Owner’s liability for municipal services

In Perregrine Joseph Mitchell v City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipal Authority (50816/14) [2014] ZAGPPHC 758, the High Court dealt with an application for a declarator as to whether the purchaser of immovable property was liable for the historical municipal debts of previous owners.

A certain Mr Mitchell purchased a property at a sale in execution. In terms of section 118(1) of the Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000, a registrar of deeds may not register transfer unless a certificate is produced, confirming that all amounts due for municipal services, levies and rates have been paid. The amounts are restricted to those for the two years preceding the date upon which application for the certificate was made.

Here, the Municipality issued a certificate for the total historical debt, including debts older than two years. Mr Mitchell objected and paid only the debt incurred for the preceding two years, after which he took transfer. The amount of historical debt that remained was R106,219.75. When he tried to sell the property to a third party, the Municipality refused to supply municipal services until the historical debt had been settled.

The High Court held that the historical debt was unaffected by the transfer of the property to Mr Mitchell. Nevertheless, Mr Mitchell was not liable for payment of such debt. The Municipality had no right to refuse the supply of municipal services to Mr Mitchell or to any third party merely because of the outstanding historical debt.

The application was granted with costs.

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