Category Archive: Eviction

When and how to sue a tenant

Is it worth your while to sue your tenant for rent arrears or other costs?

sue tenant eviction lawyers

There are many ways in which a tenant can breach the terms of the lease, triggering the eviction process, but by far the most common is non-payment of rent. While you may succeed in evicting the non-paying tenant, eviction itself may not result in settlement of the outstanding debt. To recover your rental arrears, you may have to take to the courts and sue your tenant.

Why you might sue your tenant

Unpaid rent is the most obvious and the most common cause for litigation, but there are several other reasons why you might need to bring court action against your tenant or former tenant. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of grounds for a lawsuit, but there could be others.

  1. Unpaid rent: By law, if your tenant fails to pay the rent on time, you must notify them of your intention to cancel the lease and give them 20 working days to rectify the breach. If they fail to do so, then you can apply to the court for an eviction notice. Remember only the Sheriff can evict a tenant. However, you can sue them for the unpaid rent.
  2. Unpaid utility billsIf the tenant vacates the property, either via eviction or lease cancellation, any outstanding utility bills in the tenant’s name can be recovered. The first option is the security deposit. However, this may be inadequate to cover the amount owing.
  3. Damage to the property: Inspection of the property at the beginning and end of the lease is a vital step you must not overlook. You will only be able to claim that a tenant has caused damage to your property if you have conducted a thorough inspection and compared the moving-out state with the condition of the unit on entry. If the tenant has indeed caused damage, you can deduct the cost from the security deposit. If this is insufficient (and it will be if there is also unpaid rent), you can take your tenant to court.
  4. Unapproved alterations: The scope your tenant has for making alterations to the property will be dictated by the lease. However, any building alterations must be approved by you as the landlord. If the tenant has carried out work without your approval, you can sue the tenant for the cost of restoration.
  5. Tenant owes more than security deposit amount: If, for any of the reasons above, the security deposit has been exhausted and you are still owed money, you can take to litigation to recover the rest.
  6. Recovery of lost rent if your tenant does a flit: If your tenant moves out before expiry of the lease, you are entitled to any rent they failed to pay as well as the remaining rent due on the lease. This is effectively lost income to you and they have a legal obligation to honour the lease if they did not terminate it through the proper channels.
  7. Cost of finding a new tenant: If your tenant moves out early without your agreement, you may need to find a new tenant urgently, if you rely on the income from the property. You may be able to claim compensation for the cost of advertising and credit checking new tenants.
  8. Expenses incurred in storing or disposing of abandoned property: As discussed in Abandoned Personal Property: What Should a Landlord Do?, you cannot dispose of a tenant’s property immediately. Therefore, if you incur storage costs and/or ultimately have to pay for disposal, you can sue the tenant for this cost.
  9. Tenant used the property for illegal activity: If you discover that your tenant used your property for an illegal activity, you can sue them to recover damages. However, unless the police have been involved, your suspicions may be difficult to prove.
  10. Keeping a pet against the terms of the lease: If your lease stipulates “no pets”, but the tenant has kept an animal on the property, you can sue for damages (this is a breach of the lease agreement) as well as for any damage actually caused by the pet (dirty walls, stained carpets, etc.). As above, the security deposit may cover the damage; then again it may not. But you will need proof, e.g. photographs of the pet. It may be difficult to claim that a dog caused a stain if you do not have evidence of a pet on the premises.
  11. Any other breaches of the lease: If the tenant has broken any other clause of the lease, resulting in financial loss or emotional or physical harm to you, you may need to claim compensation through the courts.

Possible benefits

Lawsuits are expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. If there is any other option for recovering money you are owed, a good eviction lawyer will usually advise you not to sue. However, there are potential positive outcomes from litigation that are worth bearing in mind.

