Body corporate to pay for badmouthing resident

Body corporate to pay for badmouthing resident. Picture: File

Body corporate to pay for badmouthing resident. Picture: File

Published Dec 12, 2023


A lawyer’s letter on behalf of a body corporate to a residents accused of using his garage to run a carpentry business is defamatory, a court confirmed.

The resident was also accused of illegitimately using the electricity of the common property.

The body corporate of Sunnyside Gardens in Pretoria will have to pay R50 000 in damages to the resident, after they failed in their bid to appeal the damages.

The Pretoria Magistrate’s Court earlier ordered Sunnyside Gardens to pay this amount to Eduardo Perreira, who initially claimed R100 000.

The body corporate now turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria to appeal against the judgment, but three judges concluded that the appeal had to fail.

Perreira was hurt and grieved after he received the letter in which it was claimed that he operated an illegal business in his garage, causing a nuisance to his neighbours and “stealing” electricity.

The 67-year old retiree has lived in Sunnyside Gardens for the past 15 years. He is a religious man, the court was told, a Catholic, and happily married with two adult children.

The magistrate earlier found that the letter sent in November 2015 and which was sent to all members of the Board of Trustees of Sunnyside Gardens and its managing agent, was defamatory of Perreira.

He was a police reservist for 15 years and involved in community security and training, including teaching primary school children to act responsibly at traffic lights and adhere to laws. He was also a member of the Body Corporate and was formerly on its Board of Trustees, responsible for security and maintenance.

In the letter sent to him, he was told that the trustees “will no longer tolerate any nuisance from him”. He was told to stop being a nuisance to other residents.

The letter was received by Perreira via email. He believed it to be slanderous and he was disgusted at the accusations against him. He further felt threatened by it. Perreira addressed a letter to the lawyers in which he denied the allegations and requested an apology.

Perreira received no reply.

A couple of days later, a neighbour alerted Perreira to a letter, addressed to Perreira, that was posted in the foyer of the complex. Perreira went and saw that it was the same letter he had received on email and removed it.

At that stage, Perreira was still a member of the Board of Trustees of Sunnyside Gardens. He testified that he was neither consulted nor aware of the instruction to the attorneys to send him the letter.

After the proceedings were instituted, the letter was apparently circulated to all members of the Body Corporate as an attachment to the summons, which was part of the pack for the Annual General Meeting, to notify members of the litigation against the body corporate.

The magistrate earlier found that an inference can be drawn on the evidence that the intention of the responsible members of the Board of Trustees was to defame the plaintiff and injure his reputation amongst the members of the Body Corporate.

The court accepted that Perreira felt insulted, hurt, slandered and embarrassed about the letter.

In turning down the appeal, the high court found that an ordinary person of reasonable intelligence would have understood the letter to convey that Perreira was not merely accused of wrongdoing based on complaints received, but was guilty of wrongdoing.

Three judges found that the letter was defamatory both on its plain meaning, and because it implied squarely that Perreira does not abide by the rules and misuses the common property electricity for his personal use, effectively by stealing it.

Pretoria News