Jan 29, 2019
How Constitutional law is transforming eviction law
The Constitution is the backbone of society and South Africa is fortunate to have “the most admirable Constitution in the history of the world,” according to Harvard law scholar Cass Sunstein. Our Constitution is unique in that it includes “positive rights” which require the State to enact policies that minimise inequality, free South Africans from discrimination and redress historical inequalities. Any legislation that contradicts the Constitution is deemed invalid.
The lie of the land
In terms of eviction law, these Constitutional principles are being applied by the Courts in an attempt to strike a balance between the rights of landowners and the rights of the landless.
Section 26(3) of the Constitution states that “no one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.” Section 26(1) of the Constitution further provides for everyone’s right “to access to adequate housing” and sets out the State’s obligation to ensure this right is upheld (Section 26(1).
Clearly it is residential evictions, regulated by The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE), and the rights of landowners that are most affected by the implementation of these Constitutional principles. Read more about PIE here.
So, although section 26(3) of the Constitution has not amended our common law, it does mandate legislation that impacts the common law rights of landowners. In addition, the Courts tend to place a greater burden on the applicant-owner where the State is the applicant.
Burden of proof
A landowner must prove ownership by producing title deeds for the property and must show that the defendant is occupying his property to ensure eviction. This is known as rei vindicatio. The onus then falls to the defendant to prove he has a valid right to occupation.
Majority of disputes about day-to-day tenancy
While changes to legislation have indeed contributed to greater social justice, there have been some negative side effects, such as the reluctance of landowners to provide housing for their labourers, uncontrolled squatting and an influx of rural residents into urban areas, with the associated health and safety hazards of overcrowding. But it is day-to-day tenancy issues and the maintenance of property values that comprise the vast majority of disputes, rather than the extreme cases of large-scale land invasions and the plight of the homeless.
Navigating your way through an eviction
Eviction law has developed significantly over the last few years and some procedures have changed because of the Consumer Protection Act. Recent cases also indicate that the same procedures must be followed in both the Magistrate’s Court and the High Court. Navigating your way through an eviction and making sure you follow the correct process can be daunting. So, whether you’re a tenant or a landlord, don’t try to go it alone.
We can help