The Master Law

How to Protect Your Children’s Inheritances from Ending Up in the Guardian’s Fund

“Live each day as if it were your last… because one day, you’ll be right.” (Benny Hill)

It’s always tempting to procrastinate about decisions that force us to address the inevitability of our own mortality. But we have no choice when it comes to protecting our loved ones after we are gone, because to protect them a will (“Last Will and Testament”) is not a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity. And it’s urgent. No one – young or old, healthy or ill, wealthy or of limited means – can guarantee that they’ll be alive tomorrow.

How to structure your will? One potential risk area when it comes to your children’s inheritances is the Guardian’s Fund. The Fund serves a vital purpose, but it has featured regularly in the media over the past few years for all the wrong reasons – ongoing losses to cybercriminals and fraudsters (the last reported loss was R17m), SIU (Special Investigating Unit) probes into allegations of misconduct and corruption, and the like.

How is that relevant to you? Well, if you have minor children, it confirms once again that your will should be professionally drawn to avoid any chance of your children’s money ending up in the Guardian’s Fund.

Dying “intestate” means trusting a State-run entity with your children’s money

Without a will, you die “intestate”, which means that the law makes your decisions for you. You have lost the right to choose a trusted executor, you have lost the right to specify how your estate is distributed to your loved ones, you have lost the right to nominate a guardian for your children. Perhaps most importantly of all, you have lost the right to protect your minor children’s inheritances as you see fit.

That’s a problem because, unless you leave a will structured to provide a mechanism for looking after your children’s inheritances until they reach majority (i.e. turn 18), those moneys might well end up in the Guardian’s Fund.

What is the Guardian’s Fund?
  • The thought behind the Guardian’s Fund is a laudable one – it was created to hold and protect money (including inheritances) for minors and other people who are legally incapable of managing their own affairs. For those vulnerable people whose money it safeguards, it performs a most valuable service.
  • All money is invested with the PIC (Public Investment Commission) and earns interest at a rate set from time to time by the Minister of Finance.
  • The Fund is audited annually and is managed by the Master of the High Court (actually by one of several Masters around the country, each of whom runs a separate Fund), without charge.
  • A child’s guardian can approach the local Master to pay over accrued interest (and in need up to R250,000 of the capital) for maintenance needs.
So, what’s the problem?

Knowing that your children’s money is to be held in an audited, managed-for-free fund administered by independent and senior government officials is certainly a lot less alarming than many of the possible alternatives, but it is by no means ideal –

  • The media reports of hacking, theft, fraud, police probes into allegations of misconduct and corruption etc that we mentioned above hardly inspire confidence in the Fund’s ability to manage and protect your children’s inheritances, even if only one or two “bad egg” employees are involved.
  • Your children’s guardian must jump through all sorts of administrative hoops to draw money for maintenance, education, clothing, medical costs and so on. The delays and dysfunction which reportedly still plague many Master’s Offices won’t help.
  • As mentioned above, Fund monies are paid a government-fixed rate of interest, currently 4.25% p.a. That’s both below inflation and an unattractive alternative to the earnings potentially available to discretionary funds.
  • When your children turn eighteen, they are again faced with red tape and bureaucracy before they can access whatever is left of their money.
The best protection?

The good news is that you can easily protect your vulnerable minor children from all those risks and negatives. These are the two essentials –

  1. Leave a valid will, professionally drawn to protect all your loved ones and in particular those most vulnerable such as your minor children, and
  2. Make sure that your will nominates a guardian for your children and includes a mechanism to protect their inheritances so as to avoid any risk of their money having to be paid into the Guardian’s Fund.

    The most commonly advised protection mechanism to avoid that unhappy scenario is a trust – either an existing trust (if fit for purpose), or a new “testamentary trust” which will come into existence when you die. The alternative is to provide for the children’s guardians to administer their inheritances for them, but a trust is almost always the better, safer, and more practical option. Either way, make sure that your will’s provisions correctly and clearly set out your wishes in that regard.

    Bear in mind that anything to do with trusts of any kind calls for specific professional advice – there are complex legal, financial and tax considerations involved.

