends to make deeds registration services accessible to all citizens of South Africa. Gauteng will continue to have two deeds offices, in Pretoria and Johannesburg, she said.

The Pretoria Attorneys Association said the result of the proposed changes in the demarcation, whether intended or not, would be that the Johannesburg Deeds Office would be the main deeds office.

The association confirmed that it had briefed a law firm to represent the association and take action against the department should it be necessary.

Page said the deeds registration branch initiated the alignment of areas of jurisdictions of the deeds registries to the provincial boundaries programme, with the intention of aligning the areas of jurisdiction of the deeds registries to provincial demarcation, as articulated in the constitution.

This was to ensure each deeds registry serviced the province in which it was located.

“The situation in Gauteng is different as it has two offices, and therefore the department had to rationalise according to municipal boundaries, the metros in particular, to ensure that deeds services are as close as possible to citizens,” Page said.

She added that there would not be any job losses or negative financial implications from implementing the process, but also confirmed that the department had not conducted a socio-economic impact assessment of the proposed changes.

“Conveyancers are free to practise wherever they want and can thus open firms in both Johannesburg and Pretoria, as is currently the status quo for many,” she said.

But the Pretoria Attorneys Association was adamant there would be job losses and negative financial impacts.

Some conveyancing firms based in Pretoria that received instructions from Johannesburg firms would have to close or reduce staff, because their source of income was being taken away from them, it claimed.

The association added that deeds office employees would have to travel longer distances to Johannesburg, while conveyancers would have to use correspondents or incur additional costs to lodge property transfers in Johannesburg.

Page told Business Report earlier this month that the initial plan was to implement the transition by the end of next month, but needed further consultations with all its stakeholders to ensure their inputs were considered and would thereafter review the estimated end date.

However, a Pretoria-based conveyancer told Business Report on Friday impeccable sources had confirmed that a decision was taken at a department meeting that week to place Ekurhuleni, Midvaal and Johannesburg under the Johannesburg Deeds Office effective from April 1, 2018.

This would mean the deeds office in Pretoria would only handle transfers that related to the capital city.

But Page denied that such a meeting had taken place or such a decision taken.

The Pretoria Attorney Association claimed the department had confirmed that National Treasury had already approved funds for a new building for the deeds office in Johannesburg and the move would most likely “cost taxpayers millions”.

And that in its current form, it did not have the capacity to deal with the additional work it would have to do if the change in demarcation proceeded.

Page said no procurement of a building was taking place for the Johannesburg Deeds Office as a result of the new alignment.

But she did say that the Johannesburg lease had expired and the Department of Public Works was in the process of extending the lease “while still in the process of acquiring the building for Johannesburg”.

The association also questioned why chances were proposed for the demarcation of the two deeds offices when there was a plan to move to the electronic lodgement of deeds.

Page confirmed the estimated delivery date for the e-lodgement was December next year, but stressed that the alignment process was an important step towards institutional transformation and therefore did not only include digitisation of the registration system.