WHEN IS A TENANT AN ILLEGAL OCCUPANT?

A4BWhere the Contract of Lease is breached in any way by the tenant and he or she after receiving notice thereof has not remedied such a breach within the period agreed upon, then the landlord may cancel the contract. The tenant will be found to be an illegal occupier in this instance.

Where a tenant fails to perform as agreed upon in his Lease agreement, he will be found to be in breach of that agreement. An example of this is a failure to pay rent timeously or at all. The landlord must notify the tenant in writing of his decision to terminate the contract by means of a letter of cancellation, allowing the tenant a reasonable period, or such timeframe as agreed upon in terms of such a lease, to vacate the property.

If the tenant chooses to ignore the notice of cancellation of the lease agreement by remaining on the property and continuing to use and enjoy it, the tenant will be regarded as an illegal occupier of the property. The same applies if the tenant continues to occupy the property after the expiration of the initial lease period. An illegal occupier may be evicted from the rented property by the landlord or owner. This will be done at a Magistrate’s or High Court and for that the services of a lawyer will be required.

There is no longer a Common Law right to evict someone. Instead the owner or landlord must follow the procedures and provisions of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of land Act 19 of 1998 (hereinafter referred to as the “PIE Act”). The tenant must be notified of the pending action, by means of a Notice of Intention to Evict and this must be done at least 14 days before the date of the court hearing. This notice must also be sent to the respective Municipality involved.

On the date of the hearing, the court will consider factors such as whether the person is an unlawful occupier, whether the owner has reasonable grounds for eviction and alternative accommodation available to the tenant. It is now considered a criminal offence to evict someone without a court order to that effect. Constructive eviction, for instance, where a landlord cuts the water or electricity supply to the property in order to “drive” the tenants out, is a criminal offence.

The type of action or application that your legal representative will bring will vary depending on the facts and circumstances of the matter. Such actions or applications can be heard in the Magistrate’s or High Court, depending on the value of the occupation and not the leased property value. The lease agreement may also have a clause embodied in it where the parties agree to a particular court’s jurisdiction, where upon that will be followed. If the court proceedings are successful a Warrant of Ejectment may be issued, whereupon the owner or landlord may proceed with the eviction of the illegal occupier.

Once the owner or the proprietor of the leased property has followed all the prescribed procedures as laid out in the PIE Act and they have established that their tenant is considered an unlawful occupier then they may proceed with the above-mentioned steps in order to evict them from their property.

An unlawful occupier may be removed from the premises upon the instruction of an Eviction Order / Warrant of Eviction with the assistance of the Sheriff of the respective court at a minimal fee. The steps laid out in the PIE Act are simple to understand and follow allowing a transparent and fair chance to both the landlord and the tenant in these difficult situations.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

WHEN DOES A CLAIM PRESCRIBE?

A3BThe issue of the legal nature of a vindicatory claim and whether it gives rise to a debt that is subject to the three year extinctive prescription period has been decided differently by different divisions of the High Court. On 28 May 2015 the Supreme Court of Appeal came to a final decision in Absa Bank v Keet[1] as to whether claims under the actio rei vindicatio prescribe after 3 years or not.

One of the first questions that your attorney will ask you when you consult him is when your cause of action arose so that they can ascertain whether your claim has prescribed. If your claim is prescribed, it means that you no longer have any legal remedies available to you. Claims arising from a debt prescribe after three years and the rules of prescription are set out in the Prescription Act, 1969.

There is one specific claim where the application of the 3 year prescription period was uncertain and this was in regard to claims under the actio rei vindicatio. This is a legal action by which the plaintiff demands that the defendant return a thing that belongs to the plaintiff, and it may only be used when the plaintiff owns the thing and the defendant is impeding the plaintiff’s possession of the thing.

A rei vindicatio action is often used in disputes surrounding instalment sales where ownership only passes on the payment of a last instalment or where instalments are not duly paid. This is mostly coupled with a claim for cancellation. In other words, the seller cancels the sale agreement and claims return of the thing sold.

In the case of Absa Bank v Keet[2] the seller of a motor vehicle attempted to cancel the sale agreement and to claim the return of the vehicle sold. The purchaser of the vehicle responded to this claim with a special plea stating that the claim for the return of the vehicle had prescribed.

The reason for stating that the claim had prescribed was that the agreement on which the seller sued would have come to an end on the date on which he contended the amount outstanding became due and payable, and that it was more than 3 years since that amount became due.