Bottom line – have your attorney draw your will (or update your existing will) to ensure that your children’s inheritances are properly protected and don’t end up in the Guardian’s Fund!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Landlords: You Cannot Cut a Defaulting Tenant’s Water and Electricity

“A fundamental principle in issue here is that nobody may take the law into their own hands. In order to preserve order and peace in society the court will summarily grant an order for restoration of the status quo where such deprivation has occurred, and it will do so without going into the merits of the dispute.” (Excerpt from judgment below)

Many a landlord is tempted to go the “self-help” route when non-paying tenants refuse to pay up and also refuse to leave. Holding costs mount with not a cent in rental income to show for it, the landlord gets desperate and locks are changed, access codes blocked, electricity and water cut off.

But what if, instead of meekly packing up and vacating, the tenant rushes off to court? As we shall see from our discussion of a recent High Court decision below, now the landlord has a real problem, regardless of whether or not the tenant has lost its legal right of occupation.

You cannot take the law into your own hands
  • A tenant under a verbal lease dating back some 27 years, and in terms of which the rental included payment for water and electricity, stopped paying rental in January 2021.
  • The landlord, citing both failure to pay rental and allegations of unlawful sub-letting and overcrowding, gave the tenant notice of eviction. The tenant refused to vacate, and had her attorney warn the landlord against evicting or cutting services without a court order.
  • When the landlord nevertheless went ahead and cut the electricity and water supplies, claiming this to be a lawful attempt to reduce its losses since the (unpaid) rental included the supply of electricity and water, the tenant asked the High Court to (among other things) grant it a “spoliation order” (an order giving possession back to someone deprived of it without due legal process) restoring services immediately to the premises.
  • The case didn’t go well for the landlord, and it is now back to square one after eighteen months of no rental income, with the added costs of two sets of legal bills to pay. Landlords, said the Court, must pursue the remedies at their disposal to enforce payment of rental in accordance with the law. “Landlords are not entitled to take the law into their own hands.”
  • A vitally important factor to bear in mind here is that at this stage of proceedings a court will not enquire into whether or not the tenant has a legal right to be in possession: “Irrespective of the lawfulness or otherwise of the occupation, a landlord may not disconnect water and electricity without the intervention of a court.” (Emphasis supplied).
  • Relevant to the Court’s decision was the fact that on the facts of this case, supply of services was not a “personal right” between the parties but part of the tenant’s possession of the property: “To my mind, the supply of electricity and water is not merely contractual, but an incident of the possession of the property.” That can be a fine distinction, so specific legal advice is essential if you are a landlord (or a tenant) embroiled in a dispute of this nature.
  • The end result – the landlord was ordered to restore electricity and water immediately to the tenant and must pay the tenant’s legal costs.
Lessons for landlords
  1. You are playing with fire if you take matters into your own hands when dealing with problematic tenants. No matter how intransigent they may be and no matter how unlawful their occupation, the only safe route is to follow the appropriate legal channels with specific legal advice and assistance –

    • All a tenant needs to prove to get a spoliation order against you (with costs) is that they were in “peaceful and undisturbed” possession, and that you unlawfully deprived them of that possession. Nothing more.
    • And that’s by no means your only risk – you could also be charged criminally in terms of the Rental Housing Act, which provides that anyone who “unlawfully locks out a tenant or shuts off the utilities to the rental housing property” faces a fine and/or two years’ imprisonment.
  2. Secondly, it is clear that one of the landlord’s practical problems in this matter was the fact that (amazingly after 27 years) it had no written lease in place. That made it difficult to prove the terms of the lease, the parties’ rights and duties, duration, grounds for termination, and notice periods. Although a verbal lease is valid in law (for now anyway; change is in the wind on that one), a properly drawn written lease is vital to protect your rights!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

A Dishonest “I’m Too Sick to Come to Work” Excuse is a Firing Offence

“…an employment relationship is predicated on trust” (Extract from judgment below)

Our courts have once again confirmed that dismissal is justified when employees lie about their state of health in order to get sick leave.

A recent Labour Court case provides a perfect example.

