Just under a month ago, on the 13th of May 2020 the Cape Town Deeds Office (the “Deeds Office”) opened with limited staff to conveyancers only. Between 13 May 2020 and 06 June 2020 a total of 11 977 Deeds were lodged at the Deeds Office.
Under the standard procedure, most conveyancers only attended to the Deeds Office for the execution (registration) of matters, consultation with the Deeds Office Panel, Deeds Office searches and the removal of notes (when required).
Other tasks such as lodging, handing in for registration and such requests were handled by the firm’s Deeds Office clerks. By the Deeds Office restricting access to conveyancers only, it meant that these tasks had to be attended to by the conveyancers. Fortunately, prior to opening the Deeds Office issued a notice outlining certain changes to protocol. This provided conveyancers with some guidance for certain tasks on opening week.
On the 13th of May 2020 at 08:00 am Lisa Mace and I queued outside the Deeds Office.
Our firm and many others were concerned about matters that were in the Deeds Office system prior to the lockdown. The concern was due to the fact that the Deeds Office system automatically rejects deeds that are in the system beyond the allowed standard time frame.
Once inside the Deeds Office, senior officials confirmed that they were aware of the issue and would attend to the necessary to ensure that these matters were not automatically rejected.
Linking of Deeds for lodgment and handing in for Registration:
Deeds for lodgment would normally be sent with our Clerks to the Deeds Office by 9:30 at the latest. On the 13th Floor (in the Room) Clerks from all firms would link up the batches with each other before the 10:00 cut off time for lodgment.
The Deeds Office further requested that firms make arrangements to link batches prior to attending to the Deeds Office and specifically not to attend to linking within the Deeds Office (as a preventative measure of social distancing). Such request coupled with the fact that only conveyancers are allowed in the Deeds Office meant that firms experienced difficulty from the outset.
It is not as easy to arrange for prior linking at offices due to fact that each firm has to link up on various matters and it is not possible for conveyancers to deliver these deeds daily to the conveyancers they are linked with. STBB and other conveyancers attend to this as far as possible but most linking of lodgments takes place on street, outside the Deeds Office with the assistance of the firms’ clerks.
Conveyancers stand in a social distancing queue outside the Deeds Office waiting for temperatures to be taken and the necessary details to be completed in the log book. This is part of the new normal and the procedure to gain access to the Deeds Office. Lodgment cut off time was (and still is) 10:00 am sharp. This means that we need to link up all the deeds, get into the Deeds Office and hand in the matter over at the lodgment counter before 10:00 am. Even with the assistance of clerks and most conveyancers showing up at the Deeds Office before 09:00 am linking, the first few days were chaotic.
It should be borne in mind that all firms are attempting to lodge matters that they have worked on through-out the lockdown, these are matters where sellers and purchasers are only awaiting their matters to be lodged and registered to move into their new house. It was therefore expected that an abnormal amount of deeds were going to be lodged in the first few days.
Linking up for lodgement with other conveyancers outside the Deeds Office was a novel task and came with its hiccups. This was because while conveyancer A is trying to link on 5 different matters with conveyancers B, C, D, E and F, respectively, those conveyancers are attempting to do the same with conveyancers G, H, I, J and K. On top of this the conveyancers are attending to registrations and other urgent queries of their own. One of the unfortunate results was that conveyancers were unable to link up all their Deeds by 10:00 am and could only lodge the following day.
It should be noted that the 1100+ deeds were lodged at the Deeds Office on the 1st day.
The Deeds Office Operating under Covid-19:
In the first few weeks there was a limited number of staff able to attend to the Deeds Office. This meant that those few staff members in attendance had to cover their usual work load, the work load of those who could not attend in their department and the work load of other departments. The result being that staff were moved from post to post to assist where needed.
It was nothing short of amazing to see such a concerted effort put forward by so few people to keep the Deeds Office as functional as possible and Senior and Junior personnel covered as many sections (departments) as they could.
STBB wishes to convey its appreciation to these staff members for their outstanding efforts.
With that being said, there is still an active pandemic and the Deeds Office has been affected despite the efforts made by the personnel. The result is that the turn around times have been affected and will continue to be affected as the Deeds Office go through phases of opening and closing due to infections amongst the staff.