  • Firstly, it is sometimes sufficient to threaten to sue. Often, on receipt of a court summons, the respondent will suddenly become very willing to negotiate and you will wind up settling out of court. They may know they will lose, or they may just want to keep their name off the court records. Their negotiation may seek a compromise and you may not succeed in recovering all your costs, but this may be a price worth paying to bring the matter to a close and avoid the hassle of a court case.
  • On the other hand, sometimes taking a tenant to court is the only way to recover your money, particularly where there is a dispute over damages. Without the force of the law, it may be difficult ever to see the money owed to you. In the case of damages, the entry and exit inspection reports, with photos, are essential to your case.
  • You may also wish to claim for additional damages. For example, in the case of #6 above, where a tenant vacates the property before the expiry of the lease, you can sue them for the rent remaining on the lease and possibly the cost of finding a new tenant.
  • If there is a risk that your tenant may malign your reputation as a landlord, even if you have acted entirely within the law, suing your tenant and winning is legal proof of your upstanding position.
  • Finally, your case against a trouble-making tenant will be on the record, should they ever try to sue you in future. A successful lawsuit is evidence that you have followed proper procedures and upheld all the laws regarding rental housing.

Risks

Of course, no action is without risk. We’ve outlined the benefits of litigation, but you should be aware of the risks as well.

  • Obviously, you might not win! Even if you feel you are in the right, there is no guarantee that you will win. Of course, a good eviction attorney will make sure you are fully prepared and have all your evidence in order, thus improving your odds. But it’s all down to the judge on the day.
  • Winning doesn’t automatically mean you will be paid. The tenant will have a court judgment against them, but collecting the money is another matter!
  • Litigation is costly, whether you win or lose. There is the court fee to pay, and the cost of an eviction attorney. You could represent yourself, but your chance of success is much greater with expert legal representation.
  • This is less likely, but you might provoke your tenant into a countersuit. If you lose, you might wind up having to pay out money to your tenant in court costs and legal fees. Again, if you engage the services of an experienced eviction lawyer, this is unlikely, but you should be aware of the risk.

Let Cape Town eviction lawyers help

If your tenants have left you high and dry and you need to recover money owed to you, either through the courts or out of court, contact Eviction Lawyer Cape Town, now also in Johannesburg and Durban. We are experts in eviction law and will ensure that you follow the proper procedures. We have an excellent track record in helping landlords and, with us on your side, the probability of getting your money back is excellent. Call Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za for a confidential discussion today.

Source: Eviction Lawyers South Africa

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Eviction – when can you evict a tenant?

The eviction process protects tenants, but landlords still have rights, even during the festive season

You don’t want to make your tenants homeless over the festive season, but if they fail to pay rent you are entitled to start the eviction process.

Ah…the festive season. Time for beach holidays, road trips, and long, lazy lunches. But it’s also a time of overspending and overconsumption. When the finances don’t quite stretch to the seasonal indulgences, tenants may renege on their obligation to pay rent. If you’re filled with goodness and mercy you may overlook this…for a while. But when it hits your bottom line you have a right to take action, all within the law.  A tenancy agreement is a contract. There are contractual rights and obligations on both parties. To protect your asset, you may have to initiate the eviction process.

The eviction process explained

It’s called a process for a reason. There are multiple steps involved and you must follow them in order. If you do not, you could find yourself in trouble with the law. Rental housing legislation is covered by several acts: the Rental Housing Act (and Rental Housing Amendment Act 2014), the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act – PIE, and the Consumer Protection Act – CPA. Where the provisions of one are more generous, i.e. offer more protection to the tenant, that act prevails. In most cases the CPA has the last word. Eviction is a legal process that must be conducted via the courts and requires an eviction attorney. A landlord cannot evict a tenant without going through due process of law. 

How to evict a tenant

Assuming there is a written lease agreement in place (and even if there is not – see Verbal Lease Agreements), a breach of the conditions of the lease is sufficient cause to cancel the lease. The most common cause of lease cancellation is rent arrears. While there are circumstances that might invite you to exercise leniency, e.g. your tenant has lost their job, if you are faced with non-payment of rent purely because they have overspent at Christmas, you may be less inclined towards patience. But be aware that the law is particularly sympathetic to vulnerable people, such as children, the elderly, disabled people, or woman-headed households.

Cancelling a lease

You must give the tenant notice of the breach and a chance to rectify it…in the case of rent arrears an opportunity to make good the rent due. This is done by way of a warning in writing, giving the tenant a specified amount of time in which to remedy the breach. The time frame will be determined by the terms of the lease. If not specified, it will be 20 working days, in accordance with the CPA. If there is no written lease, the landlord must give a full calendar month’s notice. If the tenant pays up (and does not repeat this breach month after month), the matter is finished and harmony is restored.

