My brother’s keeper: The unfortunate building contractor and the enriched owner

A4BA building contractor entered a binding and legal, written building contract with a closed corporation to erect a residential house on land registered to the sole member of the corporation and a third party.

Occupation was taken and the builder released the property (and thus his builder’s lien) to the owners of the land, in spite of the final certificate still outstanding, due, owing and payable.

The building contractor has issued summons in terms of the written building contract against the corporation, which has no assets. The question arose whether the building contractor has an alternative claim against the co-owners of the land for enrichment as the land has been improved with the residence.

The development of the law of enrichment in South African was dealt a severe blow in the judgement of Couws vs Jester Pools (Pty) Limited 1968 (3) SA 563 (T) when Justice Jansen took quite a narrow view on enrichment and claims in terms thereof.

Jester Pools erected a swimming pool on a property under the impression that it was contracted by the owner, whilst in fact they contracted with a third person. The court ruled that the building contractor had no claim against the actual owner of the property based on enrichment either calculated on the increase in value of the property or the actual expense of the swimming pool. Jester Pools had to accept the loss and pay the legal cost of the owner as well.

The keeper of his “brother’s” goods, a person or entity thus acting on behalf or in the interest of another, in certain circumstances, could incur costs or expenses in the process. The recovery of these costs or expenses can be problematic.

Depending on the facts, a claim can be instituted either on enrichment (conditio indebiti or condition sine causa) or based on unauthorised administration (negotiorum gestio).

Any claim based on enrichment, whether conditio indebiti or condition sine causa conditio indebiti or condition sine causa each has four, almost similar essential elements a claimant must fulfil to be successful.

In short, the elements entail enrichment of the other party at the expense of the keeper, impoverishment of the keeper and absence of justification thereof.

A claim in terms of the negotiorum gestio also has four essential elements.

Firstly, the affairs managed by the keeper must be those of another. The keeper can be a company, trust or a natural person and the affairs that of a company, trust or a natural person.

Secondly, the other must be oblivious of the fact that his affairs are being managed.

Thirdly, and a very important element, is that the keeper must have had the intention to manage the affairs of another.

Fourthly, the management of the affairs should be conducted in a reasonable manner. Even if the management was unsuccessful, the caretaker shall have a claim against the other. However, if the management was unreasonable, the caretaker will have no claim.

To succeed in a claim based on the negotiorum gestio, our builder will have to fulfil all of the above essential requirements. The contractual obligations between the builder and the corporation negate the intention to manage and the reasonableness thereof. In terms of the Couws vs Jester Pools judgement the builder will be limited to a claim in terms of the contract, with the risk of an empty judgement with little if any hope to recover any of the outstanding amount.

Luckily for our builder, thirty years after the Couws vs Jester Pools matter, two judgments have paved the way for an extension of the negotiorum gestio or unauthorised administration on behalf of a third party by the “extended” actio negotiorum gestorum or the actio negotiorum utilis. This development will specifically assist the building contractor as he had no intention to manage the affairs of another and it could assist where the reasonableness of his actions is questioned.

In ABSA Bank Limited t/a Bankfin vs Stander t/a CAW Paneelkloppers 1998 (1) SA 939 (C) J Van Zyl detailed the development of South African enrichment law. The judgement will provide any reader thereof with a cursory yet detailed background knowledge of this specific area in our law.

This judgement extends the reach of the enrichment law in that, although a general enrichment action is still not accepted or proposed, the holes caused by Couws vs Jester Pools are at least plugged.

In the second judgement, McCarthy Retail Limited vs Shortdistance Carriers CC, delivered by JA Schutz on 16 March 2001 under case number 110/1990, the Supreme Court of Appeal again carefully considered the position. The judgement refers to the predicament of our builder, but does not make a ruling which would constitute applicable case law. The comments do take the position further and clarify the case law noted.

The perceived injustice of the Couws vs Jester Pools-judgement has been rectified.

The last two cases combined does open an alternative claim to our building contractor against the actual registered owners of the stand on which the residence has been erected. In the event of the corporation not being able to fulfil its payment obligations towards our building contractor, the owners of the stand might just find themselves indebted to their keeper.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other 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 legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Is my tenant responsible for the worn out carpet?

There are several damages a landlord can deduct from a tenant’s deposit. However, there are certain household items that will experience normal wear and tear over time. This is referred to as “fair wear and tear”.

Fair wear and tear is seen as damage or loss to an item at the property which happens as a result of ordinary use and exposure over time.

