Imagine visiting your property after some absence and finding out that an unknown family has made it their own.
This is what happened to John Sabio after his neighbour alerted him to the possible illegal occupation of a house he owns in Redlands Road, Milnerton.
Mr Sabio, who lives in Johannesburg, has family, including a sister in Milnerton and a brother in Richwood who keep tabs on the house.
On Sunday September 25, his brother, Antonio, received a disturbing phone call: three men in a bakkie had pulled out of the garage at his brother’s house which should have been unoccupied.
Antonio went to investigate and found all the locks had been changed.
“He broke the locks and went inside the property to see what was inside and found seven black bags and cleaning material inside a locked room. The police were called but they were unable to accompany him as they were busy,” said Mr Sabio.
On Monday September 26, Antonio and his girlfriend got police to escort them to the house where they removed the black bags and left them in the garage.
On Tuesday, a neighbour called Antonio to tell him the bakkie was back and someone was offloading it.
The police were called but the people who had moved into the house showed them a lease identifying the lessor as “Mike Peter Williams”.
Mr Sabio was called on the phone to establish whether he was in fact the property owner, but without any documentation at hand, Mr Sabio’s brother could not prove this to the cops present.
Mr Sabio told Tabletalk that he and his wife were the sole owners of the property and that he had no idea who the “other owner” could be. He booked a flight to Cape Town and arrived on Wednesday September 28.
When he entered his property through the kitchen door, he found four men, three women and three children living in the house.
“The bogus lease was shown to us. It had no banking details, phone numbers, company details and the lessor address and contact number was in Germany.”
Mr Sabio said he opened a trespassing case at Milnerton police station and now has a lawyer working on getting a court order to evict the occupants.
On Friday October 14, Tabletalk visited the property and met the occupants, who refused to be named.
Two men and two women came to the door while two young children played outside.
The family said that they had signed a lease with one of the owners of the property and claimed to have the documents to prove it, but they did not produce them.
They said that they had paid the owner R25 000 when signing the lease, and were upset about the accusations that they were squatting on the property. They said people should mind their own business.
“We are looking for another place in the meantime. I paid R25 000, it’s all the money I have; now I have to scrape together money. I can’t lose that money. We are fighting this in court,” said one of the men.
Milnerton Crime Watch member, Craig Pederson said he had received lots of complaints from residents about the property. “There are children on the property which causes enormous problems because you can’t put kids on the street. Yes, they have broken in, but it is for the court to decide. From our side, we cannot assist due to squatter rights.
“Residents are concerned about attracting bad elements into the community, the potential rise in crime and the possible devaluation of property. People need to understand that they’re responsible to secure their property because it cost a lot more to go to court,” said Mr Pederson.
Michelle Dickens, managing director of Tenant Profile Network (TPN) said that when unlawful occupation took place, the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) of 1998, had to be followed.
“The owner has the unlimited real right of ownership and as they have not consented to the illegal occupation of the property, they have the right to apply for an eviction order in terms of PIE.
“This order must be granted by a competent court and the landlord may, under no circumstances, attempt to take matters into his own hands and evict the squatters without following due legal process,” she said.
“Where vulnerable people, such as children, disabled or elderly persons are involved, PIE provides for leniency, to enable the tenants to find alternative accommodation. Where vulnerable people are involved, the time periods will generally be longer than when you are dealing with the average tenant,” said Ms Dickens.
JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said the incident had not been reported to the City’s problem buildings unit.
Bouwe van der Eems, a member of the Milnerton Central Residents’ Association (MCRA) said: “In the case of an illegal occupation, the owner must phone 0800 225 669 and report the incident. Residents can also log a C3 online (https://goo.gl/SXUTYf) and select ‘Safety and Security (Problem Buildings)’. The reference numbers and outcomes must be documented.”