However, if the breach is not remedied, the next step is to serve a letter of cancellation on the tenant. With luck, the tenant vacates the property at the end of the notice period. If so, you are free to find another tenant – hopefully one who can pay the rent! However, should the tenant disregard the lease cancellation, you may decide to start the eviction process. At this stage an eviction lawyer is required.

Next step – eviction 

You must apply to the court to have an eviction notice served by the sheriff on the tenant – who is now considered an unlawful occupier rather than a tenant. A court date is set and a deadline given for filing an opposing affidavit (if the unlawful occupier wants to oppose the eviction).

In court, the order will either be granted or the case will be postponed for further fact-finding. In the case of vulnerable individuals, the court may wish to be satisfied that the unlawful occupier can find alternative accommodation and/or that you have behaved fairly and reasonably throughout.

If the court is satisfied that the case for eviction is sound, the tenant/unlawful occupier will be given time to vacate the property. Only if, despite this process, they fail to vacate the property within the specified period, will the sheriff will be authorised to remove them and their belongings from the property. The cost of this will be borne by the tenant. You may not change the locks, physically remove personal property, or behave in a threatening way toward the tenant, however recalcitrant the tenant may be. Only the sheriff may take any physical action against the tenant.

Legal advice is essential

If you want to evict a tenant, you need legal representation by an experienced attorney. You can issue a notice of lease cancellation yourself, but expert advice is strongly recommended, to ensure you comply with all rental housing legislation. The law is partial to the rights of tenants, given the abuses of the past, and it is easy to fall foul of your obligations as a landlord without realising it. Simon Dippenaar and Associates, Cape Town eviction attorneys, now in Johannesburg and Durban, are specialists in rental housing law and will safeguard your rights, while also ensuring your tenants are treated fairly and with dignity. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za.

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Relief for destitute people evicted from Klein Akker farm

Humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers and Rural Development and Land Reform Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha brought some relief to nearly 100 destitute people after they were evicted from the farm Klein Akker near Wallacedene in Kraaifontein.

They have been living in a temporary place for more than two months, with no food or water because the pumps on the land had been stolen.

Some of them lived in tents which were affected by the recent heavy rains. The families of Klein Akker farm resided on the farm for two decades. They are now housed at the state-owned Mesco farm.

Resident Max Geza said: “I am very happy now because I will at least have water to drink and food to eat. We had to go and fetch water very far from here, and some of the residents are old and ill.”

Skwatsha said: “I am here today because I have to provide basic needs to these destitute people who do not have houses. They were moved to this place after they were evicted from their original place. Working with Gift of the Givers, we provided them with basic needs such as blankets, food and sanitation. I would not be able to provide the time frame to provide them with housing, but I would love to get them decent houses, but for now they are safer than before and we will slowly improve their lives.”

Gift of the Givers director Badr Kazi said: “We provided them with food, blankets and hygienic stuff, and if these people are going to be here for a little longer, then we will continue to support them for a while, and we hope the government fast tracks the housing issue for these people.”

Originally featured on iol.co.za

*Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a law firm in Cape Town, now operating in Gauteng and Durban, of specialised eviction attorneys, helping both landlords and tenants with the eviction process. Contact one of our eviction lawyers on +27 (0) 86 099 5146 or info@sdlaw.co.za if you have been evicted unlawfully.

Further reading:

Klein Akker Evictions

Just and Equitable Evictions in South Africa?

Farm Dweller Evictions – a Fair Process

Evicted Families Stuck in Paarl Caravan Park for a Year

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Unpaid municipal bills – what’s a landlord to do?

The sting in the tail when a tenant moves out is often a legacy of unpaid bills

Your tenants have moved out, either willingly or through the eviction process. Then you get hit with a large unpaid rates bill by the local municipality. What do you do?

Utility bills can be a sore point for landrlds and tenants. They don't have to be.

If it comes to this, the answer is very little. It’s more important to avoid this scenario altogether. We’ll look at what to do if this happens to you, and in Utility bills – who’s responsible and how to manage them we show you how to prevent it happening again.

Whose bill is it anyway?

Ultimately, the payment of utilities and taxes (often combined in one “rates” bill by the municipality) is the responsibility of the property owner. You may agree that these will be paid by the tenant, but if the tenant reneges on this obligation, the municipality will be within its rights to chase you as owner for payment.

