The property registration system in KZN has ground to a halt as Deeds Office staff have downed tools over complaints including lack of air conditioning, poor infrastructure and “management and leadership” issues.

KwaZulu-Natal property sales have come to a standstill after fed up staff at the province’s deeds office downed tools over poor working conditions.

The strike has left sales in limbo as property registrations cannot be processed.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union’s (Nehawu’s) secretary for the Harry Gwala region, Zimasile Giyama, said yesterday that a lack of air conditioning at the busy offices in Pietermaritzburg had triggered a work stoppage two weeks ago.

The Mercury understands a contract for new air conditioning units has since been awarded but the units will only be installed in June.

“And now the demands have gone beyond air conditioning, and relate to issues workers have been raising with the employer since 2012,” Giyama said yesterday.

He explained the demands were linked to poor infrastructure and said the building was cracked, leaking and “literally falling down”.

He also said staff were unhappy with their “management and leadership”.

Conveyancer and director of Araujo Attorneys, Sarah Araujo said yesterday that there was no sign of a resolution and the situation was “wreaking absolute havoc” on the industry as well as the economy at large.

“A property sale and the ensuing move can, at the best of times, be very stressful for all involved,” Araujo said. “Add to this the uncertainty of protracted strike action and one is left with very concerned and understandably irate sellers and buyers as well as estate agents who rely on the commission from these registrations for their livelihood”.

She said conveyancers were only entitled to take their fee once they had registered a matter.

“And many firms are now becoming increasingly concerned about cash flow, as salaries and rent are payable yet no matters are being registered,” she explained.

“Whilst we do sympathise with the staff at the deeds office, we hope a resolution is found soon as the financial impact of these disruptions has become untenable”.

Managing partner of Durban-based Meumann White Attorneys, Bruce Forrest said he had visited the offices in summer and found them “very stuffy and very hot”.

“No-one seems to be of the view that this is unreasonable on the staff’s part, it’s almost incredulous that it’s been allowed to get to this point,” he said.

But he described the situation as “appalling”.

“The fact that the whole registration system can grind to a complete halt has huge implications for buyers and sellers, estate agents, banks and conveyancers,” he said.

Forrest said while they waited for the new air conditioning units to be installed, some were suggesting the affected law firms contribute towards outsourcing temporary units.

But, he said this would cost around R80 000 a month and the financial implications for a firm during this time were indeed severe.

“We have a firm of 70 staff members, who we have to pay. At the moment, we aren’t getting an income, we also only get our fee when we register a matter.”

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, under which the deeds office falls, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

However, Giyama said that after two weeks of “radio silence” from the department, a representative was expected to meet with staff today.