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lockdown Archives | Eviction Lawyers South Africa

Cape Town homeless share their COVID-19 pandemic stories

By | COVID 19, Eviction news, Homeless

It’s hard to believe that we have been living with COVID-19 and varying levels of lockdown restrictions for 15 months now. It has been a moment, and an eternity. Everyone has experienced challenges in some way, but arguably none more so than the homeless, a cohort that has grown in number over the past year. Tent cities have sprung up all over Cape Town. It is easy to turn away from marginalised people in our society, but this author has gathered the stories of some of the Cape Town homeless, both good and bad, and shared them in this article. To help others, we must first understand them.

Reprinted from IOL, by Carlos Mesquita – 2021-06-02

COLUMN: Carlos Mesquita writes that as we seem to be entering the third wave, he decided to let some other voices speak of their Covid-19 experience. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)

COLUMN: Carlos Mesquita writes that as we seem to be entering the third wave, he decided to let some other voices speak of their Covid-19 experience. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

As we at our house grapple with possible eviction and as we seem to be entering the third wave, I decided to let some other voices speak of their Covid-19 experience.

But time has revealed that for those on the front-line, there is still uncertainty. At one point, it almost seemed as if Cape Town’s homeless crisis might be solved for good.

While most shelters obeyed the no-eviction policy during lockdown, some residents could not remain inside for the entire period.

“Behavioural issues, for example, meant that some were forced to return to the streets,” says an anonymous shelter assistant.

Nonetheless, many outcomes for homeless people from the Covid-19 lockdown have been positive.

Jason’s story: he has been homeless in Cape Town for six years, and was brought to the Safe Space shelter in Bellville at the start of the pandemic. After a couple of weeks he was moved into another shelter in Bellville. It was difficult to be around people who did not care about social distancing.

“I’m now around people that I can interact with and feel safe around but… it’s meant that people can’t really see their families, they can’t interact with friends.”

“Anyone who’s got half a brain can look around and see these people bending over backwards… so I think it would be wrong for anyone to ask anything more.”

Nandipha’s story: she became homeless in 2018 after difficult circumstances with her neighbour.

She was referred to The Haven who placed her into several different shelters during the time she was homeless. She has been living at the Culemborg Safe Space since Strandfontein closed.

She says: “I don’t know how long I’m going to be in here for.”

Alongside her anxieties about the virus, the lack of certainty in her living situation has had a negative impact on her.

Despite issues with her mental and physical health over lockdown, she claims she received no support from the Strandfontein staff or Culemborg team.

The “put everyone together” policy did not work at Strandfontein and doesn’t work at Culemburg.

There was a rape in Strandfontein and there have been stabbings at Culemborg. Nandipha says: “You can’t expect to put all these people in the same space and ask them to stay in the room, give them sub-standard food and expect nothing to happen.”

For Nandipha, housing is not the only way to resolve homelessness.

“You can’t just fix a person and put them in a home, I know that now from experiencing it myself… there has to be care packages put in place.”

“There’s no way in Cape Town you could ever starve because there’s that many charities trying to support homeless people… but come a pandemic and there’s not a homeless person in sight. They’ve managed to home every single person in some form… so how can you not do that in everyday life?”

Peter’s story: he has been living on the streets of Cape Town for the last two years, but has been homeless for 10 years, since a credit file error prevented him from accessing any funds or credit.

At the start of lockdown, he began a campaign called Suffering, arguing that while those who were visibly sleeping rough were quickly housed in temporary accommodation, many like him who slept at the station, were forgotten.

He suggests while it might appear to be better inside than where many homeless people were before, “it’s just a different set of problems”.

“The huge advantage is getting up in the morning and being able to walk four steps, turn on the shower and grab a shower whenever you want.

“Normally if I want to have a shower, that requires a hell of a lot of co-ordination. It is the minuscule things that people take for granted if you have a house that are the big changes for a homeless person… This was just back to normality for me.

“The government took the credit for solving the problem, as they put it, but actually nothing that the government did or the major charities did, did anything to solve the problem.”

In fact, “the people who rose to the challenge were the grassroots organisations”.

* Carlos Mesquita and a handful of others formed HAC (the Homeless Action Committee) that lobbies for the rights of the homeless. He also manages Our House in Oranjezicht, which is powered by the Community Chest.

Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a Cape Town law firm of specialist eviction lawyers, now operating in Johannesburg and Durban, helping both landlords and tenants with the eviction process. Contact one of our eviction attorneys on 086 099 5146 or sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za if you need advice on the eviction process or if you are facing unlawful eviction.