The account may be registered in the tenant’s name, and you may have ensured a watertight wording in your lease agreement to this effect. But don’t take too much comfort from this. There have been many cases of tenants vacating premises and leaving accounts left unpaid. Property owners would deny responsibility as the account was in the tenant’s name. Municipalities, understandably, ran out of patience and many now do not allow the account to be in any name other than the registered owner of the property. If the account was registered prior to this decision, it may still be in the tenant’s name, but unfortunately that does not absolve you of the liability for the account.

Recovering unpaid bills from a tenant

Your first port of call is of course the deposit. For this reason it is a good idea not to be too hasty in returning the deposit after the tenant moves out. They will of course pressure you for prompt payment, particularly if they have to pay a deposit on a new property. But you are within your rights to ensure there are no outstanding unpaid bills against the property as well as checking the inventory and inspecting the property for damage. If you have taken two months’ rent as a deposit, hopefully you will have enough to cover what is owing. However, this may not be the case if the rates have gone unpaid for some time or if there are cleaning and repair bills to cover too. 

If the deposit in insufficient to offset the debt, in the first instance try to contact the tenant and ask for settlement. Be reasonable and offer to accept payment by instalments. An acknowledgment of debt signed by both parties is a good idea. If the tenant does not offer or is unable to pay the full amount upfront, you must pay the bill yourself. Failure to do so may result in the property’s utilities being cut off, which will only give you a bigger headache if you have new tenants or are trying to re-let the property. Recovering the debt is your problem, not the municipality’s.

Recovery via Small Claims Court

It is always better to settle amicably and out of court, but if that fails, and the debt is less than R20 000, you can pursue the debtor through the Small Claims Court. You do not need an attorney for this action and indeed are not permitted to be represented by one. Find your nearest Small Claims Court and contact the Clerk of the Court, who will instruct you in the procedure.

Help from the services of an expert lawyer

The Small Claims Court has limited powers. You may not be successful in recovering your unpaid municipal bills, or the amount may exceed R20 000. If you choose to continue to pursue your tenant for the money, you will need to sue them, using the services of a suitable law firm experienced in litigation. At this stage you will have to decide whether it is worth the hassle. Sometimes the prudent course of action is to cut one’s losses and move on. This is a personal decision, and we at SDLAW will support you if you choose to litigate.  

Prevention is better than cure

If you are reading this because you have been stung by a tenant, it is of little consolation to know that the situation could have been prevented. But presuming you will continue to lease your property and manage tenants, you will want to take the necessary steps in future to ensure you are not landed with an outgoing tenant’s rates bill again. Read Utility bills – who’s responsible and how to manage them to find out how to avoid this sting in the tail.

Seek the guidance of an expert eviction lawyer

If you need to pursue a tenant who has left you with unpaid municipal bills, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za to discuss your case in confidence. Eviction lawyers Johannesburg and Cape Town are experts in rental property and will help you choose the most appropriate course of action for your circumstances. We will also advise you on lease agreements and tenant screening to ensure your tenancies run smoothly in future.

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Utility bills – who’s responsible and how to manage them

The end of a tenancy is not the time to discover your tenant has not been paying the municipal bills or “rates” – property taxes and utility bills like electricity, water and sewerage, etc. At that stage you are faced with the difficult task of trying to recover the money. It is far better to ensure due process is in place from the outset of the occupancy to cover all bills that will accrue to the property. This is best done via a written lease agreement, which sets out the terms and conditions of the rental and can be as detailed as you like, clearly stating the responsibilities of tenant and landlord for every cost. For example, you may wish to differentiate between utilities like water and electricity and “add-ons” like WiFi and garden maintenance. 

Rental Housing Amendment Act

Remember that when the Rental Housing Amendment Act comes into force it will be a requirement to have a written lease. If you don’t have one now, it’s time to draw one up. You will only have six months from when the Act becomes law to comply. This is your chance to incorporate all these details into your rental agreement with your tenant. 

Prepaid electricity meters

One of the simplest ways to avoid disputes over electricity bills is to install a a prepaid electricity meter. This is becoming more and more common in rental properties. The landlord has the comfort of knowing the electricity is paid for, and the tenant has control over consumption and can make economies if necessary, an option not available if the rent is “all-in”, i.e. the landlord pays the bills and allows for the costs in the rent charged (see below). Many municipalities no longer allow electricity accounts to be in any name other than the registered property owner, so a prepaid meter is a good compromise. The landlord remains the responsible person, and the tenant has no choice but to pay for use. If the account is not in the owner’s name, perhaps because the tenant has been in situ for a long time, it is a good idea to have the account transferred, as the owner will be held liable regardless.

