A brazen case of a hijacked building

By | hijacking, PIE, Student evictions

Students protected as illegal “landlord” evicted

Eviction is never pleasant, regardless of just cause. It usually means someone losing their home, even if their occupation of that home is technically unlawful. People who erect shacks on land that is not their own can be forgiven…or at least understood…when they genuinely have nowhere else to go. But sometimes an eviction is not only justified but entirely deserved. A recent case that came before the Gauteng High Court reveals just how brazen a building hijacker can be. The case is astonishing for the sheer audacity of the respondent. Fortunately, the law prevailed. Furthermore, it protected a large number of innocent students who were offered tenancies under false pretences.

Caretaker turned landlord

A property-owning company owns a property in Tshwane. They are the applicant – the party bringing the case to court. The respondent, or defendant, is an individual who was formerly employed by the applicant as a caretaker of the property. He was permitted to occupy the property to carry out his duties, but his employment has now been terminated. With absolutely no mandate from the property owner, this former caretaker concluded an accreditation agreement with a third party so the property could be accredited as private student accommodation. When the applicant learned of this, they obtained an order stopping the respondent from leasing out units and from collecting rent or permitting people who are not in occupation of the property to enter the property and take up occupation. The respondent was specifically forbidden from acting on behalf of the applicant for any purpose. Nonetheless, the respondent continued to rent rooms to students. Occupant numbers rose from 17 to 50, and by early March 2024 there were approximately 200 students in residence!

Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE)

When PIE is mentioned, it is usually in the context of stopping an eviction. However, the Act also exists to stop unlawful occupation, and the applicant in this case believed (with good reason) that the respondent’s occupation of the property was unlawful. Furthermore, the respondent, acting as landlord, was collecting rental income to which he had no entitlement. The applicant went to court seeking an eviction order under PIE and an urgent interim eviction order under section 5(1) of the Act. Because eviction proceedings can take some time, the applicant was concerned to rectify a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation quickly. Section 5(1)  states:

(1) …the owner or person in charge of land may institute urgent proceedings for the eviction of an unlawful occupier of that land pending the outcome of proceedings for a final order, and the court may grant such an order if it is satisfied that- (a) there is a real and imminent danger of substantial injury or damage to any person or property if the unlawful occupier is not forthwith evicted from the land; (b) the likely hardship to the owner or any other affected person if an order for eviction is not granted, exceeds the likely hardship to the unlawful occupier against whom the order is sought, if an order for eviction is granted; and (c) there is no other effective remedy available.

In the application for the urgent eviction order, the applicant argued that unless the respondent was evicted on an urgent basis the hijacking of the property would continue. Given that unlawful landlords rarely have the best interests of the property or the tenants in mind, and are not known for maintaining properties in good order, the likelihood of injury or damage to person or property was high. 

Fate of the students in the hijacked building

However, the tenants had occupied the building in good faith and were living there while pursuing their studies. There have been many stories in the press of hijacked buildings being cleared by relocation and eviction services such as the Red Ants, who may restore the building to the rightful owner but also make tenants homeless in the process. Fortunately, in this case the applicant informed the students of the pending dispute and confirmed that the application to court would not affect their occupation of the property. The university has been furnished with a copy of the court order and the applicant intends to seek accreditation with the university once the fraudulent accreditation granted to the first respondent has been cancelled. At that point leases will be normalised. Students were advised not to make any further payments to the respondent and to alert the applicant to any attempt to extort money from them by threats. In yet further confirmation of his brashness, the respondent physically prevented delivery of these letters to the property.

A happy ending

The court found that the requirements in section 5(1) of the Act were met. There is a real and imminent danger of damage to the property and harm to the bona fide students who are at the property to pursue their studies, and the hardship to the applicant and the occupiers far exceeds the potential harm to the respondent, who has no right to occupation. The respondent has invaded the applicant’s property and the applicant is in danger of losing the use of his own property to the detriment of their lawful business and to the detriment of the university students. The property is also undergoing maintenance that is incomplete and construction work may pose a danger to students. The right to occupation initially granted to the respondent was limited and linked to his employment as a caretaker. He did not have permission to rent out rooms or to use the property for business purposes on his own behalf of on behalf of anybody else. The applicant has a right to the use and enjoyment of the building. The property company is entitled to protect its property from damage and to regularise its relationship with the university, using the property to earn income by providing legitimate accommodation to genuine students.

The respondent was ordered to vacate the property within 48 hours of service of the eviction  order.

