Psychology of Land and Property Eviction in South Africa

eviction notice

“I am not a psychologist and can’t provide relationship advice to anyone, but would like to inform everyone about my observations of human behavior applicable to land and property eviction disputes,” says Reyno De Beer, the National Representative of Liberty Fighters Network (LFN).

De Beer has expert knowledge of the South African property industry.

“If you don’t really know kindness, it is difficult to judge cruelty.” This is what is happening to most of these evicted occupants who have been historically treated like dogs by landlords (or their rental agents).

eviction notice After an eviction, the victims rarely have the ability or will to fight against the unlawful evictor, effectively allowing these unscrupulous tyrants to get away with their unfair and criminal practices time and time again.

Although the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, 1998 (PIE Act) specifically states that it is a crime if anyone evicts an occupant from any land without a Court Order, the Gauteng Police were apparently unaware of this legislation until De Beer recently showed it to them. Thus since 1998, the past 19 years, Gauteng Police officers officially have not allowed occupants to open criminal cases for illegal evictions, because our ANC government neither trained nor otherwise informed them about it.

If the ANC claims to be a party for the traditionally disadvantaged people of our country concerned about our property rights in particular, why has the ANC not ensured that we are properly protected against illegal evictions?

Don’t answer now.

“I am truly honest and know that I am going to be heavily scrutinised for making this statement, but during my 23 years serving the property industry, I have met only a few landlords and agents who have respect for their tenants, not only thinking about the money objective,” testifies De Beer.

It is as if most lessors expect tenants to pay them on time and in full, but that such lessor has got the sole discretion of whether to adhere to the tenant’s maintenance requests and other complaints or not. To make matters worse, De Beer further confirms that the vast majority of white property owners are disrespectful and unsympathetic towards their especially black tenants (if black tenants are even allowed to rent the premises in the first instance). He estimates that at least 75% of rented properties in South Africa are either white owned or operated.

“White landlords do have an attitude problem. We must be honest with ourselves and change that negative attitude!”

In Johannesburg South, for example, De Beer had identified that most of the properties available for rental purposes are in a bad state of repair, even dangerous and a health risk. The moment when tenants start to complain about these inhumane conditions, they are treated with utmost disrespect.

Landowners and their agents seldom come to properties to have real caring meetings with their tenants. When they do meet, it is usually because the tenants have started a rental boycott out of desperation to get the attention of the lessor. Then, the landowner or agent usually only makes empty promises.

The leaders of tenant pressure groups are quickly dealt with and intimidated, harassed or even arrested on false criminal charges. Police officers and prosecutors almost always accept that the owner (or proclaimed owner) is telling the truth above the actual version of the rebelling tenant.

A favourite charge for these malicious landlords is “trespassing”, notwithstanding that the trouble-making tenant had been lawfully staying on that property for several years just to return after the illegal arrest and find that the landlord used that opportunity to throw out his or her stuff on the street or steal the valuables of the tenant.

These types of malicious criminal complaints are seldom pursued by the victimised tenant, because many times the tenant was an illegal foreigner or in fear that the landlord might retaliate. While the landlord was aware that the tenant was illegally in the country, it did not matter to him or her as long as the rent was paid in time and in full.

Landlords love to rent out their properties to illegal foreigners, especially Zimbabweans. The charged rent to these illegals are exorbitant for homes literally falling apart. But the tenants pay as they are not able to get a place anywhere else. On the other hand, it is easy for the landlord to illegally evict them, using a gang of muscled Nigerians.

Landlords have the right to get paid rent on time and in full, but that comes with the responsibility to provide adequate housing in exchange, to treat tenants with respect and dignity too.

While De Beer was the Operational and Legal Manager of the largest rental agency in Johannesburg South, TUPA Real Estate, his white principal, Mr. Louis Birkenstock, expected him to aggressively follow up on defaulting tenants – De Beer refused.

TUPA Real Estate is well known by the residents of Johannesburg South to commit unfair rental practices and is a regular respondent in cases brought against it in the Gauteng Rental Housing Tribunal. Notwithstanding that TUPA Real Estate had been found to commit unfair rental practices, no known criminal charges have ever been trialed against it and its directors.