Other utility bills

If the municipal account is still in the tenant’s name and the tenant is responsible for payment, the landlord can ask the tenant for proof of payment each month. If this is not forthcoming or there is any suspicion of arrears, you as registered owner are entitled to ask the municipality for a copy of the account. If you exercise diligence in ensuring these accounts are up to date, you will avoid any nasty shocks at the end of the rental period. 

“All-in” rent

An option some landlords prefer is to take on the liability for all bills (sometimes with some exceptions as noted above). The rent is then adjusted to accommodate this. This is known as an “all-in rent”. There are pros and cons to this arrangement for both parties. For the tenant, it can be helpful, certainly in terms of budgeting, to have one monthly fee to pay. The cost of living in the property won’t vary summer to winter with changing consumption patterns. For those on a tight budget this can be a real boon. The downside, from the tenant’s perspective, is that there is no financial benefit to be gained from minimising consumption. (And this may lead to waste, a downside for the landlord.) The tenant also does not have any utility bills in their name, which can be a problem when address verification is needed for credit or other applications. However, the lease will usually suffice.

For the landlord, there are no concerns about unpaid bills. Everything is under their control. However, the adjusted rent is based on past average consumption. If the tenant is wasteful in their use of water, gas or electricity, the owner can be faced with a bill in excess of what has been included in the rent. The solution to this is a clause in the lease agreement stating that the landlord reserves the right to make a surcharge should consumption exceed reasonable amounts (“reasonable” can be difficult to define so the wording may refer to a figure or percentage). The landlord will also bear the burden of rate hikes, as they cannot increase the rent until the lease is due for renewal.

The alternative – charging utility bills to the tenant as they arise

A more transparent, albeit more labour-intensive, solution is to charge the utilities to the tenant as they arise. This means the landlord will always carry one month’s obligation for these costs and may still be left with unpaid bills at the end of the tenancy, but any liability will be limited and should be covered by the deposit. If this process is adopted, property owners should remember that tenants have a right to be treated fairly and equitably. It is good practice to:

  • Provide the tenant with copies of bills and meter readings
  • Give the tenant a formal invoice for their share of the costs as set out in the lease agreement
  • Avoid charging the tenant an estimate if the meter reading has not been done for the period. Many Rental Housing Tribunals do not support this practice. It is usually possible to email a photo of the meter reading to the municipality and request an accurate bill
  • Provide the tenant with a monthly statement and keep a record of all communications pertaining to utilities (this is particularly important for transparency where the rent is all-in)

It’s important to note that a property owner may not charge property taxes to the tenant. The cost can be factored into the rent, but may not be passed on to the tenant in a literal sense. 

Whether you opt for an all-in rent or charging the tenant on a PAYG basis, this can be a workable solution, particularly for a property owner who has been saddled with unpaid bills in the past. At the end of the lease, it is reasonable to deduct any amounts owing from the deposit, and this should not trigger a dispute, particularly if clearly stated in the lease.

Landlords may not…

Finally, if you hold control over power and water, it may be tempting to use this as leverage if your tenant fails to pay rent or breaches the lease conditions in any other way. Don’t do this! It is unlawful to disconnect your tenant’s electricity in the event of non-payment of rent. Disconnection without a court order is illegal. If your tenant is in arrears with rent, you must follow the correct eviction procedure as set out in the Rental Housing Act and Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and give them an opportunity to rectify the breach. 

Seek the guidance of an expert eviction lawyer

If you need help to draw up a lease agreement, screen tenants or negotiate utility bill arrangements with your tenant, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za to discuss your case in confidence. Eviction lawyers Johannesburg and Cape Town are experts in rental property and will help you select the best option for your circumstances. We will ensure your tenancies run smoothly, with no nasty shocks waiting in store for you.

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Klein Akker Evictions – update

300 people made homeless in “legal” eviction

Activists and concerned citizens are outraged at the treatment of residents on Klein Akker farm in Kraaifontein. In an act of eviction that is legal but nonetheless inhumane, 300 poor and vulnerable occupants have seen their homes demolished before their very eyes and left by the side of the road, without blankets, clothing or children’s school books. Possessions have either been destroyed or put in storage, where residents can’t access them.

