Answer to a question from a reader

The property that about 50 of us live on has a new owner who is harassing us and trying to evict us. What can we do?

The short answer

You can seek a court order which forces the owner to turn the electricity back on. He can't evict you without a court order.

The whole question

We are a community of about 50 people living in a property in Johannesburg. The property was sold in April according to a memo some of us got from the previous owner who we still have a contract with. The new owner who we don't know has started harassing and intimidating us with memos telling us how things are going to be.

He cut our electricity on 26 June. We can't cook or boil water to bath. Some in our community are sick and elderly. Some are children. Some are unemployed and if we are evicted we will be homeless.

What can we do?

The long answer

Thank you for your email asking what can be done about the community of 50 people who are being threatened with eviction after the property they live in was sold.

For a start, the new owner is not allowed to cut off the electricity if the tenants are behind with the rent. Only the municipality has the power to cut off electricity, not the owner of the property. The tenants can seek a spoliation order from a court, which means that the court orders that the tenants must be returned to the position they were in before the owner acted unlawfully by switching off the electricity.

The owner is also not allowed to evict the tenants without a court order. Groundup has received a number of letters about illegal evictions recently, so I will copy and paste the relevant bits from our recent reply below:

The Constitution states that no one can be evicted without a court order. This is under the 1998 Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act known as PIE. The owners of rented property must advise the tenants that they will be seeking a court order to evict them and the tenants must receive written notice of the date of the court hearing. At the hearing they will be given a chance to give their side of the story. The court must hear all the details of the case before granting an eviction order, and it must take into consideration the effect of the eviction on the people, especially the disabled, the elderly and young children.

The Constitution says that everyone has the right to adequate housing and that the government must try to achieve this goal as far as possible within its means, or in other words, as much as it can afford to. That is why the municipality in the area must also be informed of the court hearing and must attend, so that they can indicate whether they can assist with emergency housing if an eviction order is granted.

If the court grants an eviction order, the community must be served personally with that order by a sheriff of the court. The order must contain the date of the eviction, and only the sheriff of the court can evict them, not the owners or anybody else.

They could consult Legal Aid for assistance. Here are their contact details:

0800 110 110 (Monday to Friday 7AM - 7PM) 

 079 835 7179 (Please Call Me) 

 communications2@legal-aid.co.za

They could also consult SERI (the Socio-Economic Rights Institute) in Johannesburg. Here are their contact details:

6th Floor Aspern House
54 De Korte Street
Braamfontein 2001
Johannesburg
South Africa

Reception: +27 (0)11 356 5860
Fax: +27 (0)11 339 5950

Email: sanele@seri-sa.org

Answered on Aug. 14, 2019, 1:32 p.m.

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