‘Charming couple’ turn out to be the tenants from hell

13 December 2020 - 00:00
This house in Lochner Road, Constantia, in Cape Town has been taken over by hijackers. Attempts to get the illegal tenants evicted have been unsuccessful.
This house in Lochner Road, Constantia, in Cape Town has been taken over by hijackers. Attempts to get the illegal tenants evicted have been unsuccessful.
Image: Esa Alexander

Catherine Deare thought she'd found the ideal tenants — a charming couple, full of smiles. Then they stopped paying rent, wouldn't move out, and began making home improvements.

Two years after the couple moved into the R5m house in Constantia, Cape Town, Deare was forced to sell the property for less than half its value. She still owes the bank millions and is bankrupt.

Now the new owner has inherited the problem. The house and its leafy 937m² plot remain “hijacked”, by a new set of uninvited guests, several of them noisy and aggressive towards neighbours.

Earlier this month, police arrested one of them, allegedly for business robbery. But still the property goes from bad to worse, a blot in a suburb of wealthy homes.

“They were so warm and friendly and nice,” Deare said of the couple who leased the house for a year because they needed time to “organise a bond”.

The bond never materialised. Deare became embroiled in a standoff involving lawyers, police, private security guards and the Cape Town high court.

Her tenants obtained a court order against her for not returning their deposit, even though they had an unpaid utilities bill for twice the amount and had allegedly damaged the house.

She confronted them on the property to demand the keys, but a group of “threatening looking” people arrived in a flashy car and demanded she produce the deposit. “I thought I was going to be shot,” she said.

Faced with a lengthy court eviction battle, Deare said she had to concede defeat. “I eventually ran out of money.”

The house was given back to the bank and sold for R1.9m to a property investment company, which, a year later, is still battling to evict the tenants. The company's lawyer, Wayne Hufkie, this week said there had been delays in obtaining a court order because the occupants refuse to be served a summons.

The sheriff broke down the fence to serve documents and the matter is to be heard in court next month.

“We've sent the sheriff out there two or three times,” said Hufkie. “To evict anybody you must have a court order. But in this matter, each time the occupancy keeps changing.”

The City of Cape Town problem building unit can't get into the house. The “illegal occupants” refused officials entry to inspect, said the council's head of safety and security Richard Bosman.

The city council has about 500 problem buildings, of which between 30% and 40% are illegally occupied.

There was no reply when the Sunday Times visited the Constantia property in Lochner Road.

The lawn was overgrown and an abandoned shopping trolley lay in the garden.

Neighbours said they had noticed “trolley squatters” who went on forays into the neighbourhood.

One neighbour criticised the council's inaction: “How does the city justify the affected neighbours being charged full rates when everyone knows we will not get a market-related price with a hijacked property next door?”

Documents seen by the Sunday Times include an unpaid utilities bill for of R55,375 and e-mails from the illegal tenants, who could not be reached.

Property sources said house hijackers were exploiting the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land (PIE) Act, which protects vulnerable families.

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