Costly concern

Interdict could indirectly both help and further prejudice private property owners

A Johannesburg high court judgment refusing the municipality an eviction order against squatters has upped the stakes for private investors in inner cities.

The judgment raises the risk of landlords being unable to eject invaders.

Judge Mahomed Jajbhay said Johannesburg was violating the squatters' constitutional rights to adequate housing. He ordered the city to " implement with its available resources a comprehensive programme to progressively realise the right to adequate housing for people in the inner city".

He interdicted the city from evicting the squatters until then.

Moray Hathorn of attorneys Webber Wentzel, who acted for the building occupants, says the judgment doesn't apply to private landlords.

"Private landlords do not have to provide alternative homes to evict unlawful occupants," he says.

Yet the judgment could indirectly both help and further prejudice inner-city property owners. Says inner-city consultant Neil Fraser: "The judgment makes it clear that people in bad buildings' must be given homes in the inner city if the city wants to evict them.

"On the other hand, we have a major problem the law isn't facing up to in sectional-title housing. The current law evidently has led to major exploitation by occupiers of such units."

Neville Schaefer owns buildings in inner Johannesburg and his company, Trafalgar, manages many blocks of flats. He says: "Johannesburg municipality is clearly in deep trouble. Most bad buildings are sectional-title flats that have been invaded over the years. Or tenants refuse to pay rent or service costs.

"The owners can't afford to carry the buildings on their own and the properties becomes sinkholes."

Schaefer says the judgment makes it more urgent to promulgate proposed amendments to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from & Unlawful Occupation of Land Act.

"These amendments were promised nearly four years ago," he says. "There is great hardship for many poor, mainly black, sectional-title owners. "

Fraser says a housing indaba is urgently needed.

Article By Ian Fife - http://free.financialmail.co.za