The repeated and, at times unnecessary, closure of the Cape Town deeds office is having a considerable negative impact on the property and real estate industry in the Western Cape, and so I have written to the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, Thoko Didiza, to request her urgent intervention to ensure that the relevant officials take the necessary steps to address the issue.
While, it is critical to implement the necessary health and safety measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace, the deeds office does not appear to be implementing the measures in alignment with the National Department of Health or Department of Employment and Labour guidelines with regard to workplace safety.
We also don't believe that they are rearranging the staff members into smaller, isolated teams which is an advisable and easily implementable measure to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections in the workplace, and the impact of an infection on the entire office or multiple offices.
The fact that both the CBD and Mowbray deeds offices are closed each time an employee tests positive, or an employee has been a close contact of someone who has tested positive, is also highly problematic. These deeds offices are the only deeds offices in the Western Cape, and so rather than closing these offices, a positive case should be isolated, and workplace close contacts should be traced and placed in quarantine. While the parts of the office where the person worked and spent time in should be deep cleaned, the full office does not need to be closed. Not every instance of a positive case, or a confirmed contact of a positive case, requires the entire office to close.
The work done by the officials of the deeds offices is of utmost importance to the property and real estate industry. Continued interruptions to operations not only affect those who are buying property, including first-time homeowners, but also have a knock-on effect to the many businesses that are dependent on the services of the deeds offices, which may lead to job losses.
When the deeds office re-opened in May 2020 following the Lockdown, there was already a considerable backlog of deeds to be dealt with. According to the founding affidavit by the chairperson of the Cape Town Attorneys Association (CTAA) in its court application to compel the deeds office to take measures to address the backlog, of the almost 12 000 matters lodged from 12 May to 3 June, only 17% had been registered by 4 June 2020 (when the affidavit was made). Processing this backlog cannot be further delayed.
In addition, the property industry is likely to experience a rebound post-Covid-19 due to lower prices and several interest rate reductions by the Reserve Bank over the past few months, making purchasing of both commercial and residential property more affordable than it has been in many decades. The smooth running of processes like deeds registration are key to the success of investments in the Western Cape and new investments are of course a vital aspect of economic recovery and growth.
The Department of Economic Development and Tourism have had several engagements with management of the deeds office in Cape Town, but the situation has recently worsened to such an extent that we have no alternative but to call on Minister Didiza to intervene.