A few weeks ago a sad story went viral about a family in Harare losing their house. The family’s father bought the house about 23 years ago from a neighbour. He made the terrible mistake of not changing the ownership of the house, so the deeds of the house were still in the neighbour’s name. The cunning man from next door only recently resurfaced to claim ownership of the house and the law was on his side.
You are reading this right. Even though it’s not in dispute that the neighbour sold his house for an unspecified sum, the house now legally belongs to the neighbour. This is because a contract of sale between you and the seller of a house/immovable property (such as a stand) has an expiry date of just 3 years. If you fail to change ownership of the property’s deeds within that period the house or property reverts back to its original owner and your contract of sale becomes invalid.
It seems like a silly provision of the law but it is a fatal loophole that exists in Zimbabwe's law books. It is not clear what the lawmakers were thinking in this case. Surely such a blatant injustice would not be allowed to stand in a normal functioning democracy but the truth is Zimbabwe’s parliament has not been updating its laws in a very long time. Even when the story of the family went viral there was no comment from the authorities. One can only assume that this silence is a tacit way of saying everything is as it should be.
In the meantime, you have to be aware of the fact that such a loophole exists. In fact, several people have revealed the fact that even though the story of the family losing their house had gone viral in tabloids there were hardly the first people to suffer such a loss. There does seem to be a lot of property sellers out there who ruthlessly exploit this loophole. They deliberately sell their properties and do all they can to frustrate change of ownership only to swoop in and reclaim their properties once the contract of sale expires.
If you are an aspiring property buyer you need to be very careful and make sure you do your due diligence when buying a property. Only go with reputable estate agents instead of buying through estate agents on Facebook or social media. Make sure that the estate agent has all the documents and information you need to immediately change the ownership of the property as soon as you make payment. If they do not, just move on. The last thing you want is to buy something only to lose it later.
Beware of this very important fact if you do not want to lose your house.
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