South Africa’s Number 1 Property Website!

Property lessons from Hurricane Sandy

Email Print Share

23 Nov 2012

The owner takes responsibility when the property sold is hit by a major disaster before the buyer takes transfer - owners should read cover clauses.

If and when a disaster hits an area and the buyer has already signed a legal sales document, South African law indicates that the buyer is not expected to move forward with the sale and to take transfer of the property until it has been fully reinstated by the seller to the condition it was in when the sale document was signed.

Tony Clarke, managing director of the Rawson Property Group, says insurance policies on property usually include clauses which reduce the compensation for which they are responsible, if and when a force majeure takes place in the insured property’s area – and this is understandable because weather catastrophes like the recent Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the USA have the potential to bankrupt an insurance group.

Flood insurance can be especially tricky if the home is sited in a known 50 or 100 year flood plain – as, for example, many of those washed away in the Laingsburg floods of 1981 were. 

Today most municipal regulations are stringent about allowing building in flood plains, but the fact remains that many hundreds of South African homes are in such areas.

Clarke points out that when this is the case:

1. It is the seller’s duty to draw the attention of the buyer to this

2. Almost all insurance policies specifically exclude major flood damage. A special, probably expensive, extra policy will have to be applied for - and this can be expensive.

“Any buyer of a property that might be at risk due to natural disasters should seriously consider whether he can afford the extra insurance to cover these or, alternatively, whether his home is constructed to withstand them.”

He recalls that when the river leading into the Knysna Lagoon flooded, as it is prone to do every five to ten years, certain of the ground floors of homes were badly wrecked, while others, having allowed for possibility of a flood, were able simply to do clean up and to move back into their homes within a day or two of the flooding.

Such homes, of course, would not need the extra insurance.

The relevant legislation is based on the concept of “supervening impossibility”, for example, disasters of a type or size that the promisor had no reason to anticipate.

If such risks were included in the contracts, their whole basis would become insecure and they are, therefore, usually deliberately excluded.

The storms, floods and other ‘Acts of God’ experienced in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and to a lesser extent in the Western Cape over the last few years have reached extreme levels on occasion and, the Rawson Property Group has had to field numerous enquiries as to how insurance companies are legally contracted to respond to these cases, he says.

“In general, major ‘Acts of God’ become the responsibility of the state, with the insurance company possibly helping out in a small way.” 

The big question always asked, however, is who is responsible for the repair of a property damaged, for example, by an incident that could not have been anticipated or allowed for - when this occurs after a sale but before transfer and occupation have taken place.

If and when a disaster hits an area and the buyer has already signed a legal sales document, South African law indicates that the buyer is not expected to move forward with the sale and to take transfer of the property until it has been fully reinstated by the seller to the condition it was in when the sale document was signed.

“If the seller cannot do this within a satisfactory time period, the courts are obliged to allow the buyer to cancel the sale, provided, of course, that up to that point he too has met his obligations.”

If, as is usually the case, the seller has a bond on the property, the banks will probably have insisted that he takes out comprehensive insurance, including structural insurance, on the building. 

This, it might be thought, would kick in when a flood or similar disaster occurs, but, for the reasons mentioned, that can by no means be assumed.

It is, therefore essential that homeowners check their policies and take out additional insurance against these disasters, he adds.

Similar Articles

View all articles

Top Articles

View all articles
Top Articles
More property articles...

Newsletter

Get the latest property news in your inbox.
Select your options:

Your browser is out of date!

It looks like you are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer.

If you are using Internet Explorer 8 or higher, please verify that your Internet Explorer compatibility view settings are not enabled.

For the best browsing experience update to the latest Version of Internet Explorer or try out Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.


Please contact our Customer Service Centre for further assistance. Tel. +27 (0)861 111 724