Evictions: Considering the Rights Of Owners And Occupiers

Evictions often involve competing interests, with property owners seeking to protect their rights while illegal occupiers strive to secure their shelter and homes. In such cases, the court are often faced with the task weighing up the competing interests of both parties to determine the best course of action.

In the recent matter of Willem Grobler v Clare Phillips and two others the Constitutional Court overturned a judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal (“the SCA”) where the SCA refused to grant Mr Grobler’s application to evict Ms Phillips from his property.

Mr Grobler purchased the property on auction 14 years ago and found Ms Phillips, who is 85 years old, living in the property with her disabled son. Ms Phillips had been residing in the property since 1947.

Mr Grobler on various occasions offered to assist Ms Phillips and her son to relocate to another residence, which offers Ms Phillips repeatedly rejected. Ms Phillips instead insisted that the previous owner of the property had given her a “right of use to reside” in the property and that she subsequently wishes to remain in the property.

The SCA could find no proof to substantiate Ms Phillip’s allegation that she had been granted a “right of use to reside” in the property but nonetheless held that it would not be just and equitable to order that Ms Phillips (and her son) be evicted from the property.

The Constitutional Court held that the SCA came to the wrong conclusion in that it failed to adequately consider the rights of both parties. The Constitutional Court held that the SCA had placed too much emphasis on the peculiar circumstances of Ms Phillips (i.e. the long period that she has resided in the property and the fact that her son is disabled) resulting in the SCA failing to adequately consider the rights of the landowner, namely Mr Grobler.

The Court went on to state that the SCA also failed to take into account the fact that Ms Phillips did not even consider Mr Grobler’s offers to help her secure alternative accommodation notwithstanding the fact that that there is no obligation on a landowner (such as Mr Grobler) to provide alternative accommodation to an unlawful occupier prior to launching an eviction application.

The Constitutional Court ordered that Ms Phillips and her son vacate the property within six months and relocate to an alternative residence which Mr Grobler had offered to help secure, failing which Ms Phillips and her son be evicted from the property.

A few important principles can be gleaned from this judgment:

Firstly, in determining whether it is just and equitable to evict an unlawful occupier from a property the rights of both the occupier and the landowner must be adequately considered and balanced by the relevant Court.

Secondly, the wishes or personal preference of the unlawful occupier is not relevant in determining whether he/she should be evicted.

Thirdly, there is no obligation on landowners to provide alternative accommodation prior to bringing and eviction application, although as this judgment attests, an offer to provide an unlawful occupier with alternative accommodation may strengthen the landowner’s case for an eviction. 

At GEA we understand the complexity and sensitivity of eviction matters and the impact they can have on both property owners and illegal occupiers. Our experienced team of property law experts can provide you with the necessary guidance and legal representation to navigate the eviction process effectively. Contact us today for expert legal advice and assistance with your eviction matter.

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