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Trend of unlawful occupancy of buildings nothing new

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Unlawful occupants of a building left vacant for renovations were evicted on Wednesday, triggering road blockages in Observatory Main Road on Thursday. Although public opinion is divided on the issue of unlawful occupations, these occurrences are symptomatic of the current lack of appropriate development in the country as well as the levels of inequality, according to an attorney at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI).

The building concerned, Arcadia Place, is owned by the Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged and residents of the home had been relocated so that the building could undergo renovations.

The building was then unlawfully occupied for several weeks.

Since the eviction on Wednesday, occupiers have slept outside the building. Reports from Ground Up suggest that over 200 people moved into the building.

Occupiers are now awaiting a court ruling on their fate after an interdict to suspend the eviction was granted. They now anxiously await the outcome of a second court application which will likely rule on the way forward.

“City centres have always been an attraction for economic opportunity for people, so they’ve always moved from wherever they are to be closer to the economic opportunities. If you have someone coming from rural areas, they cannot afford to travel to the city centre everyday to try and find economic opportunities.

It becomes better for them to be based in the centre and they obviously don’t have the money to be renting an apartment,” said an attorney at SERI, Khuliliwe Bhengu.

Bhengu explained that people have been waiting for housing opportunities for long periods of time, to no avail. She added that the reason for these unlawful occupancies is not due to a refusal or unwillingness to pay rent, but rather an inability to afford rental costs or to purchase properties close to the city.

Evictions and homelessness

While property owners can evict unlawful occupants via court order, evictions can only take place after the personal circumstances of the occupants are considered, according to Bhengu.

South African laws seek to avoid increasing levels of homelessness and always strive to promote the country’s constitution.

“If you want to evict unlawful occupiers you have to get a court order…[however] you cannot get an order granted when the personal circumstances of the people haven’t been considered and if it’s not known by the court whether their eviction will lead to homelessness,” said Bhengu.

“Where an eviction will lead to homelessness, a court cannot grant that eviction order without making provision for alternative accommodation.”

“It is becoming a trend, but I don’t think it’s new with the history we have.”


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