Too sick to work, but caught on TV at a protest march
  • An employee called in sick for a few days, and to support his claim of illness produced a medical certificate of sorts (albeit a meaningless one, certifying the nature of illness as being “Absence due to medical condition”).
  • Unluckily for the employee, his supervisor happened to be watching the evening news on TV and what did he see on the screen but his “too ill to work” subordinate participating in a protest march, singing and clapping his hands.
  • Long story short, the Labour Court upheld his dismissal for “gross dishonesty” in breach of the trust relationship that underlies all employer/employee interactions.
  • In doing so the Court found on the facts that the employee had clearly been malingering in order to attend the protest, noting that an employee claiming to be too ill to work must prove it. In that regard the supposed medical certificate just didn’t cut it without being confirmed on affidavit.
Important takeaways for employees (and their employers)
  • Falsely claiming sick leave fundamentally breaches the employer/employee trust relationship and in appropriate cases our courts will not hesitate to uphold dismissal even for a first offence.
  • If queried, it is for the employee to prove that an illness genuinely prevented attendance at work.
  • A sick note or medical certificate should be meaningful as to the nature of that illness and the issuing medical practitioner may have to confirm its contents in an affidavit or under oath.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Debt Collection – Two Recovery Options

“Creditors have better memories than debtors” (Benjamin Franklin)

How well you manage your debtors’ book, and how successful you are in actually collecting monies due to you, should always be a management priority. It can spell the difference between a successful, profitable business and a failed one.

If you are new to the game (the owner of a new start up perhaps), the debt collection process might seem confusing and a bit intimidating, but it needn’t be.

If you need to understand the basic principles and terminology, have a look at our simple overview below of a pretty “standard” debt collection process. We follow that with an alternative suggestion, which even established businesses with a long track record of debt collection will find useful.

Of course, some debts are easily collected – a gentle reminder and a few courtesy calls often do the trick. But when a debtor turns recalcitrant – dodging calls, ducking and diving, delaying, hiding assets – it’s time to bring out the big guns and go the legal route.

Let’s discuss two possible avenues of recovery –

1) Recovery Avenue One: The “standard” debt collection process 

Let’s start off with a brief (and simplified) overview of a fairly typical sequence of debt collection events –

  1. A courtesy call: This is most effective coming from your attorney – there’s nothing like an official legal communication to convey that you mean business. In most cases it will be a polite but firm communication (think “iron fist in velvet glove”) – perhaps via a voice call, perhaps in writing, perhaps both – telling the debtor that the matter has now been handed over for collection. Warnings of the legal process about to be unleashed, and mention of the extra costs and the credit rating implications for the debtor, might be all that’s needed to extract payment, or at least an offer of payment and an Acknowledgment of Debt. If not, on we move…
  2. Letter of demand: This is a formal notification (you’ll hear it called a “Section 129 Notice” where the National Credit Act applies) officially demanding payment within a specified deadline period. It’s the last step before the actual legal process starts…
  3. Summons: A summons is now issued at the appropriate court, and served on the debtor, who now has an opportunity to defend the action. Expect an experienced debtor to enter an “appearance to defend” as a delaying tactic, but if the debtor just ignores the summons or takes no further steps to defend the matter, the next step is…
  4. Judgment: Your attorney now asks the court to issue a “default judgment”, which entitles you to proceed to the enforcement/collection stage…
  5. Execution: Depending on what assets or income the debtor has, this could be a warrant of execution against movable property, a financial enquiry or an emoluments attachment or garnishee order. A debtor who knows the ropes will be experienced in dodging and/or frustrating these attempts, and if the debt still remains unsatisfied you can move on to another form of execution…
  6. Application to sell immovable property: You can now apply to the court for leave to execute against any immovable property (a house, land or the like) owned by the debtor. This may or may not be easy to obtain, given everyone’s constitutional rights to housing.

The above is just an overview of general principles, and it is essential to have legal assistance at every stage to make sure that your process complies with all the rules and regulations involved.

2) Recovery Avenue Two: Apply for liquidation or sequestration

This may not be the best option for every debt collection scenario, but in the right circumstances it can be dynamite!

Before we get going, a quick note on terminology – if your debtor is a company, you apply for “liquidation” (“winding-up”) of the company, and the appointment of a liquidator. If your debtor is an individual, you apply for “sequestration” of the debtor’s estate, and appointment of a trustee.

