More repressive legislation coming…(PIE Amendment Bill)

Law cracks down on squatter lords
April 6, 2008

By Donwald Pressly

Cape Town – Legislation has been tabled in parliament that prohibits the act of arranging the unlawful occupation of land or buildings, but also prevents evictions of unlawful occupiers before appropriate consultation has taken place and alternative accommodation has been provided.

The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land (PIE) Amendment Bill, tabled by housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu, notes that many buildings – particularly high-rise buildings – have been occupied unlawfully at the insistence of people who are not the owners of the buildings and who then collect rent from the illegal occupants.

Clive Keegan, the director of the Local Government Research Centre, notes that while the PIE Act already prohibits the receipt or solicitation of money for arranging for a person to occupy a property without the consent of the owner, the act of arranging an unlawful occupation is not an offence.

The amendment bill also deals with eviction processes involving people who have already occupied a property.

The bill, first tabled in 2005, has been altered to take into account public input, and grants a court the right to evict squatters if it is of the opinion that is just and equitable to do so.

However, it must consider the rights and needs of the unlawful occupiers, especially if they are children, disabled or elderly, or women who are heads of households.

The amended legislation follows recent court action best captured in the case of 51 Olivia Road, Berea Township, and Another versus City of Johannesburg and Others.

The constitutional court recently handed down judgment in this matter in which the City of Johannesburg originally applied to the high court for the eviction of more than 400 illegal occupants in the inner city on the basis that the buildings were unsafe and unhealthy.

The high court refused to evict the occupiers, instead ordering the city to remedy its housing programme. However, the supreme court of appeal upheld the city’s appeal and granted eviction on condition that the city would provide alternative accommodation.

The constitutional court overruled the eviction order, citing the state’s obligation to strive to realise the right to adequate housing. It said the parties should engage meaningfully with each other with a view to taking short-term steps to improve current living conditions and finding alternative accommodation for those who would be rendered homeless.

The bill’s memorandum says there is confusion over whether the PIE Act applies to proceedings for the eviction of tenants whose leases have been cancelled or mortgagors whose bonds have been foreclosed and who refuse to vacate the site.

The bill thus amends the act to state specifically that it does not apply to a person who once occupied land as the owner, as the tenant, or in terms of any other agreement, and who continues to stay there despite the fact that the person no longer owns the land, or the tenancy or agreement has been validly terminated.