Step 1: Rope in a group of likeminded associates
Step 2: Hire a friend to get the services turned off illegally
Step 3: Leave to boil over and stew
Step 4: Approach building residents and tell them the people who run the building don’t own it
Step 5: Accuse the owners of not paying their municipality accounts
Step 6: Get the trust of the residents by telling them to pay their rental to the committee
Step 7: Once residents pay the committee, rope in that same friend to reinstate the building’s services. This garners support and authority for the committee
Step 8: Your building is now hijacked
While this modus operandi has been commonplace in South Africa’s CBDs for the past 20 years, it is not usually employed in suburbs. The exception is the suburb of Windsor in Johannesburg where, since May this year, a self-appointed community association, calling itself the Windsor Community Recovery Movement, has been encouraging Windsor tenants to withhold their rental and instead pay it into the movement’s bank account.
“Overcrowding, crime, high rent, high electricity and water costs,” one of the movement’s representatives tells HomeTimes of its motives for instituting the mass rental boycott. “No one has lease agreements and cash rentals are being collected on behalf of the property owners by third party middlemen.
“We have 15 people staying in a one-bedroom flat. The rental is R6,500 per month! Residents cannot afford this.”
The movement claims that it wants to stem the tide of drugs and a crime, a consequence it says comes from vast overcrowding.
“The owners of these buildings need to explain the situation and why there is no maintenance being done,” he says. “This is why we are telling people to not pay their rental until we get answers. We are trying to help the owners.”
Justifying the hijack
Greg Vermaak, an attorney who earned his stripes working in the Johannesburg municipal enforcement department, is a specialist in evictions as well as building hijacking. He is the go-to man for affected home and building owners who have been affected by the mass rental boycott in Windsor, and says the members of the movement as well as compliant tenants are in a world of legal trouble.
“There has been a sudden and sharp increase is non payment,” he says, noting that the first interdict was lodged two weeks ago that two weeks from now more buildings and owners will be added to the interdict. “Not withstanding the interdict, tenants who continue to pay rent to the committee are going to be evicted.”
Vermaak, who is director of Vermaak and Partners, says the movement is confused about its argument: “The overcrowding suggestion is aimed at bad landlords, but those same landlords don’t own the buildings according to the committee members. There is a built-in contradiction here as you blame the landlord and boycott rental.”
Vermaak says that while there are probably certain instances and buildings where overcrowding is occurring as well as where no leases are signed to protect the rights of tenants and landlords, all his clients have valid leases in place.
I’m a tenant who doesn’t want to be evicted
The Windsor Community Recovery Movement has broken the law in the sense that it has accepted rental money to which it is not legally entitled, and members face the possibility of jail time; complying tenants – those who have previously demonstrated the ability to pay their rental on time and in full – will be evicted, according to Vermaak.
Those who do not want to face eviction, however, should immediately contact their landlords to make arrangement to pay their rental.
“The Rental Housing Tribunal is a good, effective and efficient body to which you can bring your concerns and complaints as a tenant,” says Vermaak. “The Windsor committee is a bunch of crooks. They have no right to collect rent; it is not a tribunal.
“My plan is to crush this resistance and to put the committee in jail.”