Our property litigation department is approached on a daily basis by property owners who urgently require legal assistance with regards to problem-tenants, usually as a last resort. Property owners often attempt to resolve matters on their own accord or sometimes rely on illegal institutes that promise quick evictions without approaching a Court. This usually results in money being spent, without any results.
The reason commonly cited for failure to solicit legal advice at the outset of the problem is that “the PIE Act is not in favour of the property owner and it is almost impossible to evict someone”. The purpose of The Prevention of Illegal Evictions from and Unlawful Occupation of land Act is, as contained in the title of the Act itself, is to prevent illegal evictions by setting out the procedure to follow in order to obtain a legal eviction order on the one hand but also to prevent unlawful occupation of a property, on the other. Our Courts take various factors into account before granting an eviction order. It is required that when you apply to Court for an eviction order that all relevant factors are revealed to Court and the correct procedure are followed. The Court will then be able to grant an order, which balances the rights of the owner and that of the unlawful occupant, and in doing so making a decision which is just and equitable in the circumstances.
In some instances, by just and equitable is meant that the occupier is granted more time to vacate. We have not had a case where the Court refused to grant an eviction order based on the equity provisions set out in PIE. A private land owner can never be burdened with the duty to provide another person with free accommodation; this has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court on many occasions.
Legal cost shouldn’t be the main consideration for not initiating eviction proceedings. When considering the loss of income, the potential damage suffered whilst having an unlawful occupant in the property; it already outweighs the legal cost incurred. Bear in mind that the legal costs are not spent to secure rental income, but to regain possession of an asset worth hundreds, often millions of Rand. As part of the eviction order, a costs order is also granted against the illegal occupant.
Owners should realise that with any asset or investment there are risks involved, in the rental industry it is illegal occupation. The rental industry poses fantastic investment opportunities, but it is crucial to have the correct safety measures in place, for instance proper vetting, current lease agreements and the right attorneys who can step in should the need arise. It will be advisable to have reserves available to initiate legal eviction proceedings as soon as possible.
The legal route is the quickest and only effective way to protect your investment form a problem tenant.