Three-year battle yo-yos in courts

By Time of article published May 4, 2012

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Brendan Roane

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tenants who have been fighting their landlord for three years over an “unfair” increase in rent lodged an appeal with the housing tribunal this week.

Fifteen tenants of the Lowliebenhof flats began legal proceedings in 2009 against Aengus Lifestyle Properties, who bought their building in Smit Street, Braamfontein, in 2008.

Aengus offered them a new lease with increased rates of between 119 and 167 percent on their previous contract. The tenants claimed they were threatened with eviction if they did not sign the new leases and have since taken their case through the courts.

The Constitutional Court sent the matter back to the Gauteng Rental Housing Tribunal in March. The court’s ruling says the tribunal has the power to decide if Aengus’s rent increases amount to “unfair practices”.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute, working with attorneys representing the tenants, confirmed yesterday the complaint had been lodged. The arguments in the complaint state that the tenants could not afford the increased rent, that the increases were not approved by the tribunal and that they were not necessary to provide Aengus with a “realistic or reasonable return on its investment”.

Teboho Mosikili, a lawyer for SERI, said Aengus had 10 days to respond to the complaint, after which the tribunal would set a date for the hearing.

“(The case) has already set a precedent,” said Mosikili. “Whether we win or lose at the tribunal, (landlords’) motives are subject to legal scrutiny.”

The complaint was originally brought before the tribunal in 2009 but the tenants withdrew it to take the matter to the courts when mediation failed. It has since gone through the South Gauteng High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and the Constitutional Court. The High Court and the SCA dismissed the tenants’ argument that Aengus had been involved in “unfair practices”.

Aengus argued it had complied with the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act by offering leases, alternative and cheaper accommodation and three months’ notice. The Constitutional Court case has been postponed until the completion of the hearing at the tribunal.

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