Either way, the pressure you bring to bear on the debtor is the threat of imminent loss of control of all assets. Company directors must suddenly focus on the looming risk of losing all control over their businesses, an individual on losing all their personal assets, house etc – whatever they have.

As a side note, if your debtor is a company, a particularly useful section of the Companies Act allows you to serve on the company’s registered office a “section 345 letter of demand”. The company is then “deemed” to be unable to pay its debts if the debt isn’t paid or secured within three weeks. That makes your liquidation application a lot easier to support and increases pressure on the debtor to pay up.

Just be aware of two factors in particular –

  1. You may be in for substantial cost. A recalcitrant director or debtor can still delay the process by defending your application, and whilst our courts do not look kindly on delaying actions and other “abuses of process” calculated to postpone the inevitable, getting to that stage in opposed matters can be expensive. And if you do eventually succeed in getting an order, not only could you end up recovering nothing (or perhaps only a part of the debt) but you might even have to pay into the estate, so ask your attorney beforehand about the “danger of contribution” aspect.
  2. You cannot use a liquidation/sequestration application as a way to short-circuit any genuine dispute over liability, and with individuals you will also have to show that sequestration will benefit creditors generally. Unless you have good grounds for the application you risk having to pay a large adverse costs order for “abuse of process.” Legal advice specific to your case is essential!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Divorce: What is Forfeiture of Benefits and When is it Ordered?

“So often, a party in a divorce is so aggrieved and upset by their spouse’s behaviour during the marriage, and rightfully so, that they cannot fathom having to give up an asset or let their spouse benefit in any way, upon divorce. We have had numerous spouses wanting us to apply forfeiture of the benefits of the marriage based on the other spouse’s bad behaviour during the marriage.” (Extract from one of the High Court judgments below)

Divorce all too often involves high levels of stress, antagonism, dispute and desire for revenge. So, when it comes to splitting up the marital assets, the thoughts of one (or both) of them may well turn to something like “It’s their fault, I want more than just my share, in fact I want everything”.

Which is where the concept of “forfeiture of benefits” (sometimes referred to as “forfeiture of assets”) comes in. It’s an old concept in our law and is increasingly being applied for in our courts, as evidenced in several recent cases which have received wide media coverage. But what exactly does a forfeiture order entail?

What is a forfeiture of benefits order?

The court in granting a divorce has a discretion, in appropriate cases, to order that one party forfeits either all the assets of the marriage, or a specific asset or assets. This overrides both the effect of the “marital regime” of the marriage (in community of property, out of community of property with accrual, out of community of property without accrual) and anything agreed to by the parties in their ANC (ante-nuptial contract).

When will a court order forfeiture?

Forfeiture orders are the exception not the rule, and the onus is firmly on the party claiming forfeiture to establish the basis and amount of their entitlement to it.

The Divorce Act provides that, where a divorce is granted on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the court may order forfeiture if it is satisfied that one party will otherwise be “unduly benefitted” in relation to the other (the party claiming forfeiture will have to establish the “nature and extent” of that undue benefit). The court will take into account –

  • The duration of the marriage,
  • The circumstances that caused the marital breakdown, and
  • “Any substantial misconduct on the part of either of the parties”.

That gives the court a wide discretion, and every case will be different, but let’s have a look at three recent High Court decisions to illustrate some typical scenarios in which forfeiture was successfully applied for –

  1. A cheating husband loses his share of accrual
    A couple were married out of community of property with accrual. On divorce, that would normally result in a balancing between the parties of the asset accrual during the marriage, but in this case, in granting the wife a divorce from her husband after 12 years, the High Court ordered that the husband “forfeits the patrimonial benefits of the accrual system in total”, including his interest in the wife’s business.

    The Court’s decision followed its findings that the husband was guilty of “shockingly egregious” misconduct during most of the marriage, including living away from home, failing to “contribute to the common home financially, emotionally, or in any other manner”, engaging in a long string of extra-marital affairs and attempting, whilst employed in his wife’s successful business, firstly to fraudulently extort money from it and secondly to hijack the business.

  2. A short marriage ends, and the wife gets nothing 
    Here, the High Court ordered that a wife forfeit her share of the joint estate assets (with “in community of property” marriages a joint estate is formed, which in the normal  course would be divided 50/50 on divorce) after accepting the husband’s evidence that she had “married him to secure financial wealth for herself, advance herself in [the] political arena by using his influence and to benefit from his estate.”

