South Africa: Court Grants Eviction Order Against Housing Hijackers

12 November 2020

Communicare says its flats were hijacked by people posing as advocates for tenants' rights

Social housing provider Communicare says apartments have been hijacked by a syndicate that occupy flats when under maintenance or between lets.

Communicare says illegal occupiers pose as advocates for tenants' rights and instigate rental boycotts.

The company says 11 apartments were hijacked in its Albatros complex in Thornton.

A tenant in Albatros denies the claims of hijacking and illegal rent collection.

After a year-long battle, Communicare has obtained an eviction order.

The Cape High Court has granted social housing company Communicare an eviction order to remove people who have been illegally occupying units in its Albatros rental complex in Thornton for over a year.

Communicare owns several rental housing properties across Cape Town including in Thornton, Brooklyn, Ruyterwacht, Rondebosch, Bothasig, Wynberg, Diep River, Bishop Lavis and Mandalay.

For the past two years, a group of people have been cutting locks and breaking into Communicare premises in an attempt to hijack buildings. Early last year, unarmed security guards were forced at gunpoint to hand over keys, while others have been attacked at various premises.

The incidents were reported to police and charges of burglary and trespassing were brought against the illegal occupants. In March 2019, the High Court interdicted the people involved from unlawfully occupying more units and from inciting others to do so, according to a statement issued by the company.

In August 2019, 11 units were illegally occupied at the 81-unit Albatros rental complex. According to Communicare's Megan Lennert, these units were undergoing repairs to be leased again.

Lennert said the same group was involved in hijacking three apartments at the Dennehof Complex in Thornton two days later, and occupying apartments and houses in Ruyterwacht.

The group had also repeatedly made illegal connections to water and electricity services, and has not paid rent.

Lennert said initially 50 people were moving between three or four properties trying to occupy units undergoing repairs or being marketed for letting.

The company tried to mediate with the occupiers but was unsuccessful. It applied to the High Court in September 2019 for an order to have the occupiers removed from Albatros.

The case was eventually heard on 30 October 2020. The court issued an eviction order giving the occupiers until 14 December to vacate.

"We are pleased that the court could see that while the ringleaders claim to advocate for tenants' rights, their actions tell a different story. They have acted both fraudulently and violently without cause for either," said Communicare CEO Anthea Houston.

According to the statement, "legitimate tenants are being pressured to support the hijackers and to boycott payment of their rentals and services".

However, tenant Neville Petersen said, "At no stage did we ever hijack the place, nor were we in any position to hijack the place."

He said vacant units had posed a safety risk. "There was no security at the time ... The flat next to us was vacant for about two years. We became worried because the vagrants started coming in. They started taking water. They came in and slept here."

Petersen says they complained to Communicare, but to no avail.

"As a result, the families here decided that we are going to occupy these places because we don't know what to do anymore. There are people in need of housing."

According to Petersen, the families occupying the spaces are "willing to pay and get into a lease agreement with Communicare even though they aren't legitimate". He says they attempted to negotiate with the company.

"Communicare employed two companies. These people were fully armed, dressed in black with no name badges. They came and ripped the doors off with crowbars. They did this to the doors of the tenants. We managed to stop it halfway to ask them where's their court order. But they turned it around to say that we hijacked the place," said Petersen.

He denied that residents illegally collect 'rent'. "We know that we don't own the property. We are fundraising and collecting money ... towards our legal fees," he said.

"Instead of resolving these issues at a community level, they are running to the high court with any matter and wasting money on the evictions," said Petersen.

Meanwhile, in a statement the Department of Human Settlements said the Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal quarterly report (1 July - 30 September) showed that the number of Communicare matters finalised or closed increased from 156 at the end of June to 411 at the end of September.

It said 307 Communicare cases are scheduled to be finalised through hearings, while 57 new Communicare complaints are still be investigated.

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