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Monday Jun 15, 2015

Fraudsters force the vulnerable out their properties

Housing Class Action (HCA), an NGO dealing with evictions, has called on the government to establish a full-scale public inquiry into evictions and property fraud, including extreme corruption in the legal system and the police services.

The NGO, which operates from a tiny office at the Central Methodist Church in Joburg, is inundated with hundreds of queries every month.

Its legal adviser, King Sibiya, said property fraud and evictions had reached crisis levels.

Thousands of people, especially senior citizens, single parents, widows, orphans and people with disabilities, were being targeted by unscrupulous estate agents working with lawyers, policemen, banks and family members to evict or threaten the most vulnerable with evictions while others are charged with trespassing and sent to jail for up to two years, said Sibiya.

The Sunday Independent visited the HCA following a two-month investigation into forced evictions in one of the oldest and poorer townships in Soweto, Orlando East.

Our investigation found that scores of people have lost their family homes through illegal evictions and property fraud, allegedly involving councillors, estate agents and family members.

The fact that many black people, especially the elderly, died intestate exacerbates the matter as a scramble for assets of the deceased creates conflict among the surviving family members.

The huge demand for township property has also resulted in price growth and has attracted unscrupulous estate agents, who are chasing a quick profit.

There is also confusion about the validity of the documentation in these transactions, with many family members believing they are entitled to stay in a property or put it up for sale because their names are in the permit - a legal document used under apartheid to document and ensure that blacks qualified to work and stay in urban areas.

Opportunistic family members or feuding siblings take advantage of the ignorance of the rest of their relatives by going to the Master of the High Court to lay claim to properties using copies of death certificates and fraudulent wills. A home belonging to the late Sipho Mzinyathi in Orlando East fell prey to this.

The title deed still has his name on it and one of his nephews lives in the house, however, it has been sold twice already, first to a local councillor and later to another buyer. It is alleged a family member obtained authority from the court and offered the house to an estate agent in exchange for another house.

George Molapisi stands in front of the house he grew up in and from which he was illegally evicted.

The young woman involved confirmed to The Sunday Independent that she did sign over the house to an estate agent, but has since asked him to cancel the deal because of family "complications".

The Sunday Independent has copies of affidavits from two families, the Molapisis and the Melapis, whose property disputes are in court after a forced eviction and an illegal sale took place.

Pinky Moticoe, who helps displaced families regain possession of their homes, says property fraud is huge in the townships and often targets the most vulnerable, who don't understand the law, especially property law and title deeds.

She introduced The Sunday Independent to more than 10 families who were either displaced or fighting to remain in the property.

She has her hands full running between families and courts, because she says only the courts can reinstate a resident who has been illegally evicted, and this requires money that most people don't have.

She has had to dip into her own pocket to assist some of the people.

"We have used the old permit system to show the courts people still have a right to be in a property and they can't just be kicked out just because there is a title deed now. What people don't understand is you can appoint more than five people to be the title-deed holders when the property owner dies intestate.

"Ignorance is what is making the rest of the families vulnerable in that someone will produce a will and say he or she has the sole right to the property. Some councillors are taking advantage of disadvantaged people and benefiting from the illegal sale of the properties.

"One house was sold to a Pakistani (after) a South African was thrown out. What does the constitution say about our rights to housing and shelter?

"The new occupiers of the house say they want to open a feeding scheme. We met the ward councillor and it was resolved that nobody should move in while the matter was (remains) unresolved.

"But the young man who lived there is out on the streets after being kicked out.

"Where is the councillor (to help him) now?" she asked.

The HCA operates under the auspices of the Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation is dealing with all manner of evictions, including those involving inner-city buildings and the four major banks.

It has written a letter to the SACP asking for "open political support".

HCA spokesman Ian Beddowes says while there are laws, the procedures are not being followed.

"If someone stole your cellphone in this country, they can go to jail for up to two years.

"However, if someone steals your house and stays in it for three years while you're out on the streets, the worst that can happen to them is eviction," says Beddowes.

The Sunday Independent


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