    Relevant factors considered by the Court – the short duration of the marriage (14 months from marriage to separation), the 39-year age gap between them, her lack of love or respect for him and embarrassment at being seen in public with him, and her desire to live an extravagant lifestyle beyond his means.

  3. A husband’s substantial misconduct costs him his share of a joint estate 
    In this matter the Court ordered the husband to forfeit his share of another “in community of property” joint estate, including an immovable property and a share in his wife’s pension interest. The husband’s conduct, held the Court, had been tantamount to “substantial misconduct”, including failure to contribute to household expenses, failure to pay his child’s maintenance until forced to do so by the Maintenance Court, extra-marital affairs and physical, financial and emotional abuse.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Your New House Leaks Like a Sieve – Can You Sue the Seller?

“There is no sound more peaceful than rain on the roof, if you’re safe asleep in someone else’s house.” (Anne Tyler)

You move into your new dream home, excited and happy. Until it rains, and the roof leaks. As the repair teams tramp around on your roof and the bills start piling up whilst you weave around buckets and tarpaulins and sodden carpets, you go back to the seller and demand recompense.

“Sorry”, says the seller, “read the sale agreement. I sold the property “voetstoots” and without liability for any defects. I sympathise, but it’s actually your problem not mine. Good luck, and goodbye.”

Can that be correct? Let’s address that question with reference to a recent Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) decision over a flooded-out guest house.

A leaking roof puts a real damper on a guest house dream
  • A couple bought a guest house for R1.3m to fulfil their dream of running one.
  • Barely three months after they moved in, heavy rain caused extensive leaking of the entire roof. The guesthouse was flooded and furniture, carpets, linen and luggage soaked. Guests were, unsurprisingly, unhappy.
  • The buyers had to take out a loan to cover the repair costs, plus they lost 2 months’ income during the repairs.
  • They successfully sued the seller for a total of R240k in damages (a combination of repair costs and lost income), an award confirmed by the High Court and then by the SCA on appeal.

To understand that outcome, let’s take a look at our law’s requirements for such a claim to succeed.

Fraudulent non-disclosure of latent defects – 3 things you must prove

As a buyer claiming damages on the basis of “fraudulent non-disclosure in respect of latent defects” (we deal with the alternative of an “implied warranty” claim below), you will, as the Court set it out, have to prove that –

  1. The seller was, at the time of the sale, aware of the “latent” defects (defects that “would not have been visible or discoverable upon inspection by the ordinary purchaser”), and
  2. The seller deliberately failed to disclose those defects to you, and
  3. The seller’s aim was to induce you to conclude the sale.

The buyers in this case had, before buying, noticed water staining in several places. The seller had assured them that although he knew of one roof leak, it had been fixed by his handyman and that he didn’t believe leaks would reoccur.

The Court however preferred the conclusion by an expert witness (a civil engineer) that “any claim by the previous owner that no problems with roof leaks were experienced in the past [would] simply be impossible and untruthful”. The roof, said the engineer, was defective both in respect of inferior design (“the entire roof speaks of negligent design, inferior workmanship and bad maintenance”) and inferior workmanship (“it is evident that [the builder] of the roof was not a skilled artisan … the roof under investigation was prone to leak from the day that it was built.” The engineer also found evidence of past efforts to seal the roof and believed that the problem had escalated over time.

The Court’s conclusion – the seller had fraudulently misrepresented the true condition of the roof and had failed to disclose it to the buyers. “On the probabilities, the only reasonable inference to be drawn …. is that the non-disclosures and misrepresentation were made deliberately in order to induce the sale of the guesthouse, and this constituted fraud.” Hence its confirmation of the damages award to the buyers.

Another way to claim: Breach of the “implied warranty”

The buyer in this case sued on the basis of “delictual liability” which requires you to prove a list of factors, including both wrongfulness and fault. Fortunately, you also have an alternative avenue available to you. Our law is that a seller (of anything) automatically gives the buyer an “implied warranty” that the thing sold has no latent defects. Prove that the seller has breached that warranty and you have the basis of a claim.

