We are experiencing immense difficulties with rates clearances from the Municipality of Cape Town and, despite all their promises and the introduction of an allegedly "faster" electronic system, service levels keep plummeting.
Yesterday I had a case of a property developer who has waited 3 months for a rates clearance for a sectional title scheme. We applied for the clearance long before we were ready to lodge because we were well aware of the delays at the municipality.
Since the sectional plan has been ready, and we were in all other respects ready to lodge the application for the opening of the register, our client has lost R70 000,00 per week while waiting for the rates clearance.
We had done our best through all the usual channels to expedite the issue of the clearance (the balance due to the municipality was settled - after a long delay in establishing what that was - some time ago).
Yesterday, in utter desperation and against our better judgement, our client went in to the municipality himself. Property developers are resourceful people who are not to be trifled with at the best of times. He shouted and screamed, ranted and raved, threatened to sue everyone in sight, and got his rates clearance in three hours.
According to the municipality's records, the property was registered in the name of nine different people and/or companies - none of them being the correct one. Since the property was a newly created consolidation, they did not have that on their system either. Had we continued to wait in a civilised fashion, we may never have received clearance. That clearance was applied for manually, under the old system.
The electronic system is worse: once you have logged a query electronically, you cannot switch to a manual application - but right now, the municipality are not responding to electronic follow-up queries, and they are also not responding to routine electronic applications consistently.
The staff in the rates clearance department refuse to take telephonic enquiries.
Up to the beginning of this year, the Cape Town Deeds Office, who were cognisant of the difficulties which conveyancers face in getting rates clearances from Cape Town, were prepared to authorise "B/E" lodgements, that is, lodgements without rates clearance provided the clearance was put into the lodgement cover before execution. That dispensation ceased on 1 January 2006. In any event, all that it ever amounted to was about 10 days' grace - the time which it took for the Deeds Office to examine one's deeds.
That dispensation is obviously useless where clearance application delays run into months. The public must be losing millions upon millions of rands as a result of this criminal incompetence - and despite promises, it is getting worse.
If the municipality is unable to rescue itself, then I can see only a few limited options:
- Either the Law Society must help the profession to set aside funds for a High Court Application for a declaratory order to compel the Deeds Office to register property transfers without rates clearances, or to allow registration without such clearances in cases where the conveyancer can show that more than a reasonable time has elapsed since clearance was applied for, or for a blanket order setting aside all statutory provisions requiring such clearances before transfer -
- Or funds must be set aside for the bringing of urgent High Court applications, on a routine basis, compelling the municipality to issue clearances in instances where the applicant can show undue delay and prejudice.
I would imagine that two or three of those would persuade the municipality to do better. It is, however, a pity to have come to such a pass.