For further information

Landlords sometimes need legal help with troublesome tenants. Tenants may also have mitigating circumstances that make an eviction case complex. But this particular case was cut and dried. The respondent blatantly abused his initial right of occupancy as caretaker and disregarded the law in offering accommodation to students with accreditation gained under false pretences. The urgent eviction order was granted without dispute. If you have issues with property hijacking, we can help. Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a law firm of specialist eviction lawyers in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email

Further reading:

Property hijacking trend to look out for in South Africa

By | Evictions, hijacking, PIE

A worrying trend in property hijacking is on the increase in South Africa, as this article from BusinessTech highlights.

Reprinted from BusinessTech – 2022-08-12

The hijacking of residential properties in South Africa is on the increase, with organised syndicates mobilising in the face of state inaction and outdated and impractical legislation, says Dominic Steyn, head of the corporate, commercial, tax, and litigation at Cowan-Harper-Madikizela Attorneys.

The strategy of organised property hijacking syndicates is simple: force their way into occupied or vacant properties, forcibly evict tenants or owners, and put in place tenants of their choice.

“The property owner then has no other choice but to rely on the Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE Act) to evict the unlawful occupiers, a lengthy process that can take years and incurs excessive legal costs. In the meantime the owner remains responsible for rates and taxes and the utility services consumed,” said Steyn.

Syndicates gain income from the tenants placed in the property without incurring any expenses.

A trend in the relatively affluent area of Pretoria East of late is that residential properties are hijacked by these syndicates when the owners are away on holiday, said Steyn. “This occurs in security estates too. A recent surge in hijackings of residential apartment blocks in Pretoria has resulted in at least nine urgent court applications in the past month alone. Cape Town has likewise seen an increase in building hijackings.”

Steyn said that the reason why this practice is becoming so prevalent is that the Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act has not been amended to keep up with syndicates that rely on its onerous provisions and the inaction, and sometimes collusion, with these syndicates by members of the SA Police Service (SAPS).

“In a nutshell, the act provides that a property owner must approach a court to obtain an order for the eviction of unlawful occupiers,” said Steyn.

Notice must be given to the unlawful occupiers, and when hearing the application the court must consider all relevant circumstances, including:

  • The rights of the elderly, children, disabled persons and households headed by women;
  • Whether alternative accommodation has been made available or can reasonably be made available by a municipality, organ of state or an owner of property for the relocation of the unlawful occupier; and
  • Whether it will be just and equitable to grant an eviction order.

These legally mandated considerations result in a logistical nightmare for the court, the property owner and the relevant municipality. If there is no alternative accommodation readily available the unlawful occupiers may not be evicted until it somehow becomes available, noted Steyn.

“In our experience, a property owner will be lucky to have the unlawful occupiers evicted within a period of 10 months from the date of the eviction application being instituted, and far longer where there are multiple occupiers.

“If an eviction application is opposed – which it usually is when organised syndicates are involved – the process can drag out for years. Legal costs for the property owner can easily exceed R800,000, and they are seldom recoverable.”

Steyn said that organised syndicates have been educated in this process and use it to their advantage to secure a lengthy occupation of a property by simply relying on a combination of the onerous provisions of the act, the congested court roll and abuse of the court process.

The legal expert said that calling the police to help is not a simple outcome.

“The SAPS has been the recipient of thousands of civil claims for damages arising from unlawful detention and arrest. In an attempt to reduce these claims it has issued a standing directive that arrests may take place only for so-called schedule A (serious) offences. Schedule B (minor) offences warrant only a fine and no arrest may be made. The constitutionality of this directive is questionable and it probably stands to be reviewed.”

Because of this standing directive property owners are required to approach a court on an urgent basis as soon as they become aware of an attempted hijacking and seek redress, whereby the SAPS is bypassed and the sheriff of the court is authorised to appoint a private security company to remove the members of the syndicate — all before the syndicate can install its own tenants.

“The organised nature of the syndicates is such that they monitor the court rolls and are closely advised by conspiring members of the SAPS. If an application to remove syndicate members is launched, property owners can expect legal representatives of the syndicate to be present to oppose the application and an almost instantaneous installation of tenants in the property to ensure the provisions of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act kick in,” said Steyn.

We can help

Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a Cape Town law firm of specialist eviction lawyers, now operating in Johannesburg and Durban. If you are a landlord whose property has been hijacked, or if you need advice on any aspect of a lease or landlord-tenant relations, contact one of our attorneys on 086 099 5146 or

Further reading: