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Owners of hijacked buildings at the mercy of the law

A hijacked building can be classified as one that has been abandoned by the owner for a variety of reasons and then is taken over by the occupants or more often criminal syndicates.

What are the causes of hijacked buildings?

These buildings are almost always found in the centre of big cities in areas that are run down and crime-ridden.

No property owner wants his/her building to be hijacked.

It all starts from a small beginning, which is usually the non-payment of rent and services fees like water and electricity.

This often happens in areas that are being run down due to lack of street-level maintenance by local authorities such as poor rubbish collection and poor enforcement of good housekeeping in the area.

Harvey Road in Bloemfontein is a typical example of this.

Taxis are allowed to park with impunity and block traffic on other roads.

Peet Avenue is often blocked entirely, which is something that would never be allowed in a normal society.

As a result the good tenants tend to look for better managed areas and the quality of tenants begins to deteriorate.

Fewer tenants are willing to move in.

And because the property owners do not want to have empty units, vetting standards for new tenants may be lowered.

However, the poor quality of new tenants tends to force out good tenants, resulting in the quality of people living in the building getting poorer.

Rental collection usually becomes difficult and water and electricity remain unpaid.

The landlord, as a result, has less ability and encouragement to look after the building and the condition tends to go downhill from there.

Tenants use this reduction in management of the building as a reason for not paying rental and services and the situation just gets worse until it is no longer a paying proposition for the landlord – who is often forced to abandon the building.

The other scenario is where gangsters pressure tenants to pay rentals to them and not the legal owner of the building.

The result is that the landlord abandons the building and the gangsters take control.

They overcrowd the building, often with illegal immigrants, taking inflated rentals but doing nothing to maintain the building.

The situation just gets worse.

It is usually dangerous for the landlord to try to rectify the situation as he is put at serious risk of being physically attacked.

The current laws do little or nothing to protect the landlord which is a great shame.

The law is very biased against business in general and landlords in particular.

It is near impossible and financially devastating for a landlord to get an eviction order against a tenant who does not pay rental.

It costs in excess of R7 500 just to go to court and the courts are very sympathetic to non-paying tenants.

Personally, I have the experience where a tenant who has not paid levy from February 2020 was given two adjournments of the court case so that they could get legal representation, despite the fact that Legal Aid said that they had no case.

That resulted in a delay of over two months in the eviction.

At the end of the day the only way to get rid of the tenant was to agree to them having two months to find alternative accommodation, making it a total of 10 months for which they did not pay rent.

Not very encouraging for landlords.

Tenants who do not pay for water and electricity are not supposed to be disconnected – though this is the only practical way to force them to pay.

How can a landlord be forced to carry on providing water and electricity to somebody who has not paid for what they already have had?

The Act says that you should take your tenant to court – simply not a practical solution.

What is needed is a revision that clearly sets out a tenant’s obligations – to pay rent and services – and what happens when they don’t.

For example, if you don’t pay your rent by the stipulated day and have received a seven-day notice to do so, the lease is automatically terminated at the end of that month (there should be a deposit for that one month’s rental) and the tenant must move out.

If they don’t, then you can obtain a simple quick and cost-effective eviction order, on proof of non-payment.

That is the way to encourage ownership for rental and to create massive new jobs and housing through a revitalised building industry.

  • Mike Spencer is the founder and owner of Platinum Global. He is also a professional associated property valuer and consultant with work across the country as well as Eastern Europe and Australia.

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