You are very likely, however, to come up against the seller protections in a voetstoots clause (common in sale agreements). That clause transfers the risk of latent defects to the buyer by providing that the property is sold “as is” and without any warranty.

To defeat the seller’s protection under voetstoots you can either –

  • Prove fraud by the seller. To be protected, the seller must have been genuinely unaware of the latent defect in question at the date of sale; or
  • You can show that the protections in the CPA (Consumer Protection Act) apply to your sale. The CPA, where it applies, protects buyers from defective or not-fit-for-purpose goods, regardless of what the sale agreement says. There are grey areas here, so specific legal advice is indispensable, but in broad terms the CPA does not protect larger “juristic person” buyers (those with an annual turnover of R2m or more), nor will it generally cover one-off “private” sales between individuals – normally it is developers, estate agents and others acting “in the ordinary course of business” who will be bound by the CPA.

Sellers: Disclose all possible defects of which you are aware in the “mandatory disclosure form” which, since February 2022, must be attached to and form part of the sale agreement.

Buyers: Inspect the property thoroughly before putting pen to paper – you cannot complain about any patent (“obvious on reasonable inspection”) defects that you should have seen yourself. To cover yourself against any latent defects, get expert reports in any doubt.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Can Your 👍Thumbs-Up Emoji or E-Signature Seal a Deal?

“…data messages or electronic signatures are now recognised in our law as equivalent to a proper basis upon which a written contract can be concluded. Thus, a valid written contract can be concluded electronically.” (Extract from the South African judgment below)

ECTA (the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act) means that you can in many cases create legally binding agreements purely electronically – via email, WhatsApp, social media and the like.

There is of course both risk and opportunity here. On the one hand, the old hassles of printing everything out and signing reams and reams of paperwork have become unnecessary, even undesirable, for many transactions (but not all – take advice in doubt). Remember to keep proof of everything.

But be careful what you e-agree to!

On the other hand, beware the risks! We tend to focus more on what we’re agreeing to when it involves reading and signing printed documents, and when everything is electronic it’s a lot easier to gloss over details, and to underestimate the importance of subject matter. Particularly, perhaps, in a social media environment, where things often evolve at pace and with an air of informality.

Let’s start our discussion off with a recent High Court confirmation of the binding nature of electronic signatures.

An e-signature binds a debtor to a R1.5m deal
  • A bank sued a debtor who, it said, had electronically signed a credit agreement to buy a R1.5m BMW X5 motor vehicle and then defaulted on instalment payments.
  • Sued for damages and for return of the vehicle, the debtor countered by denying that he had entered into a valid electronic contract. He said his brother-in-law/employer had purchased the car in his name and had signed the agreement electronically.
  • The bank, however, produced evidence (including recorded telephone conversations between the debtor and its call centre) to support its claim that the electronic signature was indeed the debtor’s.
  • Commenting that “…data messages or electronic signatures are now recognised in our law as equivalent to a proper basis upon which a written contract can be concluded. Thus, a valid written contract can be concluded electronically”, the Court held that the debtor had indeed concluded the contract, and that the bank was entitled to cancel it, demand return of the car, and claim damages.
Can a “Thumbs-Up” 👍 emoji bind you to a contract?

A Canadian Court recently made international news after holding that a👍thumbs-up emoji constituted approval of a contract (a sale of flax), thus creating a valid contract.

The buyer in that matter had texted to the (proposed) seller an image of a purchase contract, along with the message: “Please confirm flax contract”, and the seller had responded with a 👍thumbs-up emoji. When sued for failing to deliver per the contract, the seller claimed never to have accepted the contract – all the emoji meant, he said, was that he would think about it. However, on the particular facts of this matter, the Court concluded that the emoji had indeed signified the seller’s acceptance of the contract. The seller must now pay the buyer Can$82,200.21 (almost R1.2m at date of writing) in damages for breach of contract.

But would the result have been the same in a South African court? It seems logical that it would, provided of course that in the particular context of the matter the emoji clearly meant “I accept” and not perhaps “got it, will come back to you with an answer” or something similar.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

How to Stop Someone Damaging Your Good Name on Social Media

“He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.” (Shakespeare)

As our lives move increasingly online, more and more of us will be subjected to the distress and damage of online attacks. Whether they are aimed at hurting us personally or at harming our businesses, they can take a substantial toll both materially and psychologically.

