Courts flooded by Zim dollar property claims
ZIMBABWE’S courts have been flooded by property ownership disputes caused largely by failure or reluctance by those who sold their properties during the Zimbabwe dollar era to surrender title deeds.
Some of the problems are emanating from delays in the transfer of ownership, which have left many buyers vulnerable.
Usually, after paying for properties and taking physical possession, some buyers tend to neglect finalising the necessary paper-work for years, a situation that leaves them exposed as they would not be the legal owners of the properties.
An investigation by Financial Gazette’s Companies & Markets (C&M) has revealed that the courts are currently saddled with a number of cases involving ownership disputes between property sellers and buyers, especially those properties that were sold during the Zimbabwe dollar period.
The local currency was abandoned in 2009 following adoption of a hard currency regime dominated by the greenback.
In one such case, a legal battle is currently raging between a Harare woman, Jennifer Nan Brooker and Richard Mudhanda over two residential stands in the up-market Colne Valley suburb which Mudhanda says he fully paid for in 2002.
He alleges that Brooker is now trying to back-track from the deal by evoking the law of prescription. The said law absolves a party from fulfilling their side of the bargain after a certain period of time, and in this case the time limit is three years.
In the case which High Court judge, Justice Ester Muremba, heard last month, Brooker — who is denying ever entering into an agreement of sale with Mudhanda — made a special plea before the court arguing that if indeed she sold the two stands to Mudhanda, she reserves the right not to honour her end of the deal because three years have lapsed since the purported sale in 2002.
Mudhanda approached the court seeking an order to force Brooker to facilitate the transfer of the residential stands.
“The first defendant (Brooker) entered an appearance to defend the claim and later filed a special plea to the effect that even if the plaintiff’s (Mudhanda) averment that he personally acquired rights in respect of the two properties on 6 August 2002 was correct (although it is denied), the consequent obligations owed to him by the first defendant were extinguished after three years by reason of Section 14 and 15 of the Prescription Act (Chapter 8:11),” argued Brooke in court papers seen by C&M.
However, Justice Muremba ruled that Brooker could not use the Prescription Act to defend herself since no mention was made in the agreement of sale about the period within which she was expected to legally hand over the stands.
The two stands were previously transferred to Mudhanda’s firm, but last year Brooker secured a court order declaring the transfer null and void after she claimed that the transfer had been done fraudulently.
This forced Mudhanda to start the process afresh, this time to transfer them directly in his name, but Brooker has been refusing to play ball.
In another case recently heard at the Supreme Court, a Harare man, Smoking Siziba, has been fighting to get legal possession of a Waterfalls stand that he bought in 2006, which the seller, Agson Chioza, has been refusing to hand over arguing he had no legal obligation to meet his side of the bargain since the Zimbabwe dollar agreement of sale violated the Stamp Duty Act and the Regional Town and Country Planning Act.
In another case, a farming concern, Cag Farms dragged Crispen and Audrey Hativagone to court trying to force the couple to honour an agreement of sale for a farm that the two later had a change of mind and went on to instead sub-divide into more lucrative residential and agricultural plots. The court action was, however, unsuccessful.
A prominent businessman and former soccer administrator was recently reported to be under investigation in a case in which he allegedly sold a vacant residential stand in Westgate suburb to a home seeker during the Zimbabwe dollar era, and the buyer went on to build a house on the stand, only for businessman—who was legally still the owner of the stand—to clandestinely sell the completed house to another buyer for more than US$100 000. Cyril Zenda