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28 Oct 2022

If the Municipality Rejects Your Building Plans, Consider PAJA

The Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA) gives muscle to our Constitutional right to fair, lawful and reasonable administrative action.

Considering how seriously bureaucratic decisions can impact us, not only financially but also in our personal lives, it’s important to know that PAJA is available to protect us whenever our rights are negatively impacted by such a decision.

Let’s have a look at how our courts can use PAJA to come to our assistance in a practical sense. We’ll refer to a recent High Court order against a municipality which had, through an “error in law”, rejected a service station’s building plans. We conclude with a warning to act quickly so as not to miss the time limits for taking action.

“The Constitution guarantees that administrative action will be reasonable, lawful and procedurally fair. It also makes sure that you have the right to request reasons for administrative action that negatively affects you.” (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development)

Bureaucratic decisions can and do have far-reaching consequences for us, both financially and in our personal lives. It’s good to know therefore that whenever your rights are affected by any such decision, you have access to the protections set out in PAJA (the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act).

In a nutshell, PAJA provides that “administrative decisions” by government departments, parastatals and the like must be fair, lawful and reasonable. Decision makers must follow fair procedures, allow you to have your say before deciding, and give you written reasons for their decisions when asked.

If a decision goes against you, your first step should be to use any internal appeal procedures. Ultimately you can go to court, although often a lawyer’s letter or two will solve the problem without the need for litigation.

A recent High Court decision illustrates one way in which PAJA can help you if all else fails –

A service station’s building plans rejected

  • A service station submitted to its local authority building plans for a proposed refurbishment.
  • After a series of meetings with the municipality and alterations to the plans as various issues were raised and resolved, the service station owners thought they were home and dry. But in the end the plans were not accepted on the basis that the application was for an extension of the service station which could not be approved in terms of the local Town Planning Scheme.
  • The High Court however found that factually there was no “extension” involved and that the municipality had therefore made an “error in law”.
  • That opened the door for the Court to review the municipality’s decision, which it duly set aside. In referring the decision back to the municipality for reconsideration, the Court directed it to make a decision within 21 days, and without regarding the proposed refurbishment as being an extension of the building.

A final thought – strict time limits apply with PAJA, so if a decision goes against you seek professional help without delay!

28 Oct 2022

Bond Clauses: Beware the Deadlines!

Buying and selling property is a big deal, and things can go wrong in the blink of an eye unless both buyer and seller understand exactly what their sale agreement says, and then either meet all deadlines or extend them as set out in the agreement.

We discuss the dangers of not doing so with reference to a recent High Court decision in which a seller and buyer came to blows over the R600,000 deposit paid by the buyer to the estate agent involved.

The buyer wanted his R600k back, the seller wanted it paid to him. The outcome of this dispute, and the Court’s reasoning in arriving at its decision, hold valuable lessons for us all.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” (Douglas Adams)

Here’s yet another reminder from our courts on the danger of not complying strictly with every provision in a property sale agreement. Don’t be like Douglas Adams and listen to the deadlines go whooshing by – missing a property sale deadline is a mistake, probably an expensive one. The deadline set by every bond clause is no exception…

Sale’s a dead duck. Who gets the R600,000 deposit?

  • A property sale agreement contained a standard “suspensive condition” in the form of a bond clause making the sale conditional upon the buyer obtaining R1.5m in bond finance by a specified date. The buyer could waive the benefit of this clause, and if it wasn’t fulfilled or waived by the deadline date the sale would become null and void – in which event the deposit, with interest, was to be repaid to the buyer within 5 business days.
  • The buyer paid the R600,000 deposit to the estate agent, but had difficulty in raising finance and (before the deadline expired) asked for more time to get the necessary bond approval. Both parties assumed that an extension of the deadline had been validly granted, but in fact there was never any compliance with the requirement in the bond clause that any extension be by “written agreement”. In other words, the sale had lapsed, but neither the seller nor the buyer realised that – they both thought they still had an agreement in place.
  • Two months later, thinking that the sale was still alive and well, the buyer signed a waiver giving up the benefit of the bond clause and stating that the agreement was no longer subject to the suspensive condition.
  • Another two months down the line the buyer told the seller he was no longer proceeding with the purchase (his wife had in fact bought another property in the interim). The seller took that as a repudiation of the contract and cancelled the sale.
  • The buyer demanded his deposit back. The seller wanted it forfeited to him. Off to the High Court they went.