City of Cape Town considers evicting people ‘illegally’ occupying abandoned hospital

By | Eviction news, Evictions

Reprinted from News24, by Marvin Charles – 2021-02-05

Reclaim the City woodstock Chapter leader Karen He

Reclaim the City woodstock Chapter leader Karen Hendricks.
Marvin Charles
  • Reclaim the City organisers describe the City of Cape Town’s possible hospital eviction as “completely inappropriate”. 
  • The City is fast-tracking plans to develop social housing at the Woodstock Hospital.
  • The hospital was occupied in March 2017 and, since the occupation, the number of residents has increased.

Occupiers of the now defunct Woodstock Hospital are on edge as the City of Cape Town considers the possibility of eviction, subject to lockdown regulations.

According to the City, the illegal occupation has seen an increase in by-law contraventions, which has forced it to beef up law enforcement at a cost of R400 000 per month.

The hospital is no longer in use, and residents had previously appealed to the City to allow them to use it as housing.

Mayoral committee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, said: “There are no circumstances under which land invasion can be condoned. The entire public housing programme hinges on protecting land from invasion, with projects worth R1.3 billion currently under threat.

“The City goes to great lengths, at great cost, to protect land and cannot afford to have groupings in society who promote land invasions.

“All role-players must actively discourage attempts to illegally occupy land. We owe this not only to ourselves as residents of a growing city, but also to future generations who will require land for schools, hospitals, housing, transport infrastructure and community facilities.”

Booi said over 700 planned social housing units are in jeopardy at the hospital, if social housing law group Ndifuna Ukwazi “enabled” occupants to refuse to vacate the premises.

In October 2018, the Western Cape High Court granted an order interdicting and restraining Reclaim the City from “inciting persons to enter or be upon the property for the purpose of unlawfully occupying or invading”.

The City said the occupants are in contempt of the order and the number of occupiers has increased substantially. This is coupled with reports of criminality, rent extortion rackets, violence and mob activity, to the detriment of the surrounding community.

Mayor Dan Plato said:

“The toxic legacy of Ndifuna Ukwazi’s organised land invasions is the biggest obstacle to social housing on well-located sites in central Cape Town, stalling development of both the City-owned Woodstock Hospital site and the Helen Bowden property near the V&A Waterfront, owned by the Western Cape Government (WCG).”

The hospital was occupied in March 2017 and, since the occupation, the number of residents has increased. The occupation was organised by Reclaim the City, who renamed the hospital “Cissie Gool House”.

Earlier this week, the City said it was fast-tracking its plans to develop social housing at the hospital and was approaching the court to order a survey of illegal occupants.

The survey would assist in helping it to ascertain the number of illegal occupants on the premises, their identities, monthly income, and their eligibility for state-subsidised housing.

Reclaim the City Woodstock Chapter Leader, Karen Hendricks, said: “The City’s attempts at evicting the families in the middle of the deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is completely inappropriate.

“To make matters worse, the City has not engaged with the families living in these occupations in any meaningful way – as it is obliged to do before resorting to eviction proceedings. The law relating to evictions is clear: The City is constitutionally required to engage with us about how it could circumvent an eviction that would place many of us at risk of becoming homeless.”

Reclaim the City said: “Rather than preventing social housing from being delivered, we have been calling on the City and the province to develop social and affordable housing on well-located public land in the central City for years.

“However, the City has continued to resist these claims. We have protested the City’s policy of evicting and displacing poor and working class families to the outskirts of the city. We have raised awareness of the City’s anti-poor policies and attitudes.”

Links added by SD Law

*Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a Cape Town law firm of specialist eviction lawyers, and now operating in Johannesburg and Durban, helping both landlords and tenants with the eviction process. Contact one of our attorneys on 086 099 5146 or sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za if you need advice on the eviction process or want to know the cost of eviction.

Further reading:

Lockdown evictions – how have other countries responded?

By | Eviction news, Evictions

Is there anything South Africa can learn from rules governing eviction in other countries?

As the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on the world’s economy, many tenants, both residential and commercial, found themselves unable to keep up with rent payments, through no fault of their own, due to loss of income. Workers in low-paid jobs and industries were sent home, with furlough in richer countries, empty-handed elsewhere. Unable to trade due to lockdowns, small businesses with little in the way of reserves found themselves shutting up shop. Fortunately, most governments responded with relief measures. Some, including the UK, paid workers in badly affected industries such as hospitality 80% of their normal wage. Here in South Africa we had TERS (Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme), although it has come under criticism.

Tenant protection from lockdown evictions

The protection of tenants from eviction was the most popular measure. Since mid-March 2020, many countries have suspended or banned evictions. In South Africa, evictions have not been allowed since the national state of disaster was announced at the end of March. When we reached Alert Level 1, evictions were once again permitted, but this was rescinded when we returned to Alert Level 3. A landlord may still apply for an eviction order, but it cannot be executed until the state of disaster is lifted.

