Landlords claim tenants abuse act to avoid paying up
The contentious Prevention of Illegal Eviction (PIE) Act continues to be the bane of property owners, who complain bitterly that the law favours delinquent tenants.
Landlords and attorneys acting for them argue that losses in unpaid rent are compounded by the cost and delays involved in launching applications for eviction.
They charge that the act - intended to protect the rights of children, the elderly, disabled and women-headed households - is being abused.
A Hillcrest woman, 64, who wrote to The Mercury to "warn all prospective landlords", told of how the occupant of her four-bedroomed home had failed to move out despite his lease expiring at the end of last month and being two months in arrears with the rent.
The woman, who lives with her husband in a cottage on the same property, said they struggled to service their bond, and water and lights bills.
Her name is withheld as the matter is before court.
Her attorney, Colyn Townsend, said R28 000 was owed to his client. He blasted the law for being "slow, cumbersome and frustrating", saying it was not the constitutional duty of the landlord to provide shelter for freeloading tenants. Townsend said he would bring an application for eviction this week.
The widowed owner of a Westville property claims to be in a similar predicament. The woman's attorney, Simon Watson, said his client was frustrated with her tenant, who had not paid his rent for the past six months.
"She is basically subsidising his housing because he refuses to pay. It has affected her financially."
The widow said she wanted to sell the four-bedroomed house, but estate agents would not touch it before the tenant moved out, as he would become the next owner's problem. She said one of her children was paying the bond.
"By the time this is over, I might owe my son my house."
Watson said two written notices had been sent to the tenant in February asking him to vacate the property and pay the outstanding rent. He had not responded.
An eviction application was served on him in March, to be heard in court later this month.
Watson said the stringent legislation governing evictions was aimed at protecting single mother households, but was being abused.
"It is (intended) to protect these women and their families from being unfairly evicted, but in this case it is a single male who seems to be abusing the system."
While conceding that the eviction process in compliance with the act is "time-consuming" and "pricey", Iqbal Mohamed, chairman of the Organisation of Civic Rights, believes it seeks to balance the rights of tenant and landlord.
"It does not prevent the granting of an eviction. But yes, by the time an eviction order is granted, rent may not have been paid for 10 months."
He had examined a number of PIE cases taken to the Supreme Court of Appeal, and had found no instance in which a defaulting tenant was protected by the act.
Mohamed said that before the act came into force, eviction had been "simple" - property owners and landlords only had to show there was a valid termination of the lease to have tenants ejected.
He said the act introduced changes whereby courts granted evictions after considering all relevant circumstances.
Mohamed said that having the tenant's furniture and other property attached by the sheriff of the court was an option for landlords owed money.