What can you do if you (or your business) falls victim? The good news is that in appropriate cases our courts will come to your rescue robustly and with speed, as evidenced by a recent High Court decision.

Your legal protections

Before we discuss the facts and outcome of that case, let’s make a general note that as a victim of any defamation you have a choice of legal weapons available to you. A claim for damages can be highly effective but it is, as the Court here put it, a backward-looking remedy essentially suitable for redressing past defamation.

Where on the other hand you are being subjected to, or fear being subjected to, ongoing defamatory attacks, ask your lawyer about applying urgently for an interdict. As in the case we discuss below, it can provide powerful, quick and effective protection.

You could also try laying a criminal charge of crimen injuria (criminal impairment of another’s dignity) but perhaps don’t hold your breath on that one.

A property developer’s reputation vindicated, and an extortion attempt punished
  • A company undertaking a large property development employed a roofing contractor which, after a fall out, started publishing defamatory statements about the developer on a local WhatsApp group and Facebook.
  • Amongst other things the posts accused the developer of acting unlawfully for financial gain, creating a potentially life-threatening situation, dishonesty, not carrying out necessary remedial actions, defrauding the Municipality, exploiting elderly clients, selling uninspected and potentially dangerous homes, not following proper safety standards – the list goes on.
  • The Court found no truth at all in any of these allegations and rejected for lack of proof the roofing contractor’s defence of “truth and the public benefit”.
  • Particularly damningly perhaps, it held that the contractor had tried to extort payment of its outstanding invoices in return for its silence.
  • The Court accordingly interdicted the contractor from continuing with the defamatory posts (online or otherwise), directed it to publish a copy of the court order on the online channels in question, and ordered it to pay legal costs on the punitive attorney and client scale.

The end result, which is a vindication of the developer’s position and an expensive lesson in the law for the roofing contractor, will give much heart to other victims of this sort of harassment.

Bottom line for victims – don’t take social media defamation lying down!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Leaving Anything Important Out of Your Property Sale Agreement Will Sink It

“No alienation of land … shall … be of any force or effect unless it is contained in a deed of alienation signed by the parties thereto or by their agents acting on their written authority.” (Alienation of Land Act)

Ensure that all the important terms of your sale agreement are recorded in writing and signed.

Leave out anything “material” and, as we shall see from the Supreme Court of Appeal case discussed below, your entire sale could well collapse. At the very least, you face significant legal consequences, delay and cost.

The omitted term that sank a R4.5m sale (after 7 years’ delay)
  • In 2016, liquidators of a property-owning company sold several pieces of land (including a “private ring road” erf) to a buyer for R4.5m plus vat.
  • A saga of delay and confusion followed, including changes to the original sale agreement such as an addendum changing the date of transfer, and another correcting a mistake in the ring road’s erf number.
  • Eventually it became clear that a subdivision of the ring road erf would be necessary to save the sale, and the parties started negotiating in an attempt to do so.
  • Whilst it was not clear to the Court whether or not the buyer and seller did actually reach any agreement on the matter, the critical issue was that at best there was only an informal arrangement or an oral agreement – “no formal written agreement or addendum was ever concluded and signed by or on behalf of the parties”. Nor was it clear that they were agreed on what exactly was being sold, the buyer claiming to have had no intention of buying the whole ring road erf as set out in the original agreement.
  • That rendered the whole sale agreement null and void.
The formalities required for validity
  • Property sale agreements must be in writing and signed. Whilst generally our laws hold us to even our verbal agreements, there are exceptions where only written agreements are binding. A vitally important one is the sale of land. The Alienation of Land Act requires that the whole contract of sale be reduced to writing and signed by or on behalf of both buyer and seller.
  • That written sale agreement must include all “material terms”, incorporating both –
    • “Essential” terms, which must set out the identity of the parties to the contract, the identity of the land sold, and the amount of the sale price; and
    • Any other term that is “material … determined with reference to its effect on the rights and obligations of the parties.” That’s an imprecise and wide definition so each case will be decided on its own facts, but for example a subdivision would clearly fall into that net.

