The evictions begin

A new wave of homelessness is on its way, says Liberty Fighters Network.
It is almost impossible to find new accommodation once evicted as information about legal proceedings is shared with credit bureaus and landlords all do credit checks. Image: Getty Images

Liberty Fighters Network (LFN), which successfully challenged government’s lockdown regulations in court, says a wave of evictions is already underway due to the extended economic lockdown.

“We see this as potentially the greatest threat to emerge from the lockdown crisis. As people lose their jobs or have to take a cut in pay, they are unable to pay their rents and mortgage bonds,” says Reyno de Beer, founder of the LFN, which last month defeated government in the Joburg High Court over its lockdown regulations.

Read: Evictions, power cuts heighten SA housing crisis amid lockdown

The government is appealing the ruling, which says the regulations are irrational and unconstitutional. Government was given 14 days to amend the regulations to comply with the constitution. De Beer says even though some of the regulations have been relaxed since the ruling, LFN plans to take it all the way to the Constitutional Court if necessary to ensure the government does not again overstep its powers.

Inundated

“One of our primary concerns when we brought the case to the Joburg High Court was the potential for a humanitarian crisis of homelessness as a result of people being evicted due to the lockdown. We’ve been inundated with cases of people now being threatened with eviction and foreclosure, exactly as we predicted would happen,” says de Beer.

LFN was originally set up to provide legal support to those fighting evictions and to develop alternative methods of resolving rent and mortgage disputes. De Beer says government will be saddled with a massive crisis of homelessness unless it changes the law to put a freeze on evictions until the economy recovers, and to stop adverse consumer reports being filed with the credit bureaus.

“Once you’re in default and legal proceedings to evict you begin, this information is shared with the credit bureaus,” says De Beer. “That means once you are evicted, it is almost impossible for you to find alternative accommodation as all landlords will do a basic credit check on you.”

Flouting the three-month freeze

He adds that some landlords are flouting the three-month freeze on evictions, imposed by government at the start of the lockdown in March, by handing eviction letters to those unable to pay their full rent.

Under the lockdown regulations, no one may be evicted until Alert Level 3 is lifted – unless a court decides it is not just and equitable to delay the eviction. And this is where landlords are gaming the system.

De Beer points out that court registrars continue to enroll eviction cases in the high courts, despite the Pretoria High Court ruling in September 2018 that these matters should be heard in the magistrates’ courts, which are more accessible and less costly to ordinary citizens.

Consumer and legal activist Leonard Benjamin says he is likewise swamped with cases of threatened eviction. He recommends removing foreclosure matters entirely from the courts so they can be adjudicated in a less adversarial atmosphere, such as by an independent housing forum staffed with legal and accounting experts.

“There is too much skullduggery in the current system, and the courts are turning a blind eye to the behaviour of the banks and landlords,” says Benjamin.

“The system is massively skewed against the consumer, not least because of the high cost of fighting cases in court, especially in the more expensive high courts.

“These matters should be heard in magistrates courts, where the costs are much lower, but even here there are problems, as many judges do not understand banking and consumer law.

“No bank should ever be able to get an eviction without considering the circumstances of the person living in the household, yet this is precisely what is happening. Judges should refuse to hear eviction matters without tenants being able to place their evidence before the court.”

King Sibiya, president of the Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation, which defends mainly township residents from unlawful evictions, says his organisation has likewise seen a spike in foreclosure cases in recent weeks.

“We can’t go on thinking this is business as usual. It is not. There is a catastrophe in the making, and government cannot sit by while tens of thousands of people are evicted from their homes after losing their jobs,” says Benjamin.

Two days’ notice

Says De Beer: “Just last week I had a case where a landlord instituted eviction proceedings on an urgent basis in the high court, giving the tenant just two days’ notice.”

The landlord claimed he needed access to the property to do renovations.

The tenant arrived at court to defend himself as he was unable to find a lawyer given the short notice, but was told by court security to come back another day.

The judge granted the so-called spoliation order (restoration of possession) without the tenant being present in court.

In this case, it appears the landlord knew he could sneak one past the judge on an urgent basis because the lockdown made it virtually impossible for the tenant to put up a defence.

“How can tenants defend against evictions if they can’t freely get legal assistance during lockdown?” asks De Beer. “Even once the lockdown is lifted, the law clinics and legal aid societies are going to be swamped with tenants facing eviction and landlords defaulting on their mortgage loans.”

Read: A third of residential tenants won’t pay full rent this year

The temporary freeze on evictions assumes conditions will bounce back to normal when the lockdown is lifted – which is completely false, says de Beer. The economic consequences of the lockdown will linger for years to come.

