You should always take as much security for your claims as you possibly can before advancing credit or lending money to a debtor. That’s because if your debtor fails and is “liquidated” (if a corporate) or “sequestrated” (if an individual), without security you will have only a concurrent claim in the estate.
And with a concurrent claim, you will be lucky to get back more than a few cents in the Rand, because you will rank right at the bottom of the ladder after both secured creditors and preferent creditors (employees, SARS etc).
So, first prize is always to hold security for your claim
Having a “secured claim” greatly increases your chances of being paid out a decent amount (hopefully your claim in full), because the proceeds of the asset/s subject to your security are earmarked (after payment of some estate costs and the like) to paying out the claims of the “secured creditors” holding security over each particular asset.
If your debtor owns immovable property, registering a mortgage bond over it will generally give you a very strong security, whilst with movable property you have various options. There are many options here, applicable to various types of claim in various circumstances – liens, cessions, tacit hypothecs, rights of retention and so on – but for the moment let’s have a look at the more general concepts of pledge and notarial bonds.
One of the strongest options with movables is to take a pledge over them, but that will require you to actually hold the movables in your possession. And of course it’s not always viable for a debtor to give you that possession – a much more likely scenario with most business debtors is that they need to keep possession and use their assets (machinery, fittings, vehicles, stock etc) to carry on trading. So what are your options in that situation?
The two types of notarial bond
In that case – where you cannot take actual possession of the movables – consider registering a notarial bond over them. There are two types of notarial bond, both requiring registration in the Deeds Office –
- Your first and best option is a special notarial bond. This gives you substantial security, in the form of a “deemed pledge”. You now have first bite at the cherry over any movable asset listed in the bond, even though you don’t have possession. Note that these assets need to be clearly identified in the bond (“….specified and described in the bond in a manner which renders it readily recognisable…”) so list full descriptions, models, serial numbers, and the like for every asset.
- Secondly, take a general notarial bond over all the debtor’s movable assets generally. That will bring into your net those assets which are not individually identifiable, such as stock, building materials and so on. The bad news is that a general notarial bond in itself gives you only a weak preference on liquidation, but the good news is that you can convert that into full, “real”, security if you move quickly enough.
How do you convert a General Notarial Bond into full security?
Provided you seek legal assistance quickly at the first sign of financial distress in your debtor, you may well have time to “perfect” the bond into full security by way of a court order prior to liquidation. Armed with the court order you take possession of all the debtor’s movables and hey presto you have a “real” security over them.
Let’s look at a recent example from the case of The Spar Group Limited v Meadowview Trading 147 CC t/a Meyerton Spar and Tops (2022/013036)  ZAGPJHC 637 –
- A supermarket group, owed over R2m by a trading store, held two general notarial bonds over its movable assets (presumably shop fittings, fixtures, equipment, stock etc).
- Fearing that the store’s owner (a company) was trading in insolvent circumstances and would be liquidated, the creditor applied for an urgent High Court order allowing it to perfect its security.
- The debtor opposed the application, asking the Court to exercise its discretion not to grant a perfection order. But the Court refused to do so, and granted the perfection order, on the basis that the creditor had no other remedy available to it (such as a damages claim). The Court was equally unimpressed with the debtor’s argument that the terms of the bonds were “unconscionable and contra bonos mores [offensive to conscience]”.
That’s clear judicial confirmation of the strong position you are likely to find yourself in where you hold properly drawn and registered general notarial bonds, and act quickly to perfect them in appropriate circumstances.