Answer to a question from a reader

The new owner of my flat told me to move out earlier than what we agreed on. What must I do?

The short answer

You can't be evicted without a court order.

The whole question

I've been renting out a flat since the beginning of 2019. Later that year, a woman came by to take pictures of the place saying that the owner would like to put it up for sale. A few months later I was informed that I had until March 2020 to move out. The place was eventually sold and I negotiated with the new owner to allow me to stay for longer. He agreed to let me continue renting the flat until the country moved to Level 2 of the national lockdown. However, he has now told me to move out in July because he wants to renovate the place. What must I do?

The long answer

If you have a lease agreement with an agency, it should state how much notice you must be given to move out. It sounds from your letter that as you were told in January 2020 that you would have to move out by March that the notice period was three months.

Then in March, you were told you could stay for another three months. But before you paid the rent for April the agent told you that you could stay until Level 2. Then he returned at the end of May and said you had to be out by 1 July as the flat had been sold. All very confusing...

In the first place, no one can be evicted in South Africa without a court order. This is under the PIE Act (Prevention of Illegal Evictions From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act of 1998).

This is what the law says about moving out and evictions under the lockdown:

Under the level 5 lockdown which started on 27 March, no one was allowed to move out and no one could be evicted either. But if a lease agreement expired during the lockdown period, the lease agreement could continue on a month-to-month basis until the lockdown ended.

Under Level 4, you could move if you had a new lease agreement but only until 7 June. You could not be evicted. Landlords could go to court and ask for an eviction order but if it was granted, tenants could not be evicted until Level 3.

Under the present Level 3 regulations, you can move house but if this involves travelling to another district or province, you have to have a police permit. You can only be evicted (with a court order) if the court says explicitly that it is right and just for the eviction to be carried out immediately. Otherwise the eviction order is not enforceable before Level 2.

If the new owner wants you to move out, he must inform you that he will be seeking an eviction order from the courts, and he must give you a copy of the court hearing date. You must attend that hearing and you will be allowed to give your side of the story, as well as the owner. You can be represented by a lawyer at the hearing and if you cannot afford a lawyer, you can ask Legal Aid to represent you. The municipality must also attend the hearing to say if they can provide emergency housing if the court grants the eviction order. The court must take into account the reason for an eviction, how long you have stayed there, whether there are old people or children who will be affected, and whether the municipality can provide alternative accommodation.

This is Legal Aid’s contact information, if you need to consult them:

Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110

Legal Aid Ethics Hotline: 0800 153 728

Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

Answered on July 6, 2020, 9:17 a.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.