Unwinding informal cash sales and unlocking security of tenure

This is the story of Ms Duma (not her real name) and her experience of buying a house through informal channels and having to defend her purchase when the seller came back to claim the property. Ms Duma is one of the TSC’s many successful informal cash sale regularisation case studies. Her story illustrates the very real risks buyers face when property transactions are not formally registered but also how informal mechanisms such as street committee letters, police affidavits and witnesses can work to validate a buyers claim to a property. Her story further reiterates the value that is unlocked when informal cash sales are regularised.  

Ward councillor Lucky Mbiza says many residents don’t have title deeds for their houses and properties in ward 96, Khayelitsha.

“The majority of the residents in my ward don’t have title deeds. It’s a nightmare,” he said.

Mbiza said: “Residents sell their properties and go back to their home provinces without transferring their title deeds to the new owners.”

The original owners of the properties sometimes return to reclaim them, he said.
Mbiza said: “In one instance a father died and his family sold their house so they could get money to bury him.”

“Family members who were kids then are now adults, and they are trying to evict the family that bought the house,” he said.

Vuyiseka Duma*, who owns a property in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, said she went through a similar experience. When she bought it, the property did not have a house on it – it was just a shack which was in a bad-shape. Still, she knew that this would be the place where she could build her home.

“I bought the property from the wife of the former owner who was living in Johannesburg at the time. He was aware of the sale, his wife was acting as the intermediary and three people who also lived in the area acted as witnesses”, she said.

Duma estimates that she has spent close to R30 000 to date on fixing up the property. “I fenced the yard, put a new roof on the shack, tiled and cemented the floor, put in new doors and a ceiling to make it liveable and comfortable”, she says.

But one day the former property owner arrived at her door with “a tall and bulky man” and tried to intimidate her to leave the property.

“They said the property still belonged to the former owner and that I must exchange properties with him and go live in his shack in Site C”, she says. But she refused, reminding the former owner about the police affidavit that was signed as well as the people who acted as witness to the sale.

“They left me feeling stressed out,” she said, “but now I feel comfortable and happy because I have the title deed.”

Duma told how the Tenure Support Center (TSC) helped to regularise the transaction with the former owner and get her the title deed for the property.

“I told TSC staff that I had bought a property in 2003, but I had no money to hire a lawyer to transfer the title deed to me,” she said.

The TSC is a non-profit project that helps low-income residents resolve their title deed challenges.

Duma said TSC staff told her that she would need to sign a new sale agreement with the former owner and obtain his co-operation in the process. Fortunately, he agreed.

Duma explained why getting the title deed mattered so much to her. “Now that I have the title deed, the former owner or his children can’t come back and lay claim to the property,” she said.

Duma, who stays with her sisters along with their kids, said the title deed would help her qualify for an RDP house subsidy when the government allocates RDP houses to residents in her area. “My sisters and their kids will have a place they can call their own when I die,” she said.

She also said that is getting ready to register with a local Peoples Housing Project that will help her get an RDP house on the land she now owns. “I would not be able to join a PHP without the title deed,” she said.

Duma said she recommends the TSC to her friends when they want to be assisted with acquiring a title deed.

“Because the TSC helped me get a title deed, I always refer people who have properties that are not registered in their names to it,” she said.

*Not her real name