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Litigation: Judge rules for illegal occupiers of city building

The Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) rejected an application for the eviction of illegal occupants in two formerly commercial buildings in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, saying there does not appear to be any imminent danger to the properties and the city is unable to offer them temporary emergency accommodation. According to a Moneyweb report, the property owners argued that there was an imminent danger to the buildings and the occupants from fire and referenced two recent fires in other unlawfully occupied buildings in the city to buttress their case. ‘That a fire occurred elsewhere is insufficient to satisfy the test of imminent danger or harm,’ reads the judgment. ‘A fire could occur anywhere in the city.’ There was no evidence of imminent danger other than ‘the normal disintegration and crumbling of a building neglected over time and subjected to inappropriate use,’ says the ruling by Judge Shanaaz Mia.

The case was brought by the two property-owning companies, White Wall Trading and Opal Wall Trading. The Moneyweb report notes there were 40 respondents, including the illegal occupiers, the City of Johannesburg, Johannesburg’s municipal manager, and the national Department of Human Settlements. The unlawful occupiers brought a counterapplication, requesting the City of Johannesburg to provide them with accommodation in terms of the National Housing Code. Mia cited the Prevention of Illegal Occupation and the Unlawful Occupation of Land (Pie) Act, which allows for an eviction order where there is a real and imminent danger or the possibility of injury or damage unless the illegal occupant is not immediately evicted. The Pie Act also requires the court to consider whether the hardship to the building owner exceeds the likely hardship to the illegal occupiers if an eviction order is granted. Mia found the occupiers would be homeless if evicted, and the 324 ‘households’ comprising the occupiers included a large number of women, children and unemployed. The City of Johannesburg has only tents to offer the occupiers as temporary emergency accommodation, and ‘in considering the time required to assess the occupiers and to allocate them to alternate accommodation, this hardship exceeds the hardship the owners would endure’ if the occupants were evicted.

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