Answer to a question from a reader

Is it possible for me to legally own the land that I bought from someone that actually belonged to the municipality?

The short answer

It is possible if the municipality does not need the land, but it is a long, complex procedure.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

Is it possible for me to legally own the land that I bought from someone who had been living there a long time, only to discover that the land belongs to the municipality?

The long answer

Unfortunately, if you bought the land from a private person who did not have title deeds, you would not be the legal owner of the land even though you paid for it. Title deeds are the only legal proof of ownership.

It is possible to buy municipal land, in terms of Section 14(2) of the Municipal Finance Management Act of 2003 (MFMA), if the land in question is not needed by the municipality to supply a minimum level of basic services, it is a long complex procedure. I will lay out the steps below, but I think the best place for you to start is by going to see the municipality and explaining to them that you paid for the land, not knowing it was owned by the municipality. You should take all the proof you have of buying the land and ask them to help you to take legal ownership of the land.

As I said, it is generally a complex procedure to buy municipal land: because there have been disputes about the way municipal land has been sold, the courts have ruled that “any transfer of municipal land must be fair, equitable, transparent and competitive” and must be in line with the supply chain management policies that every municipality has. This is Section 14(2).

These are the different ways of buying municipal land:

  • A private treaty between buyer and municipality where offers are made and negotiations concluded in terms of Section 14(2) of the MFMA;

  • Public auction where the property is sold to the highest bidder;

  • Public tender where the municipality puts out a notice for 30 days calling for tenders. The municipal council or committee will decide on the winning tender in terms of its supply chain policies;

  • Public/private partnership in terms of Section 120 of the MFMA. Section 120 says that a public/private partnership must “provide value for money to the municipality”, “be affordable for the municipality” and “transfer appropriate technical, operational and financial risk to the private party”.

These are the usual steps in the process of buying municipal land:

1. Approach municipality about the land you want to buy;

2. Your application will then be circulated to all municipal departments;

3. The land must be evaluated so that it is sold at market price;

4. Provisions of MFMA have to be complied with, in terms of income and expenditure;

5. Municipal officials prepare a report for the Council/Committee to approve;

6. If approved, a Deed of Sale is finalised which includes any conditions attached to the sale;

7. You pay all the fees and the purchase price before you sign the Deed of Sale;

8. The municipal manager signs the Deed of Sale;

9. A copy of the Deed of Sale is given to you, to all the departments and to the conveyancing attorneys who will do the transfer;

10. Transfer papers are drawn up, clearance certificates are issued and all tax/VAT matters settled;

11. The transfer is done in the Deeds Office;

12. The property is removed from the municipal assets register.

If the municipality is not helpful, you could ask for legal advice and assistance from the following organisations:

  • The Black Sash, an organisation that gives free paralegal advice:


Helpline: 072 663 3739 or 063 610 1865

  • Pro Bono, a legal organisation that will take a case on without charge, if they think it is in the public interest:


Johannesburg: 011 339 6080

Cape Town: 087 806 6070/1/2

  • Lawyers for Human Rights


Musina: 015 534 2203

Durban: 031 301 0531

Pretoria: 012 320 2943

Johannesburg: 011 339 1960

Cape Town: 021 424 8561

  • Legal Resources Centre          


Johannesburg: 011 836 9831         

Cape Town: 021 481 3000

Wishing you the best,

Answered on March 20, 2023, 4:20 p.m.

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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.