The law, and the result

  • The general rule in our law is that no agreement comes into existence unless and until all suspensive conditions are fulfilled. So the seller has no claim against the buyer unless either the sale agreement provides for such a claim (unlikely) or “where the party has designedly prevented the fulfilment of the condition.”
  • That, in lawyer-speak, is the legal principle of “fictional fulfillment of a suspensive condition”. In lay terms – the law protects the seller and doesn’t allow the buyer to escape from the sale by deliberately ensuring that he doesn’t get a bond.
  • The seller argued that that was exactly what the buyer in this case had done; that he had breached the agreement and had deliberately frustrated the fulfilment of the bond clause.
  • On the facts however, the Court held that both seller and buyer had remained committed to the sale, blissfully unaware that in law the sale agreement was already a dead duck. The buyer only decided to get out of the agreement after it had already lapsed.
  • The buyer gets his deposit back with interest, and the seller is left with an unsold property and a large legal bill.

Buyers – your risk

As the Court put it, what saved the buyer in this case was a lack of evidence that the buyer had – by commission or omission – prevented the necessary finance from being granted. In other words, you risk being sued (which will put your deposit at risk) if you don’t make a genuine effort to get the necessary bond finance by the due date.

Sellers – keep an eye on the bond clause deadline

The seller on the other hand is left to lick his wounds after all the delay, cost and effort this dispute has caused him. He could have avoided all that pain by keeping an eye on the due date and ensuring that the deadline extension was agreed to in writing before it expired. As the Court pointed out “The contract was readily available to all involved and the requirements of clause 6.3 pertaining to an extension were available for all to read. A simple investigation would have revealed what was required.” (Emphasis added).

30 Sep 2022

Why You Should Sign a Power of Attorney Before You Emigrate or Travel

Leaving South Africa for foreign climes, whether permanently or for an extended period, probably means leaving behind unfinished business or financial affairs, and/or property or other assets needing to be dealt with.

And whilst it is certainly possible for you to sign documentation, contracts and the like whilst in another country, the inconvenience and costs likely to be associated with the necessary authentication procedures – to meet local requirements – are avoidable.

We discuss what a power of attorney (POA) is, the difference between a “special” power of attorney and a “general” one, what they involve, why and when you should consider signing one (or several), and how to structure each one to be valid and fit-for-purpose.

If you are emigrating, or perhaps just going overseas for an extended holiday or work contract, you may well leave behind some form of “unfinished business”. Perhaps you own a property, other assets or bank accounts needing attention, or have outstanding tax/business/financial affairs, or contracts to be signed, cars to be licenced, or something else unresolved that requires your future agreement or signature. Even if you can’t think of anything specific, consider executing (before you leave of course) an appropriate power of attorney in favour of someone you trust to act for you.

What is a power of attorney?

A Power of Attorney (“POA”) a document you sign authorising someone else to manage your affairs on your behalf as your agent. You can grant it for a specific purpose as a “Special Power of Attorney” or it can be a widely worded “General Power of Attorney”. In theory you can grant power of attorney orally, but in practice no one will (or should) act on that.

You must be at least 18 years old to execute a POA, and it remains valid only for so long as you have “legal capacity”.

You can terminate the POA at any time.

Why is a power of attorney important?

You can in a pinch execute and sign contracts, legal forms and the like whilst in a foreign country, but it can be a real mission. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to find (and pay) a notary public or embassy/consular official to authenticate documents, your signature, copies of papers etc. If it’s an embassy or consulate you need, you could find yourself travelling to another city, perhaps even another country. And if everything isn’t done exactly right the first time (a particular risk if you are dealing with someone not fully versed in South African law and procedure), you could find yourself repeating the process – perhaps even more than once in a sort of “Ground Hog Day” scenario. All avoidable if you leave behind in South Africa a valid and correctly structured POA.

How should you structure it?

The structure you will need depends on what affairs you need dealt with and why. It can be difficult to decide whether a POA is appropriate for a particular purpose, and if so how wide or how restricted you should make the powers you are granting to your agent. It can also be a challenge to find the correct wording to satisfy the requirements of whichever authority or other party is involved – for instance, specific forms are required by the Deeds Office, SARS, and banks. You might also need to leave behind more than one POA, each structured for a particular purpose. Similarly, you may be uncertain as to who to appoint as your agent, who is best qualified for each purpose, even perhaps who can you trust to act professionally and honestly.

