Answer to a question from a reader

Am I responsible for outstanding municipal bills of my newly purchased property?

The short answer

The seller should have paid the bills before the sale. You should contact the municipality.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

When I bought a property in 2020, they did not clear the municipal bill. Apparently, I am now responsible for paying it as I have received a letter threatening to close my water supply. What does the law say about this?

The long answer

The law is very clear on this point: no property can be transferred without the written permission of the municipality. This is the clearance certificate issued by the municipality confirming that all amounts owing to the municipality have been paid by the seller for two years before the sale.

The Deeds Office will not register the transfer of a property without being provided with this clearance certificate by the conveyancing attorney. (The conveyancing attorney or transferring attorney is the lawyer who gets all the legal paperwork done when a property is bought or sold.) It is the conveyancing attorney who will apply to the municipality for the clearance certificate that the Deeds Office needs.

Title deeds are the only legal proof that you are the owner of the house. If you bought the property without title deeds, not only is your ownership insecure, but you may well have to pay the outstanding water bill. It’s hard to see how you could compel the seller to pay the water bill now when it should have been paid before the sale went through.

If the municipality issued a clearance certificate without the bill having been paid, that would be fraud on their part.

If the municipality did not issue a clearance certificate, you could start by approaching them to find out what your options are. It may be that you can negotiate an agreement to pay off the water bill over time.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 29, 2021, 1:01 p.m.

See more questions and answers

Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.