One day Birkenstock demanded from De Beer, in front of other witnesses, to take five ‘Nigerians’ to an arrears tenant in the wealthy suburb of Morningside, to demand payment of around R70.000 arrears. De Beer refused, saying that he couldn’t do it even if he and his family ended up on a park bench. “At least then, I can teach my daughters something that is much more valuable than money – to treat people with dignity and respect”, he remembered proudly.

To make a long story short, De Beer said it did lead to his unfair dismissal,costing TUPA probably R500.000 in the process, and is still a matter being investigated by the Public Protector (after an involved senior CCMA commissioner, Mr. Joseph Tsabadi, was dismissed for corruption and the NPA refusing to prosecute him and his alleged accomplices).

De Beer is not the only property manager who was forced to treat tenants disrespectfully or face the axe. Most other rental administrators must commit ‘extreme measures’ and are scared to come forward out of fear to losing their jobs. One such administrator in Pretoria told De Beer that she knows that they are doing wrong but that she and her colleagues feared losing their jobs if they didn’t.

While these mainly white estate agency principals act like mafias, throwing tenants out without Court Orders, locking/welding their doors of their homes, attaching the tenant’s furniture without even going to Court, et cetera, one wonders how us white people can hypocritically accuse the ANC government of corruption but justify these atrocities happening next door to us.

How many landlords have been found guilty or even trialed for unfair criminal practices committed against their tenants? De Beer confirms that he is not aware of any landlord who has a criminal record resulting from transgressing the Gauteng Unfair Rental Practices Regulations, 2001 or PIE Act.

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p style=”text-align: justify;”>On the other hand, De Beer testifies that he knows several tenants who have been found guilty for transgression of Section 3 of the PIE Act; assault, trespassing, intimidation, et cetera. Tenants are simply not treated as humans in our capitalist greedy society today and the landlords are put on pedestals superior to those who are paying them.

Most rental disputes can be diplomatically solved if landlords treat their tenants with dignity and respect. De Beer says that he was extremely successful with a defaulting tenant by simply asking him or her how he could assist the tenant to solve his or her financial predicament. “By changing the focus from ‘I demand payment’ to ‘how can I help you’ almost always solved the problem.”

The way white tenants are treated in comparison to black tenants is very different. Only a few white tenants are evicted annually. “Please don’t shoot the messenger, but just like Dr. Phil would say us white people will not change these unfair practices if we are not forced to acknowledge it,” De Beer said.

When talking to landlords about them mistreating their tenants, one would almost always get the reply that the house belongs to them and they can do with it as they want.

This self-entitlement attitude of so many landlords have resulted in the un-regulation of our property industry where the legislation is selectively enforced and our Courts granting eviction orders that are ridiculous.

While having the Court at its throat, the judges and magistrates generally accept the story of the applying landlord. In many cases the eviction proceedings are not opposed by the occupants and the accepted argument justifying an eviction order is the one where it is believed that the occupants are so uncaring that they did not even come to Court.

The latter is nothing short than plainly bullshit. The fact that the occupants do not pitch up at Court is the fact that the Sheriff has never served the occupants with the eviction application and many times the municipality has also not been served or is totally unsympathetic towards the occupants.

What is the logic granting an eviction order in absence of opposition by the occupants, while the landlord states that the property is unlawfully occupied by 20 to 50 people? Is there really not one occupant who should be coming to Court? By granting an eviction order hearing even one occupant, the Court is ultimately directly responsible for our high homelessness. It isn’t serving justice at all.

Until proper legislation is put in place, and enforced, where there’s a process of compulsory mediation accompanied by an inspector report for every eviction application, lawless evictions will keep on destroying our developing communities.

LFN will keep on fighting to reform our judiciary and legal fraternity whose institutions are ultimately to be blamed for the high rate of evictions.

Due to the fact that municipalities are not accurately documenting each eviction application served on them, the true national statistics would probably be so devastating that it would indicate that landowners have in fact declared war on their tenants.