Though consumers are encouraged to take advantage of repayment holidays with their banks, this only applies to those already in good standing and up-to-date on their loans. Benjamin says the banks have been less than sympathetic to the massive financial hole caused by the lockdown to the pockets of ordinary South Africans.

Alternative needed

“I would agree that we need a change in the law to suspend evictions,” says Benjamin. “There is a danger that opportunists take advantage of this, but there are ways to overcome this. What is needed is an independent alternative dispute resolution mechanism staffed by experts, who are able to make rulings based on all the available evidence.

“The way things stand, most people faced with foreclosure proceedings give up at the very first hurdle, not understanding their consumer and constitutional rights.”

He says one way to solve the problem is to follow precedents set overseas where forgiveness periods of one to two years are allowed to those in default on their home loans.

The New Economics Foundation in the UK, a country that is facing the same threat of mass evictions as SA, has recommended a temporary suspension of rents and a genuine mortgage freeze, where no interest accrues during the repayment holiday. Such a scheme in SA would have to be backed with government financial support for landlords, to be gradually unwound as economic conditions allow.

“Who is going to stand up for those being evicted when the economy was shut down and they lost their jobs through no fault of their own?” asks Sibiya. “Where is the government and its legislative power when it is needed?”

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Tyd om op te staan. Hoop government sit lekker en speel pop by die huis, but this just can’t be allowed. Thanks LFN for the example

I notice all the talk of banks putting cases in the High Courts, there was an article on Moneyweb on the 9th June titled “It just got much harder to litigate consumers into bankruptcy”.
The article speaks specifically about “The National Credit Act (NCA) requires that disputes over credit agreements are brought before the magistrates’ courts, where the allowable legal costs are a fraction of that in the high courts. The drafters of the NCA did this to make justice accessible to all, and affordable.”
I am not sure whether this unpacks itself here in terms of the banks.
https://www.moneyweb.co.za/news/companies-and-deals/it-just-got-much-harder-to-litigate-consumers-into-bankruptcy/?mc_cid=e9bf194404&mc_eid=ddce1d9e5e

I remember 2008 the article up to 2000,000 house in foreclosure & repossession. This will be much worse!!!!!

This loose conglomerate of sociopaths and looters we call a government has morphed into a monster. It was never intended to be this way. Centuries ago, farmers and villagers formed small groups to protect their crops and livestock against dangerous animals. Later on, the community formed small groups to protect their property against other small groups. The members of the community have been active participants in the collective action of protection all along. Later, as society grew and property rights got traction, people began to specialize in certain jobs. Some produced wheat and wool, others produced shoes and garments and others specialised in military matters.

This process of specialisation has evolved to the point where the community has abdicated their responsibility and accountability to those among them who are not fit for any job in that community. They elected this person with the gift of the gab to talk on their behalf because they had wheat to harvest, sheep to shear and military matters to attend to. In this way, those who had the least to contribute to society gathered in the house of talking. Now, parliament is far removed from the people. Instead of protecting the community, this group with their newly found powers, oppress and abuse the community. The individuals in the community have lost the rights of self-determination, the right to exchange labour for food, freedom of choice, and the right to be responsible for his own health.

What will happen? People in the community will form small groups once again. This time to protect them from the sociopaths in government. They will protect the trade routs of cigarettes, wine and food. They will gym, cycle, surf and party and carry on with their lives, in defiance of lockdown. The government has become the enemy of the people, an uncontrollable power-hungry monster that feeds off the people.

All very well to prevent evictions but what about the landlord who has to meet obligations to the bank and the municipality. I rent out a property and get about R 18k a month, assuming no default. My municipal bill alone has been R 23 k a month. The municipal accounts department is virtually impossible to raise and so I can’t even resolve the high bill.

Legislating against evictions is forcing me to further subsidise tenants who can’t pay their rents. If the government wants to force landlords to provide free housing then they must be prepared to waive municipal charges and subsidise mortgage payments. Otherwise the situation will just result in further bankruptcies.

So we are all in support of going the Brazil route? What use is opening up the economy if the global tourists won’t be coming to our shores? We are going to open for internal consumption which to be honest isn’t much use.

The government is where they have always been. What a rhetorical question!

Government is not the problem, it’s the brainless community that follows them blindly considering every thing they are told as fact. The SABC stating that Brazil’s beaches will become graveyards with 50 000 out of 201 000 000 (0.025%) people contracting the virus. Further we are told (SABC) that Beijing has an enormous relapse of 8 new cases. Absolutely terrible and frightening is-int it.

End of comments.

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