There is no prescribed form and no list of required formalities for a valid POA but there are many possible permutations and legal risks involved, so the only way to ensure that it is valid and fit-for-purpose is to seek professional assistance specific to your circumstances.

30 Sep 2022

Building in Security Estates: The ‘Persuasive Sting’ of Penalty Levies

Building your own home in a residential complex of your choice is an attractive proposition on many levels. Just make sure up front that you will actually be ready to build within whatever deadlines the HOA (homeowners’ association) specifies.

Otherwise, as we shall see from a recent High Court dispute, you could end up paying levies at a penalty rate – if, that is, the developers don’t first demand re-transfer of the plot back to them, at your expense.

And the penalty levies will be substantial – 5 times the normal rate in the case in question, with other cases involving 8 or even 10 times normal levies. As the Court pointed out, penalty levies can’t be too moderate without losing their “persuasive sting”.

“… had the respondent imposed more moderate penalties, it would likely not have had the desired effect, or put differently, the same persuasive sting for individuals of substantial means.” (Extract from judgment below)

Buying “plot and plan” in a residential complex allows you the freedom to build your own dream house in a secure environment, quite apart from providing what is likely to be sound long-term investment. Just make sure that you will actually be ready to build within the time frame required by the HOA (homeowners’ association). If you don’t, you risk having to transfer the plot back to the developer (a costly exercise), or you could be lumbered with penalty levies many times higher than normal levies.

You can ask a court to reduce the penalty, but…

Our law gives us general protection from excessive “out of proportion” penalties by means of the Conventional Penalties Act, which in the section headed “Reduction of excessive penalty” provides that –

“If upon the hearing of a claim for a penalty, it appears to the court that such penalty is out of proportion to the prejudice suffered by the creditor by reason of the act or omission in respect of which the penalty was stipulated, the court may reduce the penalty to such extent as it may consider equitable in the circumstances: Provided that in determining the extent of such prejudice the court shall take into consideration not only the creditor’s proprietary interest, but every other rightful interest which may be affected by the act or omission in question.”

However, as a recent High Court decision illustrates, you will have your work cut out for you if you want the court to exercise that discretion in regard to penalty levies.

The ‘persuasive sting’ of 5x normal penalties

  • The HOA of a “luxury/ultra-luxury” residential estate required in its constitution that –
    – Each owner must start construction within one year of transfer,
    – Should construction not commence timeously the developer had the option to require re-transfer of the erf to it,
    – If the developer did not exercise this option, the HOA could “impose whatever penalties it deems appropriate in its sole discretion” on the owner.
  • When several erf owners failed to build within the one-year deadline, the HOA passed resolutions imposing penalty levies on them until they started construction.
  • These levies started off at 2x the normal levies, and over an eight-year period were increased in stages to 5x the normal.
  • The HOA sued the defaulting owners in the Regional Court to recover these levies, winning both in that Court and on appeal to the High Court.
  • It was, held the High Court, up to the owners challenging the amount of the penalty to prove –
    – What prejudice the HOA suffered,
    – That the penalty was disproportionate to that prejudice, and
    – The extent to which the penalty should be reduced.
  • In addition to the actual monetary prejudice (damages) suffered by the HOA, it was said the Court necessary to consider the HOA’s other “rightful interests” that might be affected by the failure to build, such as problems with security, nuisance, aesthetics, damage, and value loss caused by extended building activities. In this case, one of the additional reasons for the penalty provision was to discourage speculation in the erven by buyers intending to re-sell the plots for profit rather than build and live in the estate.
  • There was prejudice to the HOA even though the penalty provision was intended to create a deterrent rather than compensation for default – the prejudice was to the HOA’s “right to enforce concerted action for the common good, and to its interest in obtaining concerted action”.
  • Whether the penalty was “out of proportion” to the prejudice could be assessed in three ways:
  1. By looking at comparable situations where the desired result was achieved (the Court compared another similar matter in which a 10x normal penalty was reduced by the Court to 8x normal, much more than the 5x imposed here),
  2. By looking at the size of this penalty and the penalties in general in relation to the income and expenditure of the HOA, and
  3. “By exercising one’s sense of fairness and justice.”
  • The HOA had been fair and reasonable in phasing in the increases over an eight-year period.
  • Imposing more “moderate” penalties “would likely not have had the desired effect, or put differently, the same persuasive sting for individuals of substantial means.”

In the end result, the owners must pay the full penalty levies, interest, and costs on an attorney and client scale.

30 Aug 2022

It’s Not Simple to Sell a House in Execution (Even if a Trust Owns It)

This article is important to you if you are about to lend money to (or do business with) someone who says “don’t worry, I’m good for it, I own a valuable house.” Or perhaps you have a claim against a recalcitrant debtor and have finally managed to take judgment so you can sell the debtor’s house. Maybe you, or a friend or relative, live in a house threatened with sale in execution. The “owned by a trust” angle (more on that in the article) could also be relevant to you if you are wondering whether to put a residential property into your own name or into a trust (or perhaps a company).

We discuss, with reference to a recent Supreme Court of Appeal decision, why taking judgment against a debtor doesn’t automatically clear you to sell it in execution. Even if the house is owned by a trust or a company.

“A court shall not authorise execution against immovable property which is the primary residence of a judgment debtor unless the court having considered all relevant factors, considers that execution against such property is warranted” (High Court Rules)

Selling a house in execution is not as simple as getting judgment and sending the Sheriff of the Court off to arrange a sale.

This article is important to you if –

  • You are about to lend money to, or do business with, an individual (or a trust or company) that you feel comfortable dealing with because they own a substantial asset in the form of a house.
  • You are trying to enforce a judgment against a recalcitrant debtor by selling the debtor’s house.
  • You live in a house threatened with sale in execution (or are trying to help a friend or relative in that position).
  • The “owned by a trust” angle (more on that below) will also be relevant to you if you are wondering whether to buy a residential property in your own name or in a trust or company.

The “judicial oversight” rule means delay and risk for the creditor

High Court Rules provide that “A court shall not authorise execution against immovable property which is the primary residence of a judgment debtor unless the court having considered all relevant factors, considers that execution against such property is warranted.”

This is to give effect to the right to have access to adequate housing which is enshrined in section 26 of our Constitution, and the court will look at whether the property is the primary residence of the debtor, at whether there may be an alternative means of satisfying the judgment debt, and at a host of other relevant factors.

Bottom line is that the court will not order an execution sale if it concludes that execution isn’t warranted or will deprive the debtor of adequate housing. Even a successful application for execution will involve cost and delay, whilst an unsuccessful one will be a body blow to the creditor’s prospects of recovering the debt.

That’s clearly a factor to bear in mind when lending to, or transacting with, an individual. But what if the house is owned by a trust or company?

The case of the trust-owned wine farm

  • A bank loaned R8.5m to a trust operating as a wine farm, wine cellar, wine merchant and restaurateur. The loans were secured by mortgage bonds over the property. Trustees, trust beneficiaries and trust employees occupied the house and cottages.
  • When the trust failed to repay the loans, the bank took judgment against it and applied for an order to sell the property in execution, an application vigorously opposed by the trustees.
  • The High Court held that the judicial oversight procedure only applies when a property is the debtor’s primary residence. In other words, it wouldn’t apply in a case such as this where, although the debtor is a trust, the actual occupants are individuals.
  • Not so, held the Supreme Court of Appeal on appeal: “Due regard must be had to the impact that the sale in execution is likely to have on vulnerable and poor beneficiaries who are occupying the immovable property owned by the judgment debtor, who are at risk of losing their only homes.” Moreover, the fact that the farm was used commercially did not deprive the occupants of constitutional protection.
  • “Judicial oversight” was accordingly necessary despite the properties being owned by a trust and not by the occupants themselves. Note that there are indications in the judgment that although this case concerns trust-owned property, the oversight principle is likely to apply equally to the occupants of company-owned properties.
  • On the facts however, the trustees had failed to show that “as a result of indigence, the beneficiaries will be left vulnerable to homelessness if the farm in question is sold in execution. On the contrary, the farm is valued at between R35 million and R40 million, and the reserve price was fixed at a minimum of R21 million; the ability to acquire alternative accommodation is unquestionable.” Also relevant – at one stage of negotiations, the trustees had actually consented to the judgment and to the property being declared executable.

