Headway in clearing backlog
City says it has improved the time to process rates clearance certificates, writes Anna-Marie Smith
IN HIS announcement last week, Cape Town Deputy Mayor and Mayoral Committee Member for Finance, Alderman Ian Neilson said: ”We are now close to achieving our target of issuing the certificates within 10 working days.”
Following the massive backlog resulting in costly delays in the transfer of property, came an announcement in June this year of the City's new integrated information system, and in co-ordination with vending systems of conveyance attorneys.
The City's new Integrated Spatial Information System (ISIS) saw implementation in November last year, but by January this year conveyancers, deeds office officials and property professionals claimed an even slower clearance process. All relevant parties received an apology from the City for delays caused by unforeseen data and technical problems during the switch-over to the new system that arose from both the City and the vending systems used by the attorneys for electronic rates clearances.
Impacting negatively on the industry, delays resulted in financial losses of interest amounting to millions, as well as costly occupational rentals. Poor cash flow led to property agents resorting to bridging finance at crippling interest rates to meet monthly obligations.
In March this year Neilson said the city was receiving an average of 299 new applications daily, and that just over 355 000 transactions had been processed since the launch of the new system. Last week the City referred to average clearance periods in March this year of 19,8 days, while in April this year, this number was reduced to 12,5 days.
The announcement also reported that no rates clearance certificates had taken longer than 30 days to be issued during April, and that 1 307 certificates were processed in 30 days or less, despite an average of 200 applications per day. The city says the backlog caused by the system switch-over has been cleared, with no outstanding applications prior to end of January this year, 30 outstanding from February and two from March.
However, some industry professionals are of a different opinion. Conveyancing attorneys Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes (STBB), who last year appealed to Helen Zille, the Premier of the Western Cape, to expedite a resolution to the problem.
STBB attorney Melanie Coetzee last week said: “Issues at the City of Cape Town’s rates department have certainly not improved in recent months. The reality is clearances still take up to 28 days to be issued, as confirmed via an office survey conducted recently, reflecting average turnaround periods in the region of 21 days.” Coetzee said it would also appear that major issues relating to incorrect billing amounts had been resolved, although overcharges to clients in respect of advanced collections of rates and consumables still occur.
Commenting on the city’s announcement, Joe van Rooyen, managing director of Seeff Durbanville and Brackenfell said: “Although an improvement since the early part of this year partly resulted from clearing the original backlog, the new system has unfortunately not yet produced the desired results”.
He said that different volumes in other regions understandably result in faster clearance periods, such as seven days in the Overberg District, but that Seeff Cape Town continues to experience average clearance periods of up to three weeks.
Another Cape Town legal firm last week reported that although clearance times had improved to 12 working days by April, average times of 20 working days were seen early this month, possibly related to public holidays.
In addition were delays of up to six months resulting from certificate amounts not reflecting outstanding electricity costs, such as when electricity accounts are payable by tenants and the body corporate of a sectional share property, as opposed to property owners.
Responding on behalf of the City, Nielsen said: “As far as the issue of tenants is concerned, the City changed its policy in the past few years. We now require the property owner to enter into contracts with the City for services, and not the tenant.
“It is now thus the owner’s responsibility to ensure that service charges such as electricity are up to date. One key way of doing so is to install pre-payment electricity meters, so that the tenant cannot fall behind on payments.”
He says: “However, there are still cases where the tenant signed up for the services before the change in policy that may still cause a problem. Owners can approach the City to have the services account placed in their name.”
Commenting on sectional-title properties, Nielsen said in assuming problems occur when electricity service accounts received by body-corporate entities, and where payments are not kept up to date, individual section owners are unable to get clearance. He said in such cases property owners need to ensure they elect reliable trustees who pay their bills on time and collect levy debts from defaulting owners.
Alderman Ian Neilson, Cape Town deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for finance.