Evictions: balancing landlord and tenant rights

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Although many tenants believe that the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 (PIE) will prevent a landlord from evicting them from a property once a lease has ended if they cannot find alternative accommodation, this is not necessarily the case.

The individual facts of each case will be given careful consideration before a decision is made on whether or not to evict.

The recent case of Pierre Coetzee vs Pipet Place Eiendomme CC provides some insight into what the courts will take into consideration.

Court finds in favour of landlord

This is a matter that went on appeal from the Empangeni Magistrate’s Court, where in essence, the magistrate found against the tenant and evicted him after his lease had ended.

Coetzee had signed a lease for a property belonging to Pipet Place Eiendomme. The lease ran for 17 months and there was no provision for renewal. However, the tenant refused to move out of the property once the lease had ended, despite the owner giving the required one calendar month’s notice.

The tenant initially cited three reasons for not vacating the home:
there was a dispute between the parties pending before the KwaZulu-Natal Rental Housing Tribunal; the owner had failed to comply with his duties as landlord in respect of maintaining the property and the tenant also noted he had a lien over the property insofar as improvements were concerned; and finally, he claimed that he didn’t have access to alternate accommodation.

On appeal the tenant abandoned the first two reasons for staying in the property and relied only on the fact that he couldn't find alternate accommodation. The important factors here are that the tenant lived alone, there were no elderly people or children involved and he wasn't destitute.

The tenants personal circumstances

The tenant argued that the magistrate had failed to take all his personal circumstances into account as required by PIE. However, the appeal court disagreed and found that “the learned magistrate was acutely aware” of the tenant’s personal circumstances and financial position. The fact that it was difficult, but not impossible, to find alternative accommodation counted against the tenant.

The appeal court held that there was no merit to the complaints raised by the tenant.

Interestingly, it appears that the reason the tenant was so reluctant to move was that he couldn't find a similar property to lease for the relatively low sum of R3000 per month. And although he was employed, he believed that PIE would force the landlord to renew the lease.

What the judge said

However, the appeal judge found: “The evidence established that after the monthly tenancy was validly cancelled, the appellant managed to remain in unlawful occupation and rent-free for a period of about nine months. I further consider that the appellant cannot be said to be disadvantaged in any way, nor is he poverty-stricken. Far from it. He is self-employed and capable of generating an income for himself. I see no reason why he cannot find suitable alternative accommodation. It is time that he did. It follows that the appeal cannot succeed and must be dismissed.”

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