The practical result is a win for the bank and the farm can now be sold in execution. But the principle remains – don’t assume that lending money to, or transacting with, a home-owning trust or company is a safe bet because of the value in the property. It carries the same risk as if the property were owned and occupied by an individual debtor.

30 Aug 2022

Owning Property Jointly – the Rewards, the Risks, and the Remedy

Property can provide much more than just a roof over your head – it can also be an excellent investment for you, your family, and your business. But it’s becoming increasingly expensive, and for some first-time buyers the only way to bring it within reach is to pool resources and buy jointly with a friend or partner.

Joint ownership will also appeal to many couples and business partners as a practical way of sharing in a property’s costs and upside potential. But beware, it has its risks.

We discuss the two types of co-ownership and the risks inherent in any form of joint ownership before discussing how to lessen these risks in the context of a recent High Court fight between “romantic partners” who split up then came to blows over their 50/50 owned property.

“Co-ownership is the mother of disputes” (old Roman law maxim)

There can be big advantages to buying property jointly but be aware of the risks and take steps to lessen them before you put pen to paper.

The problem comes if there is a falling-out with your co-owner. Perhaps you come to blows on your usage of the property, or on the incurring of expenses, or on whether it is time to sell, or perhaps you are splitting from each other entirely. That could be a business partnership terminating, or a marriage ending in divorce, or (as in the case we discuss below) a failed romantic relationship. Our courts must regularly resolve bitter joint-ownership disputes between ex-spouses, ex-friends, ex-colleagues, siblings, and close relatives – none of whom dreamed they might ever come to blows when they first hatched plans to buy property jointly.

If a dispute does arise, how will you resolve it? And if you split up, who keeps the property? Or do you sell it jointly, and if so how, and when? How will the bond and other property debts be settled?

The good news is that by and large the risk of dispute can be reduced with a bit of foresight and planning. Preferably with professional advice and assistance – this is after all likely to be an important asset in both your estates.

Let’s have a look at a recent High Court case to illustrate –

A breakup and a fight

  • A couple in a “romantic relationship” co-habited in a house of which they were the joint registered owners in undivided half shares.
  • When the relationship broke down irretrievably, the partners were unable to agree on a method of ending the property ownership. One partner moved out and the other, after changing the locks, applied to the High Court for an order terminating the joint ownership and appointing a receiver/liquidator to sell it.
  • The other party fought this application, contending that the couple had, in addition to being in a personal relationship, also been in a “universal partnership” which still existed.

A co-owner can normally insist on partition of the property at any time

The general rule in our law is this: “No co-owner is normally obliged to remain a co-owner against his will.” Thus “every co-owner of property may insist on a partition of the property at any time. Even if there is an agreement to constitute perpetual joint ownership, the co-owner may demand partition at any time. If the co-owners cannot agree on the way the property is to be divided, then the Court is empowered to make an order which appears to be fair and equitable.”

That opens the door to a wide range of options for the court, but often it means an order for sale of the property (possibly by public or private auction) and division of the net proceeds between the joint owners.

But is it “bound” or “free” co-ownership?

But it’s more complicated than that. Our law recognizes two types of co-ownership –

  1. In a “free” co-ownership, the co-ownership is the only legal relationship between the co-owners. In this event, the rule above applies – either joint owner can insist on division at any time.
  2. In a “bound” co-ownership however “there is a separate and distinct legal relationship between them of which the co-ownership is but one consequence. Co-ownership is not the primary or sole purpose of their relationship”.

    In this event, the co-ownership can only be dissolved when the primary relationship is terminated. In this case, the party opposing the court application said that no order of division could be made until the “universal partnership” between the parties had ended.

The Court found that there had indeed been a universal partnership in existence, in other words that this had been a case of “bound” co-ownership. But it also held (on the facts) that both the romantic relationship and the universal partnership had ended when the parties stopped living together. The romantic relationship was the ‘tie’ between the parties and when it came to an end, any situation of bound co-ownership became a free co-ownership to which the “end at any time” rule applied.

The result – the Court ordered the joint ownership terminated and appointed a receiver and liquidator to sell the property, pay all the property debts, and divide the proceeds between the parties.

The remedy

So the risk is finding yourself in the same unhappy position as the ex-partners in this case, having to ask the High Court to sort out your dispute for you.

