Contentious amendments to PIE Act tabled in Parliament

Amendments to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land (Pie) Act now tabled in Parliament will bring relief to tenants, sectional title owners and landlords.

This is according to Andrew Schaefer, CEO of national rental agents Trafalgar in a company media release.

Its most dramatic provisions are to criminalise the hijacking of property rentals - common in the inner city and "constructive eviction" by landlords. It also corrects an unintended appeal court judgement seven years ago that included tenants in the protection of land invaders by the Pie Act

"Landlords are unhappy because they say the terms of the proposed amendment could see them jailed if their tenant electricity was cut off for any reason," says Schaefer. "Yet it doesn't criminalise tenants refusing to pay rent.

"I think some of the terms of the bill now in Parliament might be softened. But landlords should start getting used to the idea that their relationship with the occupants of their residential properties is as much social as economic.

"I believe government is sincere in wanting to balance the rights of tenants with its reliance on private enterprise to provide large scale rental housing that it can't afford to do itself," add Schaefer, referring to the Rental Housing Act. "Amendments to that also include constructive eviction - that is making tenants life so miserable they are forced to leave --- as a criminal act.

It will definitely curtail new rental development in its current form, he says, "just as the hijacking of flats in various ways has been a major cause of the rental fabric in Johannesburg CBD deteriorating so badly." People have moved into buildings claiming that landlord or managing agents are corrupt and diverting rents to themselves. Landlords have been unable to pay for their electricity and water and the tenants have ultimately suffered the most.

Section 2 of the act will now be amended to make it easier to evict building tenants and homeowners who default on their mortgage loans. But although landlords will be freed from the Pie Act they must still go through procedures that will prevent rapid evictions, including getting a court order and giving 10 days' notice of the court date. The constitution prohibits evictions without a court order.

Changes to section 3 criminalises people who charge rent or get money from tenants or sectional title owners for land or buildings without the consent of landlords or bodies corporate. They face up to two years in prison and the seizure of their assets.

Until now police have refused to act against the hijackers. They usually claim to be acting for a fictitious political grouping sent to take over the building because, they say, that the landlord is corrupt. Rents or levies illegally collected are then diverted to a bank account.

Police say this is a civil matter. Now many of Johannesburg's 1 000 dilapidated inner-city buildings will be freed for regeneration. Authorities will also be able to put more pressure on the neglectful owners of remaining buildings.

Section 3 criminalises constructive eviction, defined as depriving tenants of services or facilities "to induce a person to vacate or return land or buildings". If they are accused of this, landlords also face criminal charges.
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