According to the Rental Housing Act, a landlord is free to claim compensation for damage to the property caused by the tenant, except for fair wear and tear.

It’s important to remember that the original condition and age of the item at commencement of the lease agreement needs to be taken into account, and therefore cost of depreciation of the item due to normal wear. Paint fades, doors and walls get scuffed with use, and everything wears or breaks over time, even with a tenant who really cares for the property, and one can’t hold a tenant liable for this.

If a tenant or landlord has a problem, they can go to the Rental Housing Tribunal to resolve it.

The Rental Housing Tribunal

The Rental Housing Tribunal is a useful resource for both landlords and tenants who are dealing with rental property disputes in different forms. Cases that the Rental Housing Tribunal deals with include:

  1. Tenants defaulting on their rent
  2. Failure to repay a deposit
  3. Invasion of a tenant’s privacy
  4. Overcrowding of a rental property
  5. Determining a fair rental amount
  6. Illegal seizing of a tenant’s property
  7. Discrimination against a prospective tenant
  8. A receipt for rent not being issued
  9. Unacceptable behaviour by a tenant
  10. Lack of maintenance and repairs to the property
  11. Illegally refuse a tenant access to the property or interrupt services
  12. Unacceptable living conditions

A general rule of thumb is that, if a tenant has damaged something that does not normally wear out, or the tenant has substantially shortened the life of something that does wear out, the tenant may be charged the prorated cost of the item. The landlord should take into account how old the item was and how long it may have lasted otherwise, as well as the cost of replacement.


Ordinary wear and tear to carpets should not count against the tenant, however large rips or stains would be considered damage. Any deduction for the tenant’s deposit should take into account the age of the carpets, compared with the expected total time of usage.


This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other 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 legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

How is a deceased’s estate administered?

A2BThe administering of a deceased estate is regulated by the Administration of Estates Act No 66 of 1965 (as amended) and divided according to a valid will or the Intestate Succession Act No 81 of 1987 (as amended) or a combination of both acts.

Various other acts and regulations may, however, also be applicable, like those applicable to income tax (with due allowance for VAT and CGT), Estate duty and Donations tax, and support of surviving spouse.

After a death

When someone dies, his/her estate must be reported to the Master of the High Court as soon as possible, and certain report documents, together with the original will, where applicable, should be delivered to the Master.

In the case of estates with a gross value of less than R250 000 the Master may dispense with an official appointment of an Executor to execute the required administering process. In all other cases, an Executor will be appointed by the Master, who will issue an Executor’s letter to the appointed Executor.

The Executor

As soon as the Executor’s letter has been issued the formal administering of the estate, which the Executor has to follow, will commence. One of the Executor’s first tasks would be to announce to the creditors, acquire details regarding estate assets and have it valued if necessary, and recover certain assets. Known and filed liabilities should be investigated and attention must be paid to income tax.

The Executor is now compelled to submit a liquidation and distribution account (statement of assets and liabilities) to the Master of the High Court within six months after being issued with the Executor’s letter, or ask for a formal postponement. This estate account will indicate all assets and liabilities, distribution of heirs and details of assets outside the estate which are directly payable to beneficiaries.

The Master will check the estate account and then issue a questionnaire to the Executor. As soon as the Master has granted approval the Executor may proceed to announce the account as being open for inspection for 21 days at the Master and the nearest Magistrate’s Office.

Should any written challenges be submitted, it should be dealt with according to the regulations in the Administration of Estates Act. Should there be no challenges, or when the Executor has disposed of all challenges, the Executor may proceed to make payments to heirs and carry over any other assets to the beneficiaries.

Administering obstacles

In most cases the administering process should not be complicated, therefore it would be possible to finalise within a fair period of time (approximately six to nine months). There are, however, many obstacles which may slow down this process and even bring the administering process to a virtual standstill. Some of the most well-known and general obstacles are poor service from government and private institutions, invalid and unpractical wills, shortage of cash, quarrels and disputes among family members and beneficiaries, lack of information, disorder in the tax and other affairs of the deceased, lawsuits before and after death, and legal post-mortems in case of an unnatural death, which may sometimes be required before policies can be paid out.


The administering of an estate is a specialised environment which should be left to capable people with knowledge of the Administration of Estates Act and years of experience. Ignorance regarding the run of events as well as errors of judgement may eventually cost you dearly if you don’t make use of the available expertise.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other 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 legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Implications of estate duty

Estate duty is charged on the dutiable value of the estate in terms of the Estate Duty Act. The general rule is that if the taxpayer is ordinarily resident in South Africa at the time of death, all of his/her assets (including deemed property), wherever they are situated, will be included in the gross value of his/her estate for the determination of duty payable thereon.

