Can I move home yet? The answer to that is very vague...

03 May 2020 - 12:12
By Wendy Knowler
National removals company Eezi Move has written to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula requesting clarity. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto National removals company Eezi Move has written to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula requesting clarity. File photo.

Does the move from level 5 lockdown to level 4 on Friday mean that people will be permitted to move home?

It’s a question which tenants, new homeowners, landlords and removals companies desperately want answered.

And, on Friday, it seemed the question was answered – but in fact the "answer" just raised more questions.

At a transport department briefing on Friday afternoon, transport department director-general Alec Moemi said that while removals companies may not operate under level 4, if someone needed to move, one-way — for example to take up a new job — during the current “window period” ending next Thursday, they could do so using a private bakkie.

Moemi said this in response to a question posed by a journalist via WhatsApp.

But if the move was an inter-provincial one, Moemi said, a special permit had to be obtained.

“Can you imagine if you were due to start a new job in May, typically it means you should have been allowed to move from your place of abode to a new one, and now the services you are required not being present, if you were moving on your own ... reasonability suggests that in that once-off, one-way movement that (using a private bakkie) could be accepted ...” he said.

“The key issue we are concerned about is that there couldn’t be more than the vehicle’s loading capacity, so if it was a double-cab bakkie, the intention is to have no more than two people if is a private vehicle and if it is a public transport provider, the regulations pertaining to public transport would kick in,” he said.

Asked to clarify, Moemi responded over the weekend: "The example I gave of a person (usually) staying in Hillbrow and returning from Limpopo with a bed on the back of a bakkie, refers to those who are returning to their places of residence during the window period allowed for Inter provincial travel. 

“That should please not be misconstrued to mean that people may use the window period to move from their current address to new address with bakkies.

“The window period was meant for those who work in province X but were in lockdown level 5 in province Y,” he said. "The period allows them to move from province Y back to province X for work purposes.  

"It is for this reason that evictions of tenants by landlords during this period are forbidden. 

"My apologies if my comments misled anyone into believing that they could change addresses during this period. If that was the intention, removal companies would have been included, along with other transport easing measures."

It was an answer to a question that many were asking.

“I’m all packed, ready to move into my new home on the 1st, but there seems to be no certainty as to whether I can or not,” said Mouna Cox. “Nowhere does it say we are not allowed to move, but nowhere does it state that we can!”

Cox is based in Johannesburg, and needs to move into her recently purchased home, just 5km from where she is currently staying.

Anisa Khan of KwaZulu-Natal wants to know if her tenants can move out of her property on Friday.

“They were due to move out at the end of April and I have signed a new lease with an incoming tenant, but now my tenant says that they were unable to find a new place because they could not view any.

“I am in a conundrum as to what to do and how to be fair to both the current and the new-incoming tenant, who expects to move in as soon as the lockdown moves to level 4.”

Luthando Falakahla wants to move from a flat in Joburg South to one in Joburg central, but can’t tell from the regulations whether or not that’s allowed when the country moves into level 4 lockdown from Friday.

National removals company Eezi Move would also dearly like clarity on what it calls “an extremely grey area”, and has written to transport minister Fikile Mbalula requesting that.

“We haven’t had a response yet, but we are hoping for one [soon]”, said head of operations Chris Davel.

In the meantime the company has been taking bookings for interprovincial moves from Friday and putting plans in place to carry them out.

“Our clients have been pushing us to release their possessions which we’ve had in storage since lockdown, unable to transport them to their new homes,” he said. “They are crying for their goods.”

Davel said the company is not charging those customers storage fees during lockdown.

Attorney Marlon Shevelew, who specialises in rental property law, said as things stand, on level 4 people will not permitted to move into or out of properties from Friday.

While relocation is not specifically addressed in the regulations promulgated in terms of the Disaster Management Act, he said, under the current level 5, people are required to stay at home, other than essential travel for work and to purchase essential goods; and that, along with the ban on interprovincial travel, has prevented people from relocating,” he said.

“It is interesting to note that even at level 2 the corresponding provision is exactly the same — only at level 1 is there no restriction on personal movement.

“It seems therefore, on a plain reading of the draft framework, that people will only be able to relocate once their respective district is at level 1.”

There was widespread uncertainty about what the lockdown levels and draft framework mean for the real estate sector, Shevelew said.

“In terms of the framework, the functions of estate agencies on commercial, and to a lesser extent residential, properties may soon be recommenced.

“But it appears that the restrictions on personal movement remain very much stringent, and may well be a bar to relocations by tenants and/or landlords for the foreseeable future.”

Editor's Note: This story was updated on Friday, May 1, to reflect comment from transport department director-general Alec Moemi on Friday when details of the transport regulations under level 4 were provided. It was again amended on Sunday to reflect Moemi's clarification on the matter.