Happily however there is a simple remedy. Before you buy property jointly, have a professional draw you a full agreement setting out (at the very minimum) –

  • The nature of your relationship. In a co-habitation scenario you should probably also have a full “co-habitation” agreement, whilst a business scenario should be linked to your existing arrangement.
  • The best vehicle for co-ownership – for some, a simple “let’s put the house in both our names” will be enough, for others a company or a trust may be better.
  • Who will own what percentage of the property.
  • Who will contribute what to the costs of purchase and to the property expenses and upkeep.
  • Who will have what use of the property.
  • What will happen if one or both of you wants to leave the relationship, dies, or is incapacitated.
  • And so on – every situation will be unique.

If the parties in this case had put such an agreement in place, they might well have saved themselves the stress, wasted time and legal costs of a protracted and complex dispute. The liquidator/receiver’s charges for selling the property and paying out their shares to them will no doubt rub a lot of salt into all those wounds.

A final thought: Having a formal contract in place is not a forecast that things will go wrong between you – on the contrary, it should greatly reduce the risk of any dispute or unhappiness arising in the first place.

29 Jul 2022

Website of the Month: Solar Power and the Insurance Risk

With our loadshedding woes unlikely to go anywhere soon, more and more property owners are looking to solar power as an alternative to relying on Eskom.

Just be careful that you don’t fall foul of your insurers in the process. “Rules homeowners should know before installing solar power” on MyBroadband lists four technical regulations to be particularly aware of.

For some practical advice on deciding whether or not to go the solar route in the first place, and if so how, read another MyBroadband article “What you should know before installing solar panels and batteries at your home” here. Keep an eye also on the developing story around proposed new Eskom tariffs and “feed-in” tariffs.

29 Jul 2022

The Trouble with Family Loans: A R540,000 Lesson

It may seem like overkill, and illogical to boot, to insist on a family loan being recorded in a formal contract. But in fact it’s the only logical course of action to take, as we shall find out in the context of a court fight between a daughter and her parents over a R540k “loan”.

It isn’t clear from the stated facts whether this particular family fall-out stemmed from a simple misunderstanding or from something worse, but the outcome shows just how easily things can go wrong if family loans aren’t properly agreed and recorded.

We’ll end off with a look at why that risk applies to even the most rock-solid of families, listing five possible scenarios in which the lack of a formal contract could well lead to tears.

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” (Shakespeare)

“Family helps family in times of need” – that’s been part of human culture since long before the dawn of history but be sure to observe all legal formalities. A recent High Court decision provides an excellent example of the risks of not doing so.

Parents lose R540,000

  • A daughter in the middle of a divorce borrowed R540,000 from her parents so that she could buy out her spouse’s 50% share in her house.
  • As far as her parents were concerned it was a repayable loan, but when they had to sue their daughter for repayment they were in for a rude shock.
  • Although their daughter had admitted asking to “borrow” the money, the Court held that the parents had failed to prove (the onus being on them to do so) “the existence of a loan agreement, its terms and consequent breach thereof on a balance of probabilities”. Nor had they proved “the material terms and conditions agreed upon including the amount of the loan and the date of repayment”. Another nail in their coffin – they had failed to prove animus contrahendi (lawyer speak for “a serious intention to contract”).
  • Their claim was dismissed with costs, so it’s goodbye to their R540k.

5 reasons why you need a contract, no matter how strong your family

One wonders how many families have rued their attitude of “We have a very close and strong family, and we trust each other with everything. No way do we need a contract. Forget it.”

But it’s not just a matter of trust. Consider these scenarios –

  1. Without a written contract, who is to say for certain that you are all on the same page as to whether it is a gift or a loan, and if so when and how it is repayable? You could in all innocence have two totally different visions of what you have agreed on. It’s only fair to everyone to put everything on record.
  2. Even the strongest families go through rough patches – it may be highly unlikely, but it happens, and our law reports are full of unforeseen and bitter family fights.
  3. What if (horrible thought, but we must all be realistic) one of you dies before the debt is repaid? Now you are dealing not with a parent, a grandparent, or a child, but with the executor of their estate, an executor who will need proof of the loan and its terms.
  4. If a divorce should intervene, a family loan is as much an asset (or liability) as any other, and solid proof of it will be essential.
  5. The same applies to an attack by a third party such as the taxman or a creditor.

