Court orders eviction of elderly couple who lived 'rent-free' on farm for six years

15 November 2019 - 13:36 By ERNEST MABUZA
A tractor was damaged during the stand-off between tenants and owners of the property.
A tractor was damaged during the stand-off between tenants and owners of the property.
Image: 123RF/Kostic Dusan

The supreme court of appeal has upheld the eviction of an elderly couple and their daughter from a farm in Gauteng where they lived “rent free” for six years.

The couple had accused the owners of the property of trying to force them out by, among other acts, vandalism and cutting their electricity supply.

The owners of the property in Midvaal, Shawn and Julia Sutherland, obtained an eviction order against Cedric Jones, 78, his wife Diane, 76, and their daughter Kerenza, 48, in the Meyerton magistrate’s court in June 2017.

On automatic review to the land claims court, that court confirmed the eviction order and said they should leave the property by December 1 2017.

The family turned to the supreme court of appeal, which on Thursday dismissed their appeal and ordered them to leave by no later than February 29 2020.

The family signed a one-year lease with the Sutherlands to occupy the farm in June 2013.

But they stopped paying R6,000 a month rent in November that year after Sutherland said he had sold the farm.

Sutherland sent his notice of termination of the lease agreement in January 2014, saying he had sold the property to a new owner.

Jones claimed that because his family did not leave the property voluntarily, Sutherland, by his actions, attempted to constructively evict them.

Jones claimed that Sutherland illegally cut off their electricity supply, an allegation Sutherland denied.

He also claimed that Sutherland removed water pumps, destroyed water and solar panels, damaged a tractor and broke windows of the house. Jones estimated that his family had suffered damages of R600,000 as a result. Sutherland, in turn, alleged that his property was vandalised by the Jones family.

Jones laid a charge of malicious damage to property against Sutherland and his son.

During the course of 2014, Sutherland and his son were both found guilty and Sutherland was sentenced to a fine of R10,000 or 12 months' imprisonment.

Sutherland sent another notice of eviction in 2015. The couple refused and claimed they were subjected to further acts of vandalism. They said the cables from the pump room to the water tank were cut and their livestock cut loose.

Judge of appeal Caroline Heaton-Nicholls said there was a lawful termination of the lease. She said the next question was whether the termination was just and equitable.

Heaton-Nicholls said the actions by Sutherland and his son were unacceptable and that the father was convicted and sentenced for his conduct.

However, she said the Jones's were not paragons of virtue either.

“They admit they have not paid the rent since November 2013. This was prior to any acts of damage to the property. As at February 2016 they were R168,000 in arrears.”

She said even assuming in favour of the Jones family, the conduct of Sutherland and his son did not entitle them to live on the farm in perpetuity.

Heaton-Nicholls said the farm owners' main income was derived from the rental generated by their farm.

“They have been deprived of that income since November 2013, for almost six years.”