This amnesty is primarily designed to protect tenants who fall into rent arrears as a result of the pandemic, though it also serves to ensure people have somewhere safe to spend the lockdown. An eviction may still be effected in extraordinary circumstances, for example if a tenant is causing harm to others or if the landlord has taken reasonable steps in good faith to make alternative arrangements for the evictees.  

Eviction bans

Other countries instituting eviction bans included Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Cyprus, El Salvador, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the USA. Most regulations referred to private residential property. However, in Germany and Portugal, tenants of residential and commercial properties were protected as well. France focused its protection on small and medium-sized companies.

France

In France, with her reputation for strong social support (and high social costs to employers), it is always illegal to evict people from their homes from November 1st to March 31st for any reason, to avoid literally putting people out in the cold. This winter reprieve was extended to July. The mayor of Paris further extended it until October 31st in the social housing sector. It is not clear if other municipalities followed suit, but the amnesty is in full force now, in the northern hemisphere winter.

Australia

On the first of April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a nationwide moratorium on evictions for six months. When that expired, several states, including South Australia and Victoria, extended emergency relief for struggling residential and commercial tenants until the end of March 2021.

United Kingdom

The UK has devolved governments, so the rules vary between the four nations. In England and Wales, evictions were banned until 9th January. Given that England is back in nearly full lockdown due to the crushing second wave of COVID-19, housing charities say it makes a mockery of Boris Johnson’s “stay at home” message to lift the ban now. However, the minimum notice period for evicting a tenant is six months (doubled from three), due to remain in place until March 31st. In Wales, the notice period is also six months (other than for anti-social behaviour). In Northern Ireland, landlords must give at least 12 weeks’ notice to quit before applying for an eviction order.

And in Scotland, the temporary ban on eviction orders has been extended until the end of March, except for cases of anti-social behaviour and domestic violence. A six-month notice period is also in effect.

USA

In the United States, mortgage foreclosures were paused early in the pandemic. An eviction moratorium was also in place through late July 2020 that applied to federally funded rental units (generally occupied by the poorest in society). In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide moratorium on evictions that extended the protection to the majority of tenants in rented accommodation across the country.

Newly elected President Joe Biden has proposed an extension to the national moratorium until September 30th, and has earmarked funds for legal assistance to households facing eviction. Various states and cities have introduced their own measures. Back in March New York State, for example, enacted comprehensive emergency eviction and mortgage foreclosure moratoriums to protect renters and homeowners unable to pay rent or make mortgage payments. It recently signed into law the Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020, which protects residential tenants with COVID-19-related hardships, and homeowners and small landlords facing similar difficulties.

In practice…

What the law says and what happens on the ground are often two different matters. Despite our national ban on evictions, there was a series of high-profile lockdown evictions and shack demolitions by local authorities in the early days of the lockdown, particularly in Cape Town. Some of them were in response to illegal land invasions, but those invasions in their turn were often the result of the government’s failure to provide shelter to homeless communities

In Durban, several families, including pensioners, were evicted from a high-rise building. Loss of income meant tenants could only pay half or a portion of their rent. Despite a plan to repay the arrears and a meeting between landlord and ward councillor, the landlord removed tenants from 21 flats, defying the ban on evictions.

No ban can prevent landlords from taking matters into their own hands, as the Durban incident shows. There is a need for legal representation of tenants to ensure their rights are protected and landlords are held to account. The law can only be enforced if breaches are notified to the relevant authorities. Tenants often feel powerless to do this themselves.

We have good laws…

We just need to enforce them. Our official response to the social crisis caused by the pandemic, at least in terms of rental housing, is on a par with our global counterparts. The data is not available to show how we measure up in practice. It’s fair to assume that unscrupulous landlords exist everywhere, and how much they may have got away with will depend on the scrutiny of the housing sector exercised in their respective jurisdictions. 

We support our social justice organisations and other champions of vulnerable and marginalised individuals and communities in calling for all landlords to abide by the regulations and exercise commercial ubuntu in dealing with tenants struggling with rental payments.

Contact Cape Town eviction attorney today

Whether you are tenant or landlord, if you have questions or concerns about lockdown evictions, any aspect of the Alert Level 3 rules or your individual situation, contact SD Law for a confidential discussion. SD Law is a Cape Town law firm of specialist eviction attorneys and we will explain your rights and responsibilities and help you act with commercial ubuntu. Contact Simon now on 086 099 5146 or email him on info@sdlaw.co.za.

Further reading: