It was our first house, bought shortly after our wedding. It is situated in a good, middle class neighbourhood in one of the major cities in South Africa. It has four bedrooms, with a study, a family room, lounge, dining room and double garage. The property is 3 800 square meters, so we could even sub-divide and sell two stands. Man, did we have dreams!
The dreams changed over the years, but the house and sentimental attachment remained. Even after we moved all over South Africa and eventually the world to follow various job opportunities. The three children that originally filled the rooms with their laughter and tears (and dirty laundry and dishes!) have moved on, living in three different time zones themselves. But they have been supplemented by two more, and the house would also provide security for them, albeit only financially and not physically.
And then the house was stolen.
It is surprising what gets stolen along with a house: Peace of mind obviously. Sleep, the possibility to enjoy a holiday without worries, but also a good relationship with your partner, trust in others, pride of my homeland, … Where does this list end?
But the theft also brought some things with it, such as anger, frustration, and helplessness. Add to this the fact that the “suspects” include a pastor, the premier property and real estate company in South Africa and the municipality of one of South Africa’s biggest cities, and you can understand that I also have to add bouts of depression to this list. The theft seems to permeate every aspect of my daily life. I worked hard to provide for everyone, but now I seem to have failed.
Why do I say the house was stolen? Well, when someone steals your watch or car, it still belongs to you or is registered in your name, but you no longer decide what to do with it or control it in any manner whatsoever. So someone else has taken control over my house. I can of course find it, I can show you photos or take you there (want to see a Google Street view?) but I can no longer make any decisions about it - I cannot even sell it.
How is this even possible? Well, the person who lives there with his family has not paid rent for the better part of a year. Apparently, he has also not paid for any electricity or water or services for the same time. I cannot get him to move out of the house. I have started legal proceedings to have him evicted. He refused to accept the summons. I have demanded that the electricity be cut off . This has not happened despite an account in arrears in excess of R 100 000. So this person has control over my house and there seems to be nothing that I can do.
This would never have happened if any of the three “suspects” behaved and acted in a way that one would reasonably expect from them.
The Pastor: If he was truly a “man of God” as he professes, his word would be binding and his signature on a contract would be golden. However, he has not paid rent in more than ten months, he has signed an admission of guilt, undertaking to repay the outstanding rent as well as the normal rent and reneged on this within two weeks.
He has made numerous promises on the telephone to the agent as well as the lawyers without honouring a single one. He has two daughters at university and regularly travels between South Africa and at least one other African country on “missionary work”. He keeps his “mission” alive and active by regular postings on multiple Facebook pages.
The Agent: She selected this tenant and put him into the house without first checking his creditworthiness. When it came back less than perfect, she asked us to accept it, probably in an attempt to transfer the responsibility for future payment problems to us. We raised several objections and questions, but allowed ourselves to be persuaded to sign the rental lease after more than five months after the tenant had moved in.
When we noticed that the rent was not being paid, WE had to ask HER what was going on. She eventually told us that the tenant – “such a nice man and my Facebook friend” – would pay as soon as he received payment from the South African Government, we must just be patient.
Despite contacting her at least twice per month and also her immediate boss when we received no response, it still took about six months before she started to agree that the situation is getting serious. When asked what she intended to do to solve the problem, she stated that she would “assist us in our legal process”.
The Municipality: We asked the agent to install a pre-paid electricity meter in the house, to protect us in case the tenant did not pay his electricity account. Although the money was deducted from the rent due to us, this was never done. The account is currently in excess of R 110 000. Why the electricity supply was not cut off earlier, I cannot even guess.
We only received the account after numerous mails and telephone calls to the Municipality. We still do not know if they were supposed to give it to us. We immediately tasked a lawyer to demand that the electricity supply be terminated, we also submitted the necessary paperwork to the municipality. That was two weeks ago. This morning I received an e-mail from a neighbour, saying that the lights are still on at night.
To summarize: A Pastor, selected and approved by the “premier property and real estate company of South Africa” is squatting with full municipal services in my house.
My question: Can I report this as a theft? If not, what else can I do to get my house back?