IN YOUR CORNER
‘There are squatters in my flat.’ How to avoid this woman’s horror story
Only after buying the property did she discover that the tenants hadn’t paid rent to the previous owner
Simangele Mkhize of Cape Town pays Absa more than R4,000 every month for a man and his mates to live rent-free in the unit she bought in a Boksburg residential complex last year.
She should have been paying another R1,780 a month as levy to the complex’s body corporate since September, but she hasn’t been able to afford it.
Mkhize is one of the many South Africans who have discovered only after buying a property – either to live in themselves or to rent – that the tenants hadn’t paid rent to the previous owner and had absolutely no intention of paying a cent, ever.
Her first mistake was not viewing the unit in Eveleigh Estate herself before signing the deal last May.
“If I had viewed the place I would have picked up the vibe because, obviously, the Nigerians living there would not have allowed me into the unit,” the finance manager says.
“A friend of mine has a unit in the same complex and hers has no issues, and that coupled with a good price – R385,000 – made me think it was a good deal.”
The estate agent, who works for Intro Real Estate Agents of Boksburg, told her the tenant would either vacate or start paying the rent to her when the property was registered in her name, Mkhize says.
When that happened, in late August, Mkhize asked the agent for the tenant’s details.
“That’s when he sent me a screenshot of an undated letter which the previous owner had addressed to ‘Solomon’ giving him and the others occupying the unit illegally two months’ notice to vacate.”
“That was the first time I got to know about this tenant being an illegal occupant,” she says.
The seller later confirmed to Mkhize the agent was aware of the fact that the tenant was, in fact, a squatter and hadn’t paid rent for three years.
When she complained, accusing the agent of deliberately withholding that information to make the sale, the agency responded with a letter stating: “[Our agent] is not prepared to be made a scapegoat for the chain of events that have occurred afterwards due to the very people who should be law enforcers, not having carried out their duty in association with the courts.
“There was no indication at the time that your purchase would become problematic as Solomon co-operated and allowed access to the unit when necessary.”
She was referring to the tenant being an undocumented migrant.
“When I called the tenant,” Mkhize says, “he told me that I should not have purchased the house; he is not going anywhere, and he is not going to pay any rent to me.
“Yes, I was wrong for not viewing the unit, because I would have picked up this issue then. It’s a very tough lesson.
“I am forced to continue paying the bond while those people occupy my place, and it seems I will have to start the eviction process from scratch – the eviction notice which the agency promised to send me three months ago has not materialised.”
Intro Real Estate Agents denied the agent in question had deliberately failed to disclose the true nature of those “tenants”. The seller had made no mention of the unit being “hijacked” in either the mandate of sale or the agreement of sale, the company said.
“He was obliged in law to make these disclosures to the purchaser at the time the sale was concluded.”
The agency claims Mkhize knew the flat had been “hijacked”, but went ahead with the purchase anyway.
“It would appear that Ms Mkhize snatched at what she considered a bargain, and proceeded, notwithstanding the clear warnings which came to her notice, and is now experiencing buyer’s remorse.
“Intro has been in business for 38 years, during which time we have developed substantial and valuable goodwill in consequence of the professionalism and adherence to good practice and integrity in all of our dealings.”
The Estate Agency Affairs Board doesn’t agree.
Head of enforcement and compliance Jimmy Baloyi told me: “Our records show that neither [the agent] nor Intro Real Estate Agents have been issued with fidelity fund certificates, nor were they in possession of the requisite fidelity fund certificates during 2018.
“They were/are therefore not licensed to operate as an estate agent and agency respectively.”
I put that to the agency but have not had a response.
WHAT TO DO
The Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) regularly hears from people who have had Mkhize’s experience on buying a property already occupied by “tenants” who don’t feel obliged to pay rent or for water and electricity.
Here’s how to avoid inheriting squatters: view the property and, if there are occupants, find out if they are the owners of the property being sold or whether they are aware that property is for sale.
Ask the agents or owner for a written list of defects and go through them to determine the extent.
Specifically ask the agent who the occupants are, if the occupants are the tenants and whether or not they are up to date with their rental payments.
Ask for the lease agreement so you can see what the rental amount is, the duration of the lease and how much of the lease period is left in the agreement. If the agent claims not to have that information, ask to speak to the seller directly and if the agent is not keen on that, ask them to get that information. If the agent is hesitant, that should trigger the alarm bells.