Durban tenants evicted without due process
Several tenants were evicted this month in different parts of Durban. The evictions were unrelated and at least eight tenants were made homeless.
Five students who returned to Durban this month found themselves without accommodation when the building supervisor, with the assistance of the police, seized the keys to the flat. The main tenant who rented it out to the students did not intervene, claiming that the students owed him December's rental. He did not occupy the flat and was therefore not willing to challenge the illegal action since he was not directly affected.
The eight tenants whose personal belongings were removed by the sheriff with the assistance of the police, were stunned by the events that unfolded. They were not aware of a court order that required their landlord to give vacant occupation of the property.
They had paid January's rental but their landlord did not inform them that she had lost the high court case brought against her by the new owner.
The service of the warrant of ejectment was sudden and in terms of the court order, all those who occupied with or through the landlord had to move out. The tenants refused to move out, hoping that since they were not a party to the legal proceedings and having paid their rentals, they would be spared, or, at least, given an opportunity to approach the court. The sheriff returned a few days later and removed all their belongings, placing them on the pavement. The tenants too had to stay on the pavement, some for a few days, until they managed to find temporary accommodation.
The sheriff acted on a warrant to execute a court order. This would have its beginnings in a summons or application that must be defended within the time limit prescribed by court rules. It is not clear whether the previous owner defended the legal action, or having done so, failed in her bid to retain her property.
The usual remedy for a tenant who is unlawfully evicted is to approach the court or the provincial Rental Housing Tribunal to be reinstated immediately. The eight tenants may have succeeded in bringing an urgent interdict but were unable to get legal assistance.
The students were unlawfully evicted and like the eight tenants, have claims against their landlord.
In another matter, a tenant was locked out with her children and is using her motor vehicle as a temporary shelter.
In a case involving eThekwini Municipality as the landlord, it would appear that its tenant was unlawfully "evicted". The tenant who returned to her flat after 10 months, found that it was occupied by another tenant. eThekwini Municipality's response was that she had abandoned her flat and could not be contacted. To prevent vandalism and to secure the flat from possible "invasion" by a third party, the flat was let out to another tenant who was in need of accommodation.
The municipality is obliged to protect its rental accommodation but ought to follow legal procedure in securing a court order against the "absentee" tenant. This would ensure that the municipality is also protected against possible legal action by the tenant who was "evicted" or prevented access without a court order.
Many more tenants, about 80, would be facing evictions within the next 6 weeks in Durban.
These tenants were served with notices to vacate for various reasons and would be looking for suitable, alternative accommodation or find themselves on the pavements with their belongings.