Year: 2011 (Date of Decision: 1 December, 2011)
Forum, Country: Constitutional Court; South Africa
Standards, Rights: Reasonableness; Right to adequate housing
Summary Background: The case raised the issue of occupiers of 7 Saratoga Avenue – a community of 86 poor people living in a disused industrial property in Berea, Johannesburg. In 2006, they were sued for eviction by the owner of the property. The question submitted for the decision of the court was whether the occupiers must be evicted to allow the owner to exercise their rights regarding the property and, if so, whether their eviction gave rise to the obligation of the City to provide them with accommodation, even if they were evicted from a private estate and not from public land. In the case, the question of the resources of the City was also raised.
Holding: The Court accordingly upheld the order of the Supreme Court of Appeal [SCA] by ordering the eviction of the occupiers 14 days after the City was ordered to provide those occupiers who were in need with temporary accommodation. This was to ensure that they would not be rendered homeless because of the eviction. The Court found that the City had a “duty to plan and budget proactively for situations like that of the Occupiers” [para. 67] and that its lack of resources was the product of its incorrect understanding of the relevant legislation. Furthermore, the Court upheld the finding of the SCA that the City was not able to show that it was incapable of meeting the needs of the Occupiers. The Court further stated that “[t]he City provided information relating specifically to its housing budget, but did not provide information relating to its budget situation in general. We do not know exactly what the City’s overall financial position is. This Court’s determination of the reasonableness of measures within available resources cannot be restricted by budgetary and other decisions that may well have resulted from a mistaken understanding of constitutional or statutory obligations. In other words, it is not good enough for the City to state that it has not budgeted for something, if it should indeed have planned and budgeted for it in the fulfilment of its obligations” [para. 74].
Additional Comments: The Occupiers submitted that ‘it would not be just and equitable to grant an eviction order, if the order would result in homelessness’ [para. 32]. As for the City, it contended that the eviction was sought at the instance of the owner of the property, and noted that it cannot be “held responsible for providing accommodation to all people who are evicted by private landowners” [para. 32].
Link to Full Case: http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZACC/2011/33.html