PROPERTY: Losses Due To Land Invasions
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AN elderly Pretoria couple has been forced to abandon their property in Sweet Homes, Weltevreden Drive, near Mitchell’s Plain as a result of land invasions.
The undeveloped 75 000 m plot is currently occupied by about 900 illegal squatters who have refused to move, despite the couple’s attempts over the past 20 years to evict them.
According to Steve Hayward, head of the City of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit (ALIU), the property is 'worth very little' because no one else will buy it.
"The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land (Pie) Act 19 of 1998 states very clearly that all landowners are responsible for the protection of their own properties against land invasions and unlawful occupation," says Hayward.
"By failing to take immediate action in removing squatters, the landowner faces huge legal costs in an eviction process that could take years to execute. Besides losing his/her land completely, he/she could also be held liable for the municipal legal expenses if action has to be taken in terms of the PIE Act," he says.
This has happened in the case of a property in Haji Ebrahim Crescent in Athlone. The owner who lives in Canada, failed to take action against 40 families who took illegal occupation of his 2 000 m erf in 1990.
"He now owes thousands of Rand in municipal arrears, which will have to be deducted from the eventual sale price before transfer can take place," says Hayward.
In Goliath Estate, Kraaifontein, the owner of a residential property failed to evict a dozen shack dwellers when they first invaded the land 11 years ago. He is now unable to sell the property to a prospective developer who does not want to be saddled with the problem of evicting the occupants.
A recent court case which set a benchmark in South African property disputes, concerned a privately owned property in Moddergat, Gauteng which was occupied unlawfully by 14 000 squatters for several years.
"It eventually cost the landowner R1,2 million in legal expenses to evict the illegal occupants from his land and to secure the property from future invasions," says Hayward.
In Olieboom Road, Philippi, a landowner has been struggling to evict 600 families who have illegally occupied his 85 000 m erf since 1988.
"We had warned the owner long ago of the uncontrolled growth on his land and the actions that he should take. He now needs to appoint a lawyer to apply for an interdict to prevent further occupation of the land, and to appoint a security company to secure the property," says Hayward.
All over the Cape metropole there are similar cases where private landowners are struggling to remove illegal occupants from their properties.
"Unfortunately the ALIU is only mandated to take action on municipal or provincial owned land. We do not have the staff and resources to get involved on private property," says Hayward.
Since its establishment last April, the ALIU has had a 100% success rate in preventing planned land invasions on City and Provincial properties. In addition, the section removes about 400 to 500 illegal structures per month in the course of erection.
The unit also takes action against illegal trading shelters, illegal additions to homes and new structures that are erected in backyards where no planning permission has been granted.
"Queue jumping, or utyelelela, is the cause of great frustration for thousands of law-abiding residents, many of whom have been on the waiting list for years," he says.
The AILU’s main role is to monitor and patrol vacant land against invasion, enforce the rule of law with respect to illegal shack building and provide backup to housing officers during evictions, relocations, and demolitions of illegal structures.
It is currently assisting the municipalities of Swartland and of Stellenbosch in setting up similar units.
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