Developing and initial testing of pro-poor prenuptial agreements as a new land tenure tool to secure rights in urban State-Subsidized Housing

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University of Cape Town

This research develops a pro-poor prenuptial agreement as an innovative land tenure tool to secure rights in urban subsidized housing. The model tested is confined to prenuptial agreements under the Marriage Act, but is relevant to other cohabitation or marital agreements that could be used to secure social tenure arising from intimate relationships. The model aims at securing the tenure of the entire household, in particular the more vulnerable members of the household. The research focuses on urban State -subsidized housing, with an emphasis on the Western Cape, South Africa. This housing is transferred to beneficiaries by registration of individual or co-ownership at the Deeds Registry, with the title deeds public documents. While prenuptial agreements are not usually regarded as a land tenure tool, the fact that they are also public documents registered at the Deeds Office makes them pertinent. A limited dataset of recent academic writing is analysed to identify the social context of household conflict and tenure insecurity, and existing legal template clauses assessed. The prenuptial template design is predicated on current tenure approaches that regard informal practices as equally relevant for the poor's tenure security as the formal law. The template uses various strategies to manage tenure insecurity arising from the death of an owner, disputes, or threatened eviction of dependents. It also aims to ensure that diverse normative beliefs are respected, particularly African normative systems. A personal servitude is used to secure housing tenure as a real right burdening the land, making this a very secure right. In addition the template includes a succession agreement and dispute resolution mechanisms. The template model is tested on clients simulated by re-storying the facts of two seminal Constitutional Court cases and a recent case study of another researcher. Focus groups are held with housing beneficiaries and interviews with housing officials, as a preliminary test of the private and public reception of such agreements. The need for legal aid is discussed. The research makes clear that cohabitation and marital agreements can be used to secure overlapping land rights that the ownership paradigm does not currently protect.

Includes bibliographic references.