A few days ago, the Constitutional Court brought finality to an issue that had been a thorn in the flesh for many property owners. In an unanimous decision, written by Judge Cameron, the Court found that municipalities cannot hold a new property owner liable for a previous owner’s municipal debt.


Previously, municipalities often cut off services to owners, or refused to issue clearance certificates, unless all debts including historical debts of previous owners have been paid.


This placed an unfair burden on the new owner, who was now virtually forced to pay all outstanding amounts, even for rates or services that had nothing to do with him. If he failed to pay, the municipality could proceed with judgment and sale in execution of the property.


Whilst the Court did not declare the provisions of Section 118(3) of Municipalities Systems Act (32 of 2000) invalid, it vindicated owners by stating that the proper interpretation thereof was not to empower municipalities to claim old owners’ debts from new owners.


This ruling follows on other rulings by our courts against municipalities in recent years:





The Municipality may not disconnect services due to previous owners’ debts.


On a practical note for our readers, it behoves property owners not to fall in arrears with their municipal accounts. The municipalities still possess enough muscle through legal means to enforce payment, in spite of the recent court cases.