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Wealthy property owners living next door to squatters

Posted On Tuesday, 02 September 2003 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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South Africans are showing a talent for solving the many problems around property

Property-Housing-ResidentialThe government is about to amend an important property law, nicknamed the PIE Act, demonstrating its commitment to private property ownership.

It also adds to evidence that South Africans may be developing a talent for solving social problems, particularly around property.

A year ago there was panic when the Appeal Court judged that the Prevention of Illegal Evictions and Unlawful Occupation Act of 1998 applied to occupants of houses and flats, even though PIE was clearly designed to regulate land invasions and squatting by homeless people.

PIE wraps the often competing rights of land invaders (mainly to fair court procedures in the case of an eviction) and landowners together in a bundle of red tape. For instance, court papers must be served on each of the invaders in their own language. Try doing that to a few thousand people who might speak all 11 official languages, plus half a dozen from the rest of Africa...

Also, if the invaders are elderly or single parents, or have been on the land for more than six months, they cant be evicted until they have alternative accommodation.

The amendments approved by the Cabinet last week exclude landlords with non-paying tenants, or banks with occupants of repossessed properties who refuse to leave, from the rigours of PIE. The changes will probably become law late this year or early next year, boosting inner city and township investment.

But developing a healthy social order around the complex issue of property might take many decades or even centuries of legislation, court action and general practice.

Section 26, the property clause of the Constitution, was probably the hardest-fought in the negotiations for a democratic South Africa. In the end, Section 26 has tried to achieve a balance between the rights of owners, tenants and other occupants of property, and redressing a history in which millions were excluded from the right to own land.

Laws arising from the Constitution are not always perfect. The lengthy eviction procedures set down by PIE have allowed residents associations and tenants associations to hijack inner city blocks of flats or township properties and feast on the income from rents, home loan repayments and municipal service charges diverted to their bank accounts. But the amendments to PIE criminalise these hijackers and should put a stop to their activities.

The Rental Housing Act is another piece of enlightened legislation. It recognises the right of property owners to get a reasonable return on their investment, but obligates them to look after their properties and treat tenants fairly. It recognises that tenants who pay their rent and live peacefully are entitled to treat the property they rent as home. For instance, they cannot be evicted just because the landlord thinks he can get a higher rent from somebody else. If a landlord does not look after the property, rental housing tribunals can fix a low rent until they do.

Afro-pessimists call this another form of rent control and PIE an infringement on ownership rights that they compare with land grabs in Zimbabwe. This, if youll excuse the pun, is pie in the sky. Absolute land rights went out with the rights of parents to decide who their children may marry. The government is ensuring that South Africans can build their wealth through property investment with confidence.

Last modified on Friday, 16 May 2014 08:59

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