In the case of Staegemann v Langenhoven[3] it was held that a vindicatory claim does not prescribe after three years. The High Court in the Keet case held that this case was wrongly decided because if Staegemann were correct, ‘the Bank could withhold its demand for the tractor for another decade or even longer, and then demand return of the vehicle so that it could calculate its damages’.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in the Keet case had to decide whether the High Court was correct in holding that the seller’s claim for the repossession of its vehicle is a ‘debt’, which for the purposes of the Prescription Act prescribes after three years.

The SCA made an important distinction between extinctive prescription and acquisitive prescription to come to its final decision. Extinctive prescription deals with a creditor’s right of action against a debtor, which is a personal right. On the other hand, acquisitive prescription deals with acquiring real rights to property (in terms of the Prescription Act a person can acquire ownership of property after 30 years of uninterrupted possession). Real rights are primarily concerned with the relationship between a person and a thing and personal rights are concerned with a relationship between two persons.

The person who is entitled to a real right over a thing can, by way of vindicatory action, claim that thing from any individual who interferes with his right. Such a right is the right of ownership. If, however, the right is not an absolute, but a relative right to a thing, so that it can only be enforced against a determined individual or a class of individuals, then it is a personal right.[4]

The Supreme Court of Appeal is therefore of the opinion that to consider a vindicatory action as a ‘debt’ which prescribes after three years is contrary to the scheme of the Act and that this would undermine the significance of the distinction which the Prescription Act draws between extinctive prescription and acquisitive prescription. In other words, what the creditor loses as a result of operation of extinctive prescription is his right of action against the debtor, which is a personal right. The creditor does not lose a right to a thing.

The SCA has therefore made it clear that to equate the vindicatory action with a ‘debt’ has the unintended and absurd consequence in that by way of extinctive prescription the debtor acquires ownership of a creditor’s property after three years instead of 30 years. The vindicatory action therefore does not prescribe after three years.

[1] (817/13) [2015] ZASCA 81 (28 May 2015)

[2] (817/13) [2015] ZASCA 81 (28 May 2015)

[3] Staegemann v Langenhoven & others 2011 (5) SA 648 (WCC).

[4] Wessels Law of Contract in South Africa 2 ed vol 1 p 3-4.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE FAMILY ADVOCATE?

A2BThe Family Advocate has many duties but in the context of Divorce Law, they are mostly consulted for making sure that all Parenting Plans and divorce Consent Papers are in the best interest of any minor children involved. The public can, however, also have access to the Family Advocate and it is important to note that they offer a free service.

The roles of the Family Advocate include the following: to provide education to family members and to others involved in the systems serving the family and youth; to help identify the strengths and needs of families; to be a mediator between the system and the family by helping to educate professionals on the strengths and needs of the family; to help family members understand the different roles of the agencies involved in the system and how they may affect the family and assist families in identifying and utilizing necessary services.

A Family Advocate helps state and local agencies and systems adopt more strengths-based and family-driven programs, policies, and services. The focus is to better meet the needs of families and their youth who have mental illness, co-occurring disorders or substance use disorders and improve outcomes for all, including families, youth, and the agencies they utilize.

A Family Advocate also has the authority to draft Parenting Plans at no cost which will help provide the minor child with a stable and suitable schedule between the two parents. A Family Advocate cannot however provide for a maintenance amount as this falls under the jurisdiction of the maintenance court. Should a parent feel like they are not sure of their rights or responsibilities towards their minor child, the Family Advocate can be approached in order to arrange a meeting between the two parties to mediate the rights and responsibilities between the two parties. This process is also at no cost, however should one of the parties deny the meeting, the Family Advocate has no authority to subpoena them to attend the meeting.

The Family Advocate is a perfect remedy for parents who have their child’s best interest at heart and who aim to provide a stable environment for the child when both parents are no longer together.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

DO’S AND DON’TS OF SURETYSHIP

A1BOn 29 May 2015, in the case of Dormell Properties 282 CC v Bamberger[1], the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) set out the importance of, firstly, expressly pleading a suretyship clause in a plaintiff’s particulars of claim and, secondly, ensuring that the contract to which a deed of suretyship is annexed is duly signed by all parties thereto.