Klein Akker Farm Eviction - It was legal, but was it moral?

Eviction order

Many residents had lived on the Klein Akker farm for 20 years or more. They were part of a community and they looked after each other. Some had come initially as fruit pickers. When the farm was sold in 2012 and the current owner ceased growing fruit, workers found employment on nearby farms but continued to occupy their dwellings. The owner applied for and was granted an eviction order in October 2017. Residents successfully applied for a stay of the eviction until 1 July 2019.

In accordance with legislation, the City of Cape Town offered alternative accommodation. But the options provided were unacceptable to residents, for reasons of distance and unaffordability of transport to work, and safety. One location was Philippi, which is known for gang violence. Furthermore the land offered at Philippi was sodden and completely unsuitable for housing.

The eviction was completely legal, but was it moral?

Disregard for human rights

On Monday (19 August) law enforcement officials and security guards arrived at Klein Akker and began demolishing shacks with machinery. Clothes and possessions were seized. Children’s school uniforms were taken and put into storage, along with cooking pots and food. Residents were left by the side of the road with nothing to eat and no way to keep warm. The City of Cape Town has defended its position because it twice offered the residents alternative accommodation.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) argues that the eviction represents multiple human rights violations, including the right to adequate housing, the right to water and sanitation, the rights of children, the right to a basic education and the right to human dignity. The SAHRC applied to the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday (21 August) to challenge the eviction, and supported the counter application by the Legal Resources Centre for emergency accommodation and constitutional damages for the victims of the Klein Akker eviction.

UPDATE:

On Monday (26 August), the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Mcebisi Skwatsha, committed his department to housing the families who were evicted from the Klein Akker farm in Kraaifontein last week. They are to be temporarily accommodated on a state farm near Stellenbosch. He was shocked by the conditions in which the 93 households were living, following a visit to the site on Monday morning. He said, “As leaders, we cannot just fold our hands while people living on the streets. We have a responsibility to take care of the people, especially at these difficult times like this one.” Source

Last week, following the evictions, the High Court ruled that the City of Cape Town must “make available within 24 hours of this order, temporary emergency shelter in the form of land and emergency housing kits at the emergency housing site known as Kampies, Philippi”. Source

However, the Philippi site had already been rejected by residents as unsuitable for habitation. The intervention from the Deputy Minister is likely to be far more welcome.

Championing fair evictions

At SD Law, we believe property owners have the right to enjoy their property. We also believe that tenants should be treated fairly and justly. We act for both landlords and tenants and have a deep understanding of the relevant legislation. But our insight goes further than that. We are Cape Town attorneys with high emotional intelligence. We seek legal solutions that incorporate moral and ethical conduct and respect human rights. If you have an eviction matter, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za to discuss your case in confidence. We’ll never leave you stranded.

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Red Ants continue to disregard due process of law

Illegal evictions and fatalities are calling cards of Red Ants

At Cape Town eviction lawyers Simon Dippenaar & Associates (SDLAW), we were angered and saddened to learn of recent illegal actions by the Gauteng security company Red Ants. The Red Ants firm specialises in “urban management support services for human settlements”, and was established to counter the influence of large, multinationals who dominate the South African economy. Its mission is “to protect, train, empower, serve and provide food security to our communities”. A noble mission indeed, yet more often than not the Red Ants are the cause of homelessness in those communities rather than providing security, food or otherwise.

Evictions should be lawful and respectful. Rend Ants act illegally.

As eviction attorneys we uphold the rights of property owners under the law, but we also fight for tenants whose rights are threatened or disregarded. We defend the Constitution, and base our law practice on the citizens’ rights bestowed therein. Eviction law has been carefully crafted to protect the poor and the vulnerable, after decades of exploitation and unfair practices under apartheid. Everyone has the right to adequate housing. Therefore the recent actions of the Red Ants in Gauteng are disappointing and disturbing.

Shacks destroyed in Alexandra Township

Earlier this month, more than 80 shacks, allegedly built illegally and too close to the Jukskei River, were destroyed by the Red Ants in Alexandra, Johannesburg, rendering 100s homeless. However, the Red Ants are not solely to blame. Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba has said that the demolition was unlawful and should not have been authorised by city officials. The eviction order was in fact obtained in 2016 (before Mashaba was elected), but the eviction not carried out until now. Mashaba vows to “get to the bottom of it” and rebuild the demolished structures timeously.

