High court slaps down attempt to reclaim car from ex-lover

A high court ruled that a woman did not de facto own the car for which she was paying, despite it being registered in her name.
A high court ruled that a woman did not de facto own the car for which she was paying, despite it being registered in her name.
Image: 123rf.com/ LEON SWART

A woman who allowed her lover to use her car while she paid the instalments, insurance and all other costs, may not reclaim the vehicle after their relationship turned sour, said the high court in Makhanda, Eastern Cape.

The court found Ronel Smit did not de facto own the car for which she was paying, despite it being registered in her name.

Smit let her former partner, Calvin Kleinhans, use the new car she had bought through a finance agreement with GMSA Finance.

She paid the monthly instalments on the car to GMSA, and the car was registered in her name.

In terms of her agreement with Kleinhans, he could use the car on condition that on the 15th of each month, he refunded her for the instalments and other costs incurred, including road traffic fines, insurance and licensing fees.

Court papers reveal that when the love relationship turned sour, Smit went to court to get the car back by way of a legal action called rei vindicatio.

This means she applied to court for the return of the car she said belonged to her. Rei vindicatio may be used only when someone owns something and another person is somehow hindering their actual possession of the item.

The case seemed clear cut, and Smit won in the Port Elizabeth magistrate’s court.

However, Kleinhans appealed to the high court, using the novel legal argument that Smit could not reclaim the car because she did not yet enjoy full ownership of it.

It was argued that registration of the vehicle in her name in terms of the Road Traffic Act did not confer common-law ownership on her if she had not yet paid the full purchase price of the car.

Her agreement with GMSA states the company remains the owner of the vehicle until it is paid off.

Acting judge NP Mnqandi, with judge Fatima Dawood agreeing, said possession of registration papers was not conclusive proof of ownership.

Given her financing agreement with GMSA, ownership seemed to de facto reside with GMSA.

Mnqandi said she should not have succeeded in her action via rei vindicatio, and ruled that Kleinhans’s appeal should succeed.

Not only will Kleinhans continue to enjoy the car Smit is paying for, but she was also saddled with all the legal costs associated with her application.

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