Landlords battling to evict tenants who owe them thousands in rent and for services say some laws are unfair as they protect unscrupulous tenants.

Lebo Zulu and Bronwen Oeschger said it was frustrating that their tenants had been occupying their properties rent-free for months.

The process of evicting them had become costly and protracted under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act of 1998.

The act prevents landowners and landlords from arbitrarily evicting tenants from their properties.

It says no one may be evicted from their home or have their home demolished without a court order.

The complaint came as Arrigo Ferri, 55, appeared in court last week for the sixth time.

He has been trying to get his tenants to move out of his Bedfordview townhouse. Arrigo said the tenants had obtained a protection order against him, barring him from entering his property to ask them for the rent, which had not been paid for four months.

An attorney who assists tenants threatened with eviction, disagreed that the law afforded tenants greater protection than landlords.

Tashwill Esterhuizen, lawyer at the Socio Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, said the act had been put into place because historically landowners would evict tenants unfairly from their land or properties.

'I don't agree that the act protects tenants more than landlords. Not all landlords are fair, therefore one needs a court order to evict tenants,' he said.

Zulu said angrily that she and her husband had spent R17 000 on lawyers trying to evict their tenant, who had been living in their Mondeor townhouse rent-free for 10 months.

The tenant owed R60 000 in rent and R20 000 for water and lights.

The water and lights had been disconnected, but the tenant had reconnected them.

The tenant also tried to lock Zulu out. The woman had changed the locks.

'This act has made it difficult for landlords to remove tenants. While she makes use of Legal Aid services, we fork out money to attorneys,' Zulu said.

'She told us she won't move because her child attends school in the area and has made friends there.

'She has also put in dead bolts from inside of the house to prevent the sheriff coming in.'

Oeschger said the law meant well when it was put into place because it was intended for those who could not defend themselves from unpleasant landlords, but it was 'far too one-sided' and it should be balanced.

Oeschger said she had let her cancer-stricken father's 'huge Randpark Ridge' house for R13 500 a month to a family of seven.

A problem arose when the tenant questioned a huge water bill.

Today, her tenants owed her sick father R81 000 for six months' rent, R57 000 for water and lights, and they refused to move out, Oeschger said.

'I have spent R40 000 on legal fees and we don't have a court date yet. There's no justification for us landlords to go through all this,' she said.

Esterhuizen said many landlords claimed they were evicting tenants because they were in arrears, but a court process needed to be followed.

'It is not up to the landlord to decide when to evict a tenant. He can't just say: 'I want you out, I'm evicting you.' In this case who is more vulnerable? It will be up to the court to decide what is fair under the circumstances.'

A Joburg advocate, who declined to give his name, agreed with Zulu and Oeschger.

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