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One property - two owners

Tania Broughton IOL
One property - two owners

The sale of a plot of land with panoramic sea views on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast is at the centre of a court dispute between two people, each of whom lays claim to it.

The case before Durban High Court Judge Chris Nicholson on Wednesday has raised questions as to how the Deeds Office in Pietermaritzburg managed to register the property in Palm Beach in the names of Richard and Anna Prophitius, of La Lucia, and Andries du Plessis, of Munster, with title deeds reflecting different numbers.

It has also sparked allegations of fraud against the trustees of the Campbell Children's Trust which sold the land to both parties and pocketed the proceeds of both sales.

The trustees, Robert and Betsy Campbell, of Gauteng, who concluded both sale agreements, are named as respondents in the court action, but have not filed any notice to defend the matter.

In papers before the court, Richard Prophitius said he and his wife had concluded a written agreement with the trust in October 2004 to buy the 1 374m2 plot for R195 000, being the full purchase price.

The property was transferred into their names and registered in the records of the deeds office in February 2005.

"During August that year, I got concerned about the fact that I had never received a rates account from the local authority," Prophitius said.

"I made inquiries and was told that I was not the registered owner of the property."

It was at that point that he discovered that the land had been registered in the name of Du Plessis in May 2005.

On further investigation, he discovered that the trust had sold the same land to Du Plessis in December 2004 for R165 000.

A stalemate ensued, with both parties claiming legal ownership of the land.

Attempts to get the Deeds Office to intervene came to naught.

However, in correspondence, the registrar revealed that, in the process of transferring the property to Prophitius, Robert Campbell had made a statement under oath, claiming that the original title deed had been lost.

The registrar conceded that there had been a "double registration" and suggested the parties go to court to sort it out.

On Wednesday, when the matter was argued, advocate Stuart Humphries, for Prophitius, said it was "patently obvious" that the trust had committed fraud by selling the property to two parties.

He suggested that a punitive costs order be made against the trustees, and that the judge refer the matter to the national director of public prosecutions for further investigation.

The judge must now decide who the lawful owner of the property is as each party contends that its sale was genuine and the other was a fraud.

Whoever loses will then have to sue the trust not only to recover what the party paid for the property, but also possible damages because the land has now been valued at close on R500 000.

Judgment was reserved.


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