      In this case, the omission of a subdivision term had created uncertainty about the parties’ rights and obligations concerning the subdivision process, including responsibility for costs and potential consequences if approval was not granted. Their failure to record in writing their agreement on these issues (if indeed they ever reached one) rendered the whole sale invalid.

Note that your written agreement must be clear in itself, sufficiently accurate and comprehensive to avoid any need for oral evidence on any of those critical issues.

  1. Even when our law doesn’t require your agreement to be written and signed to be valid, put it in writing! Always insist on a written agreement that covers all the material terms of your sale. That’s make or break with property sales, but in all cases verbal agreements are a recipe for uncertainty and dispute.
  2. Seek legal advice before you sign anything: Engaging an experienced property lawyer upfront will ensure that your interests are protected throughout the process.
  3. Clarify anything important like subdivision: If your transaction involves subdivision (or indeed any other important aspects), make sure that all obligations, cost liabilities, and potential outcomes are clearly stipulated in the written agreement. It’s the only way to ensure the validity of your sale, avoid ambiguity, and reduce the risks of any unforeseen circumstances and dispute.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Don’t Give a Loan or Credit to Anyone (Not Even a Friend) Without Legal Advice!

“The requirement that credit providers must be registered allows for their control and regulation, especially in relation to their financial probity and integrity, thereby avoiding the unscrupulous exploitation of credit consumers by so-called fly-by-night operators and loan sharks.” (Extract from judgment below)

A recent High Court case highlights once again the dangers of lending money, or granting credit, in contravention of our credit laws. By understanding the pitfalls associated with being an unregistered credit provider and of not complying with the National Credit Act (NCA), you can protect yourself from the potential legal and financial risks.

Close friends fall out, and the lender loses R1.5m
  • The parties involved in this unhappy saga were previously close friends. An admitted but non-practicing advocate, who acted as a trustee of his friend’s personal trust, asked the friend (who had just sold his house) for a loan. The friend obliged with loans totalling R2.5m.
  • To simplify a long and complicated factual history, disputes arose and a series of acknowledgments of debt (AODs) were signed to document the loan, the last AOD recording a settlement agreement/compromise.
  • Over time, the borrower had made payments totaling just over R3m to the lender, the dispute went to arbitration, an arbitration award was made, and ultimately the lender sued his ex-friend in the High Court for a balance of R1,535,000.
  • The Court, holding that the loan agreement and AODs were unlawful and invalid, dismissed the lender’s claim – which leaves him R1.5m out of pocket, plus costs and lost interest. That’s a very hard lesson that all would-be lenders should take careful note of.
How do you lose everything by not complying with the NCA?

In protecting consumers from incurring debt beyond their means, our National Credit Act (NCA) requires that, with only a few exceptions, “credit providers” (which would include anyone lending money or giving credit to a friend) must –

  1. Register in terms of the NCA; and
  2. Conduct a “credit assessment” to confirm that the borrower is in a financial position to enter into the loan and repay it.

Registration is unnecessary in some circumstances – for example loans between family members who are dependent on each other, whilst only “arm’s length” transactions will as a general rule fall under the NCA. There are other cases in which the NCA won’t apply or will only partially apply, but with all the grey areas involved, get specific legal advice before lending to anyone – friend or not.

Your risk is that any loan made by an unregistered credit provider becomes uncollectable. That means you could lose everything. If you find yourself in that position, there is still a ray of hope for you in that a court normally still has a discretion to help you on the basis of fairness, by making a “just and equitable” order of any sort. But don’t rely on that happening – you will have to justify making the non-compliant loan and hope for the best when it comes to the court weighing up the balance of fairness between the two of you. Rather be safe and check whether you need to comply with the NCA or not before you make the loan.

Besides, sometimes the court has no discretion at all to come to your rescue, which is exactly what happened in this case because the claim here was based not on the original credit agreement but on a settlement agreement. So the Court couldn’t have helped the lender even if it had wanted to.

There are no longer any thresholds – all loans are at risk

Finally, note that no matter what you may read in the media to the contrary, there is no longer any R500,000 debt threshold – any loan of any amount falls into the net since 2016. And since 2014 even one-off loans are at risk (before that, the NCA applied only to providers with one hundred or more credit agreements).

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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