On one level, if the city has neither the will nor the means to evict squatters, then compensating those affected, even landlords, seems quite fair, but on another, adding to the burden of the taxpayer is no solution.
Ruling means ratepayers could end up footing the bill for illegal occupants Feb 14, 2010 12:00 AM | By Kim Hawkey
A landmark court judgment could see ratepayers footing rental bills for squatters.
Judge provides financial relief for both landowner and squattersIn the ruling by the High Court in Johannesburg - set to pave the way for other landlords whose properties have been invaded by illegal occupants - the City of Johannesburg has been ordered to pay rent to a property owner whose building has been occupied by squatters.
And, unless the council finds the 88 people alternative accommodation, it will have to pay each household head R850 a month for rent, plus a deposit if required.
The judgment in the case, which was brought by property development company, Blue Moonlight Properties 39, brings relief to property owners who for years have been financially prejudiced because the country's courts have been reluctant to evict illegal occupants who have nowhere else to go.
The property company has been fighting for an eviction order for nearly four years.
While the court has finally granted the eviction order, giving the squatters about two months to move, the company will now be able to claim market-related rental courtesy of the City of Johannesburg.
This payment arrangement will remain in place until the municipality fixes its housing policy, which the court held was unconstitutional, and provides the illegal occupants with suitable housing.
The significance of Judge Brian Spilg's ruling is that it provides financially for both the property owners and squatters.
Moreover, it confirms the council's obligation to provide alternative housing.
Maurice Crespi from Schindlers Attorneys, which acted for the owner, said that until now courts had been extremely reluctant to evict poor occupiers who had nowhere else to go, because the municipality could not provide alternative accommodation.
In this case, the owner bought the property in 2005 and planned to demolish the building and develop a residential block. But these plans were put on hold for years as the company battled the illegal occupants out.
"Essentially, what used to happen is that the land owner would have to bear the brunt of squatters being on the premises until an eviction," Crespi said.
The court has now come up with "a mechanism whereby both the land owner and squatters' constitutional rights to housing are catered for".
The city had argued it did not have a duty to provide housing to those evicted from private premises, but that its obligation only extended to those evicted from state-owned property.
But the court held that the city's policy was unconstitutional and it has been ordered to return to court next month to report back on how it plans to change its discriminatory housing policy.
Centre for Applied Legal Studies lawyer Teboho Mosilkili, who acted for the squatters, said although the order was a "huge breakthrough", his clients intended to appeal as they were unlikely to find suitable accommodation for R850 a month.
Crespi said although the order was only binding in Johannesburg, it would be persuasive in other provincial courts. "It's huge," he said.
His colleague Lisa Sher said other property owners would, however, have to meet the criteria that the court was likely to set out when it handed down the reasons for its decision on Tuesday.
"It will apply nationwide because once you have one decision, it sets out what the law is and people will then go to court relying on this decision, so that's where the big impact is. There's never been a decision of this nature before," Sher said.
Chairman of the National Taxpayers' Union, Jaap Kelder, said the "watershed judgment" could financially ruin municipalities.
"It's all very nice for the courts to say municipalities must provide housing, but there's a limit to what municipalities can do."