Bottom line: Have a clear, written contract recording at the very least the amount of the loan and the agreed date and terms of repayment. For significant amounts of money, professional advice is essential.

A final thought – ask about the National Credit Act

It may seem strange in the context of a family, but your loan agreement will be unenforceable if you didn’t register as a “credit provider” in terms of the National Credit Act (NCA) in circumstances where you should have registered. In many cases it won’t be necessary, in that it doesn’t apply where family members are dependent on each other. Plus, only “arm’s length” transactions will as a general rule fall under the NCA. But there are grey areas here, so specific advice is again essential.

29 Jul 2022

Website of the Month: Solar Power and the Insurance Risk

With our loadshedding woes unlikely to go anywhere soon, more and more property owners are looking to solar power as an alternative to relying on Eskom.

Just be careful that you don’t fall foul of your insurers in the process. “Rules homeowners should know before installing solar power” on MyBroadband lists four technical regulations to be particularly aware of.

For some practical advice on deciding whether or not to go the solar route in the first place, and if so how, read another MyBroadband article “What you should know before installing solar panels and batteries at your home” here. Keep an eye also on the developing story around proposed new Eskom tariffs and “feed-in” tariffs.

29 Jul 2022

The Trouble with Family Loans: A R540,000 Lesson

It may seem like overkill, and illogical to boot, to insist on a family loan being recorded in a formal contract. But in fact it’s the only logical course of action to take, as we shall find out in the context of a court fight between a daughter and her parents over a R540k “loan”.

It isn’t clear from the stated facts whether this particular family fall-out stemmed from a simple misunderstanding or from something worse, but the outcome shows just how easily things can go wrong if family loans aren’t properly agreed and recorded.

We’ll end off with a look at why that risk applies to even the most rock-solid of families, listing five possible scenarios in which the lack of a formal contract could well lead to tears.

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” (Shakespeare)

“Family helps family in times of need” – that’s been part of human culture since long before the dawn of history but be sure to observe all legal formalities. A recent High Court decision provides an excellent example of the risks of not doing so.

Parents lose R540,000

  • A daughter in the middle of a divorce borrowed R540,000 from her parents so that she could buy out her spouse’s 50% share in her house.
  • As far as her parents were concerned it was a repayable loan, but when they had to sue their daughter for repayment they were in for a rude shock.
  • Although their daughter had admitted asking to “borrow” the money, the Court held that the parents had failed to prove (the onus being on them to do so) “the existence of a loan agreement, its terms and consequent breach thereof on a balance of probabilities”. Nor had they proved “the material terms and conditions agreed upon including the amount of the loan and the date of repayment”. Another nail in their coffin – they had failed to prove animus contrahendi (lawyer speak for “a serious intention to contract”).
  • Their claim was dismissed with costs, so it’s goodbye to their R540k.

5 reasons why you need a contract, no matter how strong your family

One wonders how many families have rued their attitude of “We have a very close and strong family, and we trust each other with everything. No way do we need a contract. Forget it.”

But it’s not just a matter of trust. Consider these scenarios –

  1. Without a written contract, who is to say for certain that you are all on the same page as to whether it is a gift or a loan, and if so when and how it is repayable? You could in all innocence have two totally different visions of what you have agreed on. It’s only fair to everyone to put everything on record.
  2. Even the strongest families go through rough patches – it may be highly unlikely, but it happens, and our law reports are full of unforeseen and bitter family fights.
  3. What if (horrible thought, but we must all be realistic) one of you dies before the debt is repaid? Now you are dealing not with a parent, a grandparent, or a child, but with the executor of their estate, an executor who will need proof of the loan and its terms.
  4. If a divorce should intervene, a family loan is as much an asset (or liability) as any other, and solid proof of it will be essential.
  5. The same applies to an attack by a third party such as the taxman or a creditor.

Bottom line: Have a clear, written contract recording at the very least the amount of the loan and the agreed date and terms of repayment. For significant amounts of money, professional advice is essential.

A final thought – ask about the National Credit Act

It may seem strange in the context of a family, but your loan agreement will be unenforceable if you didn’t register as a “credit provider” in terms of the National Credit Act (NCA) in circumstances where you should have registered. In many cases it won’t be necessary, in that it doesn’t apply where family members are dependent on each other. Plus, only “arm’s length” transactions will as a general rule fall under the NCA. But there are grey areas here, so specific advice is again essential.

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