‘Vindictive,’ say boat club members

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nm boathouse 3 INLSA The sheriff of the court seizes boats fom the Durban Paddle Ski Club at Vetchs Pier yesterday. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad

In a move labelled “vindictive”, the Durban Point Development Company sent the sheriff around to the Durban Paddle Ski Club yesterday to attach goods to settle a R266 000 bill the club owes the company in litigation costs.

Furious club members had to stand by and watch as the sheriff also removed about 40 of their private boats – valued at about R8 000 each – which they will now have to fight to get back.

“This is not about recovering the debt. This is just being vindictive,” club treasurer Ernie Hovelmeier told The Mercury.

Last night they applied for and were granted an urgent interdict by Durban High Court Judge Kate Pillay stopping the sheriff from removing any more boats.

In the court application Hovelmeier testified that the boats belonged to members, not the club. He said that the boats seized so far were valued at R400 000 – far more than the debt the club owed to the company.

But when club members got back to the club after court, they found that the lights were off, apparently disconnected by the municipality in spite of a paid-up bill. Metro police were present.

The sheriff had left, but insisted that lawyers for the club come to him to serve the court order on him. The company has been locked in several legal battles with the club and the allied Save Vetch’s Association over its development plans for the Point precinct, which include the construction of a small craft harbour.

In September, the company finally secured an eviction order against the club from Durban High Court Judge Mohini Murugasen who ruled that the club would have to go on 30 days’ notice once the company had secured all approvals for its plans.

The judge also ordered that the club pay the costs of the eviction application.

The Supreme Court of Appeal turned down the club’s application for leave to appeal.

The club’s attorney, Michael Jackson, said the company had initially demanded about R900 000 for its costs. But this had been reduced to R266 000 after taxation about 10 days ago.

“I wrote to the company’s lawyer (Christine Seger) saying the club would pay its debt. My instructions were that it could afford to pay it off in instalments of R10 000 a month.

“On Saturday, I received a response saying this was not acceptable.”

Jackson said there had been an attempt to attach any of the club’s funds held in his law firm’s trust account, but there were no such funds.

Yesterday, he was informed that the sheriff was at the club attaching and removing all movables.

“There is not much of any value… a few tables and chairs and possibly a fridge. Nothing worth even R10 000. I was told they were also removing members’ boats stored in the garage.”

He wrote an urgent letter to Seger asking that this be deferred so that members could prove ownership.

But Seger said her instructions were to notify the sheriff to proceed.

He said in order to get their boats back, the members would have to prove ownership and even possibly go to court.

Hovelmeier said the club had about 300 members.

“As long as we could have kept the club going, we could have paid off the debt,” he said.

“This hurts. The members can’t fish and will have to go through a legal process to get their boats back.

“This is such a stupid thing. What club owns its own boats?

“From the club itself they took an old steel cabinet, a plastic table, about 40 chairs and lawnmower. They left the stove,” he said.

Seger said the reduced bill of costs was “reasonable” and payable by the club.

“It has been given an opportunity to pay and it has not done so. It is entirely reasonable for my client to expect the club to make payment and if it does not do so, certain consequences must follow.

“From my client’s point of view, it is sad the club has not reached a compromise sooner.”

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