Steenvilla tenants in eviction conflict

Steenvilla tenants at the Western Cape High Court where some of their eviction cases came before the court.

The case of four tenants of the Steenvilla complex, in Steenberg, who received eviction notices for non-payment of rent from Sohco Property Investments, came before the Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court, on Thursday February 9.

The case was postponed without a date because another eviction case involving 22 Steenvilla tenants must first be finalised.

That case came before the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday January 25 and was postponed to Thursday March 23.

The 22 respondents had brought on an urgent appeal to the High Court in October 2016.

In total 230 tenants have received eviction notices.

Attorney John Kiewiets and Advocate Leon Fieties appeared at the Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court. “It was agreed upon between us and Mr Foxcroft, the attorney for Sohco, that all current eviction cases pending at Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court be postponed sine die (without a date) until finalisation of the High Court case,” said Mr Kiewiets.

He said the previous attorneys who represented the Steenvilla tenants had only provided them with a copy of the file on Tuesday February 7.

He said under the circumstances they were due to file their responding papers by today, Wednesday February 15, and be prepared on Thursday March 23. However, the amount of paperwork is at least 10 boxes full.

“Advocate Fieties and I attended the High Court proceedings of which advocate Fieties did all the litigation in the High Court.”

The Steenvilla complex issues have been reported in Southern Mail since last year (“Sohco housing uproar”, Southern Mail, March 2016) after tenants protested opposite the complex against the high cost of rent, maintenance and water and electricity, which they say they cannot afford to pay.

Steenvilla was developed by Sohco on land made available for social housing by the City of Cape Town through a long-term lease.

Tina Schoor, a tenant, and spokesperson for the Steenvilla committee, said Sohco must say on what grounds they are evicting the tenants.

“Some of the tenants are unemployed and if their rent is for example R2 900 and they skip one month’s rent, then the next month they get a bill of R4 000.”

Tenant Yvette Greeff, one of the respondents, said when she moved into the complex three years ago she was paying R1 200 for rent. However, she lost her job a few months ago. She received an eviction notice in August 2016 for being in arrears. “My husband found a job and we can pay our rent. But until I find a job we won’t be able to pay the arrears. It will be difficult because I have one child and I am four months pregnant.”

Southern Mail asked Heather Maxwell, chief executive officer for Sohco, if they could reach an agreement with residents regarding not increasing the rent as many tenants cannot afford it.

Ms Maxwell said: “Most of the tenants in the development are up to date with their rental pay-
ments. Sohco encourages individual tenants to come through to discuss any issues they may be having with respect to their rental payment.”

Sohco is a non-profit company. Complexes are managed and maintained from rent collected.

However, Ms Greeff said: “Sohco does not maintain our flats. Since I’ve moved in they have not maintained the place. They haven’t painted, nor fixed the broken washing lines, the outside walls and stairs are mouldy because there is no air vents. I had a broken pipe a few months ago and they fixed it, but they made a big hole in my wall and broke my tiles. However, although I complained about it, no one came to fix it yet.”

Ms Maxwell said a small group of tenants stopped paying rent at Steenvillas last year. “After all other attempts to resolve the situation were unsuccessful, we started an eviction process through the courts.

“The court hearing was with respect to our application to evict tenants from 18 units in the complex. There are 700 units in total in the development. On January 25, the tenants requested a postponement, as their previous attorney had withdrawn from the case and they had just appointed a new attorney.”

When asked if the agreement between the City and Sohco was that only backyarders or those who are homeless could qualify for these flats, Ms Maxwell said: “The objective of the development is to offer affordable rental accommodation to qualifying households. Sohco leases the underlying land from the City of Cape Town on a long-term lease. Sohco developed the buildings and other amenities on the site.

“Applications are not limited to backyarders or the homeless. Anyone who meets the qualification criteria can apply.”