In the case of Dormell Properties 282 CC v Bamberger[2] (Dormell case) there were two agreements of importance. The first agreement was a written offer to lease agreement concluded between Dormell and Edulyn, duly represented by Bamberger in his capacity as sole director, in terms of which Bamberger undertook to bind himself as surety for Edulyn’s obligations under a second agreement, being the agreement of lease.[3]

The first agreement was properly signed by the parties; however, the agreement of lease was only signed by Bamberger. Annexed to the agreement of lease was a deed of suretyship which Bamberger signed. The deed of suretyship and agreement of lease were annexed to Dormell’s particulars of claim as if this suretyship was the instrument that bound Bamberger as surety and co-principal debtor for the fulfilment of the obligations of Edulyn.[4]

In the court a quo, Savage AJ found that ‘a contract of suretyship requires a valid principal obligation with someone other than the surety as debtor and the liability of the surety does not arise until this principal obligation has been contracted (Caney [C F Forsyth and J T Pretorius Caney’s The Law of Suretyship in South Africa 6 ed (2010)] at 47)’.[5] In the SCA the appellant conceded that no express reference to the first suretyship clause was made in the particulars of claim, but argued, inter alia, that the omission caused no prejudice to Bamberger.[6]

Dormell’s cause of action was based on the deed of suretyship attached to the agreement of lease and not on the suretyship clause in the first agreement. To seek to change this now would amount to an amendment of the particulars of claim and the advancing of a case which was not initially pleaded. Bamberger therefore contended that he was not given the opportunity to raise any defence which he could have raised to the suretyship clause.[7]

The SCA set out that ‘the purpose of pleadings is to define the issues for the parties and the court. Pleadings must set out the cause of action in clear and unequivocal terms to enable the opponent to know exactly what case to meet. Once a party has pinned its colours to the mast it is impermissible at a later stage to change those colours.’[8] Furthermore the court found that Dormell should have expressly alleged a valid contract of suretyship (i.e. that the terms of the deed of suretyship were embodied in a written document signed by or on behalf of the surety which identified the creditor, the surety and the principal debtor). Dormell had to allege the cause of the debt in respect of which the defendant undertook liability as well as the actual indebtedness of the principal debtor.[9]

In the Dormell case the deed of suretyship was invalid and enforceable because it was annexed to an agreement of lease which wasn’t signed by Dormell, and therefore the suretyship was in respect of a non-existent obligation. Dormell conceded that the suretyship pleaded was invalid, but argued that Bamberger would not suffer any prejudice if Dormell was allowed to rely on the suretyship in the first agreement instead. The court found that although it does have discretion regarding keeping parties strictly to their pleadings, it does not agree that this discretion reaches as far as to place a party in the disadvantageous position of not being permitted to raise any legal defence.[10]

In deciding the above, the court looked at whether Bamberger would have conducted his case materially differently, had Dormell’s case been pleaded properly. The court found that he would have, in that he would have been in the position to raise the defence of non-excussion (i.e. that Dormell should have first claimed the outstanding amounts owed from Edulyn and only if they could not pay this amount, should Dormell have claimed from Bamberger).[11] He had not raised this defence in his plea or at the trial because the deed of suretyship annexed to the agreement of lease in terms of which he had waived the defence of non-excussion (which was not signed by Dormell) was relied upon.[12]

The SCA therefore found that Bamberger would suffer prejudice if it were to allow Dormell to rely on the suretyship clause in the first agreement which was not relied upon in the particulars of claim.[13] It is therefore crucial to, firstly, expressly plead the details of a valid suretyship clause in a plaintiff’s particulars of claim and, secondly, to ensure that the contract to which a deed of suretyship is annexed is duly signed by all parties thereto. If you do not do so you may find yourself in a situation where the courts will not allow you to enforce a valid suretyship.

[1] (20191/14) [2015] ZASCA 89 (29 May 2015)

[2] (20191/14) [2015] ZASCA 89 (29 May 2015)

[3] ibid para 1-3

[4] ibid para 5

[5] Dormell Properties 282 CC v Bamberger (20191/14) [2015] ZASCA 89 (29 May 2015) para 8

[6] ibid para 8

[7] ibid para 10

[8] ibid para 11

[9] ibid para 12

[10] Dormell Properties 282 CC v Bamberger (20191/14) [2015] ZASCA 89 (29 May 2015) para 15

[11] ibid para 19

[12] ibid para 20

[13] ibid para 21

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)