Marshall St, Johannesburg

Last October, the Red Ants were also involved in a mass eviction in the Joburg CBD. In this case, residents were not forewarned of the eviction and many of their personal possessions were destroyed, in a callous and brutal removal that took place while many occupants were at work. We can only imagine the horror of returning home to find your belongings damaged or destroyed and your home uninhabitable. Occupants of the Marshall St building were mostly domestic workers, taxi drivers and informal traders, vulnerable individuals with limited means either to replace their possessions or to take action against the city. In this case, according to Tshepo Skosana, the sheriff who carried out the eviction order did not act in accordance with due process of law and “was negligent in fulfilling his duty to inform the residents of their pending eviction, which made the process illegal”. The Red Ants were the purveyors of brutality, but not the cause of it.

Death in the Vaal

It’s bad enough losing one’s home, but eviction should not result in loss of life. Sadly, this is precisely what happened in April when an eviction in the Vaal area of Gauteng, again facilitated by the Red Ants, led to clashes with community members. Two died, one from the Red Ants and one from the community, and six were injured. Yet again, the Red Ants and the Sheriff were acting on a court order to remove occupants from illegally erected shacks. The casualties happened when a fight broke out between the residents and the Red Ants.

Duties of the Sheriff

As Eviction Lawyers in South Africa, we do not condone the construction of unlawful dwellings. Residents should act within the law in choosing a site and erecting a structure. However, the current housing situation in South Africa does not always make that possible. Although there is a comprehensive social housing strategy that includes RDP homes, Community Residential Units (CRUs) and Upgrading of Informal Settlements (UISP), waiting lists are long and government has fallen behind in meeting its housing commitments to the poor and vulnerable in our society. It is no wonder communities sometimes take matters into their own hands. Section 26 of the Constitution guarantees the right to adequate housing, so they are only claiming their constitutional rights.

But landowners also have a right to the proper use of their land, so they may seek an eviction order when homes are built illegally. However, the court has an obligation to consider all circumstances before granting the order. According to Skosana, if occupants will be made homeless, there must be provision of alternative accommodation for an eviction to be lawful. The court must also consider the number of women and children and old people affected by the eviction and this will influence the amount of time granted before the order can be served. Turning people out of their homes with no warning breaches these conditions and more. 

The Sheriff’s role is serve court documents. This includes orders of eviction. The Sheriff has a duty to inform the occupants of the situation, in terms they will understand, and this includes their right to be represented in court. The Sheriff is also obliged to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and ensure that belongings are properly looked after during an eviction. The use of violence and threats in effecting an eviction is an abuse of the Sheriff’s authority.

In all these cases the Sheriff acted together with the Red Ants to intimidate residents and damage or destroy their possessions. Neither party can claim that they implemented a legal process.

Protection under the law

Residential tenants are protected through the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act (PIE) and the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). A stringent eviction process is meant to safeguard human dignity, property, and ultimately life! As a specialist eviction attorney we are diligent about observing lawful eviction procedure. We condemn the abuse of power recently demonstrated by the Sheriffs and Red Ants involved in these evictions.

Landlord or tenant – let us help you

Eviction lawyers are now in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, as well as Cape Town. So wherever your property is located, we can help you with an eviction matter, whether you are landlord or tenant. If you have been the victim of an illegal eviction, call us today.

Contact Eviction Lawyers South Africa on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za

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Rental arrears? Is it worth trying to collect?

What can you do when your tenant falls into rental arrears?

Nobody wants to fall into rental arrears, but unfortunately it happens. Times are tough, and the economic climate isn’t forecast to improve for some time yet, so it is all too common for tenants to default on their rental payments.

Arrear rentals - eviction lawyers

This is a stressful situation for both landlord and tenant and it must be approached with caution and a full knowledge of the rights of each.

What’s in the lease?

Depending on the specific lease agreement, in general, if a tenant is seven days late with their rental payment, they are then deemed, in the eyes of the law, to be in breach of the lease agreement.