The current estate duty rate is 20% of the dutiable value of the estate. Foreigners/non-residents also pay estate duty on their South African property.

To minimise the effects of estate duty you need to understand the calculation thereof. The following provisions apply in determining your liability:

  • Which property is to be included.
  • Which property constitutes “deemed property”.
  • Allowable deductions: the possible deductions that are allowed when calculating estate duty.

Property includes all property, or any right to property, including immovable or movable, corporeal or incorporeal – registered in the deceased’s name at the time of his/her death. It also includes certain types of annuities, and options to purchase land or shares, goodwill, and intellectual property.

Deemed property

Insurance policies

  • Includes proceeds of domestic insurance policies (payable in South Africa in South African currency [ZAR]), taken out on the life of the deceased, irrespective of who the owner (beneficiary) is.
  • The proceeds of such a policy are subject to estate duty, however this can be reduced by the amount of the premiums, plus interest at 6% per annum, to the extent that the premiums were paid by a third person (the beneficiary) entitled to the proceeds of the policy. Premiums paid by the deceased himself/herself are not deductible from the proceeds for estate duty purposes.
  • If the proceeds of a policy are payable to the surviving spouse or a child of the deceased in terms of a properly registered antenuptial contract (i.e. registered with the Deeds Office) the policy will be totally exempt from estate duty.
  • Where a policy is taken out on each other’s lives by business partners, and certain criteria are met, the proceeds are exempt from estate duty.

Donations at date of death

Donations where the donee will not benefit until the death of the donor and where the donation only materialises if the donor dies, are not subject to donations tax. These have to be included as an asset in the deceased estate and are subject to estate duty.

Claims in terms of the Matrimonial Property Act (accrual claim)

An accrual claim that the estate of a deceased has against the surviving spouse is property deemed to be property in the deceased estate.

Property that the deceased was competent to dispose of immediately prior to his/her death (Section 3(3)(d) of the Estate Duty Act), like donating an asset to a trust, may be included as deemed property.


Some of the most important allowable deductions are:

  • The cost of funeral, tombstone and deathbed expenses.
  • Debts due at date of death to persons who have their ordinary residence in South Africa.
  • The extent to which these debts are to be settled from property included in the estate. This includes the deceased’s income tax liability (which includes capital gains tax) for the period up to the date of death.

Foreign assets and rights: 

  • The general rule is that foreign assets and rights of a South African resident, wherever situated, are included in his/her estate as assets.
  • However, the value thereof can be deducted for estate duty purposes where such foreign property was acquired before the deceased became ordinarily resident in South Africa for the first time, or was acquired by way of donation or inheritance from a non-resident, after the donee became ordinarily resident in South Africa for the first time (provided that the donor or testator was not ordinarily resident in South Africa at the time of the donation or death). The amount of any profits or proceeds of any such property is also deductible.

Debts and liabilities due to non-residents: 

  • Debts and liabilities due to non-residents are deductible but only to the extent that such debts exceed the value of the deceased’s assets situated outside South Africa which have not been included in the dutiable estate.

Bequests to certain public benefit organisations:

  • Where property is bequeathed to a public benefit organisation or public welfare organisation which is exempt from income tax, or to the State or any local authority within South Africa, the value of such property will be able to be deducted for estate duty purposes.

Property accruing to a surviving spouse [Section 4(q)]:

  • This includes that much of the value of any property included in the estate that has not already been allowed as a deduction and accrues to a surviving spouse.
  • Note that proceeds of a policy payable to the surviving spouse are required to be included in the estate for estate duty purposes (as deemed property), but that this is deductible in terms of Section 4(q).
  • Section 4(q) deductions will not be granted where the property inherited is subject to a bequest price.
  • Section 4(q) deductions will not be granted where the bequest is to a trust established by the deceased for the benefit of the surviving spouse, if the trustee(s) has/have discretion to allocate such property or any income out of it to any person other than the surviving spouse (a discretionary trust). Where the trustee(s) has/have no discretion as regards both the income and capital of the trust, the Section 4(q) deduction may be granted (a vested trust).

Portable R3.5 million deduction between spouses

The Act allows for the R3.5 million deduction from estate duty to roll over from the deceased to a surviving spouse so that the surviving spouse can use a R7 million deduction amount on his/her death.

Life assurance for estate duty

Estate duty will also normally be leviable on these assurance proceeds.


  • Source: Moore Stephens’ Estate Planning Guide.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other 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 legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)