Cape Town Deeds Office reopens but union raises safety concerns

The Cape Town Deeds Office backlog is causing chaos in the city's property market. (Photo: Flickr / Vicki)

After 48 hours of undergoing decontamination, the Cape Town Deeds Office reopened on Tuesday, 26 May 2020, however, sources at the office say that despite being ‘open’, some staff are refusing to work.

Across the country, deeds offices were allowed to open and operate from 13 May 2020 as they were listed as an essential government and administrative service, and were therefore operational under Level 4.

It took the Cape Town Deeds Office until 20 May 2020 to reopen as staff had not returned to work and this led to a suspension of lodgements

The office said it would resume services a day later, but on 22 May 2020, they hit another snag as the office closed for decontamination after “one of their officials had been exposed to a relative, who had tested positive with Covid-19”. 

Daily Maverick learned from a source at the deeds office, who did not want to be identified, that the office being open is “a facade, as they are not actually working behind the scenes”. “What we are hearing is that unionised staff are not working as they are not happy with the quality of the PPE,” the source said about the “mini strike”. 

But Baxolise Mali, National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) Regional Secretary told Daily Maverick that there is no go-slow. However, he said this did not mean that the office is not without issues. 

“There is no go-slow that is going on there, workers are at work right now,” Mali said. “Instead, what is going on has been a discussion with the management of the deeds office to ensure there is compliance with the non-negotiables for the workers’ safe return to the office.”

Mali said the deeds office had failed to present their risk assessment plan to the Provincial Steering Committee, which should have outlined the plans to ensure that there is compliance regarding the safety of workers. 

The deeds office in Cape Town is in the 90 Plein Street building, in which there are many people and this had apparently not been taken into account when management asked staff to return to work. 

“What was also communicated was the availability of masks,” Mali said. “We also want to look at the training of people who come into test staff and whether or not there are things for that to happen. We are also looking if offices are disinfected after staff leave offices … This should be looked at as Western Cape and, in particular, Cape Town is at the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.” 

Daily Maverick contacted Joseph Dreyer, Deputy Registrar of Deeds at the Western Cape Deeds Office, as well as Carlize Knoesen, Chief Registrar of Deeds. Both declined to comment, indicating that the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development should comment on the alleged go-slow at the Cape Town Deeds Office. 

At the time of publishing, Daily Maverick had not received a comment from Reggie Ngcobo, the media liaison officer for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

Clive Hendricks, chairperson of the Cape Town Attorneys Association (CTAA), which represents a large number of conveyancers, who use the deeds office on a daily basis, said that the office in Cape Town is in need of urgent intervention as there seems to be many internal challenges that are affecting CTAA’s members, other conveyancers and those who are looking to buy or sell their property. 

“Transactions are being unreasonably delayed from internal employee and employer strained relations,” Hendricks said. “We have reached out to the Chief Registrar for her urgent intervention.” 

The deeds office has also led to many clients not being able to access their capital to honour commitments made after the sale of a property, according to Adrian Goslett, Chief Executive Officer and Regional Director REMAX of Southern Africa.

“Clients are having to fork out large sums of money for occupational rent that they would not have budgeted for, considering the deeds office should technically have opened on 1 May under alert Level 4,” Goslett said. 

Furthermore, Goslett said that real estate agents and agencies also suffer the brunt of this burden as they work on commission. 

“The effect of this on real estate means that even though agents are now allowed to operate, having waited 66 days to do so without any form of income or relief, their ability to earn an income is still stunted as they only get paid upon successful registration of the property,” Goslett added.

“Perhaps it’s time we take a stronger stance because the situation has become untenable,” Hendricks said. “We should as soon as possible attend to it. In the past, we have informed the chief registrar that we are not afraid to take these matters to the courts, especially if the engagements do not bear any fruits.” DM



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