It is up the landlord to inform the tenant in writing of the arrear rental, but the landlord does not have the right to immediately evict the tenant. Through this official notice, the landlord is giving the tenant the opportunity to resolve the breach of the lease agreement. A landlord can blacklist the tenant with credit bureaux at this point.

In general, if the tenant does not resolve the arrear rental within 20 days, the landlord can consider cancelling the lease, and suing for the arrears. The landlord may attach the tenant’s belongings in terms of the landlord’s tacit hypothec. They can also begin the eviction process. A landlord cannot evict a tenant without following the correct legal procedure. For that reason, if a tenant has defaulted on their rental payments, a landlord should obtain legal assistance as soon as possible.

Tacit hypothec

If a tenant falls into rent arrears, common law grants the landlord “tacit hypothec” over the tenant’s goods on the property. What does this mean in plain English? “Hypothec” is an old term, dating back to the 16th century and having its origins in French, which has survived in legal jargon and means “a right established by law over a debtor’s property that remains in the debtor’s possession”. Tacit means “implied” or “understood without being stated”.

When might the landlord’s tacit hypothec apply?

The provision for tacit hypothec is enshrined in Section 32 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act. Section 32 allows a landlord to apply for the attachment and, in certain circumstances, for the removal of a tenant’s movable goods in the leased premises, in lieu of rent owed. A landlord may choose to invoke Section 32 because it can be more effective than a rent interdict summons. Understandably, tenants will not want to see their possessions impounded and may respond more swiftly to this threat than to an interdict for payment of arrears.

How does it work?

The landlord applies to the Magistrate’s Court for an attachment under Section 32 in securitatem debiti – in other words, to secure the debt. However, if there is reason to suspect the tenant might abscond with the goods, the landlord can request an immediate order. This allows for removal of goods as security for unpaid rent without giving notice, because such notice could result in the tenant removing things in advance, thus rendering the landlord’s tacit hypothec worthless.

Burden of proof

It is the landlord’s responsibility to prove grounds for a Section 32 order. If the application is opposed and a dispute arises, resolution is based on the balance of probabilities. If this fails, there must be substantial doubt regarding the landlord’s case for the attachment to be set aside. Therefore, the landlord’s right to enjoy the rental income from a property is protected, but that right may not be abused by invoking Section 32 without due cause. In this way common law seeks to treat all parties equitably.

Costs and benefits of collecting arrears or invoking the tacit hypothec

As with anything in business, it’s important for landlords to weigh up the costs and benefits of any action taken. Loss of income through rental arrears is never pleasant but will the cost of recovering the lost rent be worth the effort? The benefit of invoking the landlord’s tacit hypothec is that it compounds the effectiveness of the eviction procedure. A tenant, particularly one with a history of flitting, may not be unduly fazed by an eviction notice. The threat of losing belongings may be taken more seriously. It adds litigation pressure and puts the landlord in a better bargaining position, resulting in more likelihood of the tenant meeting the rental demand. If the tenant has little of any value to attach, the landlord can apply for a long-term order. This is binding for 30 years against the occupier’s assets or salary, so there is no escaping!

On the other hand, there are legal costs involved. Although the tacit hypothec gives the landlord a bargaining chip, assets are not cash. It may be some time before the landlord can recover arrears and costs. If all else fails and the landlord takes the tenant’s goods to auction, to realise the rental arrears, the Sheriff costs can be in excess of R5 000. There are also storage costs to consider while holding the goods as collateral.

Time to cut one’s losses?

If the rental arrear is not substantial, e.g. R10 000 – 15 000, it may not be worth pursuing.  This is not to suggest that tenants should get away with not paying their rent. But if the proper procedures are followed, i.e. the tenant is given a chance to rectify the breach of the lease agreement, and the rent is still not forthcoming, it may be best to begin the eviction process and leave it at that. The sooner the recalcitrant tenant is off the property, the sooner a new occupier can be found and the income stream can start flowing again.

Eviction Lawyers South Africa can help

However, if your loss is significant, we can help you recover your rental arrears, using the landlord’s tacit hypothec if necessary Cape Town law firm SD Law & Associates are property and eviction lawyers in South Africa, with offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria. We uphold everyone’s constitutional rights and act for both landlords and tenants. If you’re a landlord with unpaid rent and you would like to take action, or if you are in rent arrears and think you may be subject to a Section 32 order, we can help. Contact Cape Town Attorney Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za.

Source: Eviction Specialists

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