The reason this Beaufort West man was 'squatting' on his OWN property

By Pieter van Zyl
16 June 2015

With his sheep dog Jesse and Jack Russell Stompie, Duif van As slept in his bakkie with his furniture strewn around him in the front garden.

He bathed in buckets, made food on a fire and even brought in a mobile toilet.

The front garden of his own, legally-owned retirement home.

He lived just like a ‘trekboer’ of old times on his “outspan” here in Beaufort West, says Duif.

“I only washed my face and upper body and brushed my teeth.”

The reason? His tenant wouldn’t leave the property that him and his wife, Helena, owned and even got a court interdict stating that Duif needs to vacate his own property.

The court was set to make their final decision last week but the tenant has since moved out and by time we’d gone to print the 60-year-old Van As couple were finally about to move in. But not before Duif became a huge attraction. . .

"Where was I supposed to go with all my stuff? I don’t have any other livelihood. That is my house," says Duif while we chat at the home of their friends.

Duif and Helena's home in Beaufort West. PHOTO: Corrie Hansen Duif and Helena's home in Beaufort West. PHOTO: Corrie Hansen

For Helena, who’s already had five bypasses and struggles with hypertension, it was a very traumatic time. “We never thought that something like this would happen to us.”

During the drama Helena stayed with a friend. “But I couldn’t sleep during the nights that Duif was camped out there. What would I do if something happened to him?”

It was Francois van Niekerk, owner of the local newspaper The Courier, who made Duif known countrywide after he wrote about his situation in the paper in early June. The story spread like wildfire on social media.

Supporters came to chat, shake hands and even brought him food. “The reaction was amazing,” says Duif who suffers from heart problems and diabetes. “It was cold in my bakkie, but my heart was warm.”

Duif and Helena. PHOTO: Corrie Hasen Duif and Helena. PHOTO: Corrie Hasen

Duif says that he grew up in Beaufort West. He got his nickname because his family loved pigeon racing (a pigeon is a duif in Afrikaans). His mother went to school with medical pioneer, Dr Chris Barndard.

After school Duif became a train driver. He and Helena lived all over the country in railway houses. In 2000 he bought a retirement home in Klein Voortrekker Street. When he was declared medically unfit to work in 2005 they came to live in their home in Beaufort West.

But in that same year their youngest son Jaco (25) passed away in a  car accident close to the small town. It was a terrible loss for the elderly couple who lost their firstborn Martin (then 8) in 1984 in a car accident when their car rolled on a gravel road close to Beaufort West.

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“I still spoke to him in the ambulance,” says Duif who is still heartbroken over his son’s death. “We had a terrible time after that, we needed to get away. There was no way Helena could live here anymore.”

Then, five years ago, family who lived close to Nieuwoudtville in the Koue Bokkeveld invited the couple to stay with them so that they could grieve.

“I rented out my house for five years.”

Duif doesnt want to reveal the identity of the tenant who is also a former colleague of his. According to him they reached a verbal agreement and the man was going to pay R2 000 per month in rental.

Five years later Duif and Helena felt emotionally strong enough to return to their home. On 29 February this year they arrived back in Beaufort West and their furniture was already stored there.

On 29 February this year they arrived back in Beaufort West and their furniture was already stored at their home. PHOTO: Corrie Hansen The couple had left their furniture in storage at their home. PHOTO: Corrie Hansen

The tenant would move out at the end of April and the couple found lodging elsewhere in the meantime.

But the on 5 May Duif received a letter from the tenants lawyer: the tenant will only vacate the property on 1 June because he can only move into his new accommodation then. Duif and Helena gave up their accommodation at the end of May and got their furniture and boxes out of storage.

But when Duif arrived to the house on 1 June with his bakkie full of furniture at 58 Voortrekker Street no one was home. The garage door was open so he pulled his bakkie with its load onto the backyard and waited. Later in the afternoon the tenant arrived.

“He gave me one look and called the police.” When the policeman arrived, Duif showed him the lawyer’s letter which stated that the tenant would vacate the property on 1 June, but the tenant denied having any knowledge of the letter. That was when Duif decided that along with his furniture and boxes – he would stay just there in that garden.

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Six days later the sheriff arrived and told Duif that he is squatting on the property. “To avoid further conflict, I packed up my things and left.”

Generous friends showed him compassion and gave him, along with his wife and belongings, a place to stay for a little while longer.

“But first I cleaned up the yard and left it as I found it,” says Duif. “I mostly ate bully beef and my fire was burning almost all of the time.

“The people brought me sausage and meat to braai,” he says. “The nights were long and I had time to think. It actually made me more determined to get my house back.”

Helena says: “It was so frustrating. The constant moving around is damaging my furniture.” Their only surviving son, Riaan (38), lives in George and was very worried about them. “But I told him not to come, we are praying for a solution.”

Helena says: “It was so frustrating. The constant moving around is damaging my furniture.” PHOTO: Corrie Hansen Helena says: “It was so frustrating. The constant moving around is damaging my furniture.” PHOTO: Corrie Hansen

Then 10 days after they were supposed to move in Duif received a call from Mathilda van Niekerk, his lawyer: the tenant has moved out.

Mathilda, the local newspaper owner's wife said: “According to the law you can’t just put a tenant out if they don’t want to leave. You need to follow the legal proceedings.”

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The rights of tenants is protected by the Law of the Prevention of Unlawful Eviction and Illegal Occupancy of Property but tenants often abuse their right by not vacating a property when their lease has ended, says Mathilda. This leads to a long process of splitting hairs in court.

The hole in Duif’s contract, which was drafted by the tenant and put on paper, was that the two parties never decided how long the rental period would be. Duif apparently said five years with the possibility of lengthening the period on a month by month basis. “Our story should be a warning to other people. Do your homework before you rent out a property,” warns Duif. “I also just want to thank the people of Beaufort West. They kept coming to ask me what I needed.”

What did the tenant say?

There was no verbal agreement, says the tenant’s lawyer, Wayne Mostert. The tenant also maintains that there was an option for the lease period to be extended from five years to 10.

Duif Van As asked the court for an eviction notice, seven months before the five year term was to expire. It was declined. The tenant also maintains that he had let Duif know, via SMS, that his alternate accommodation had fallen through and he was looking a place to live.

He found a place and that was why he could only move out on 10 and 11 June.

If you are renting out your property

Avoid headaches and unnecessary legal expenses – Cape Town estate agent and rental contract expert Cecelia Hansen, has this advice:

  • Let a lawyer or professional estate agent go through the contract. Both parties need to agree on all the terms.
  • Informal or verbal contracts are, according to South African law, legally binding but it is very difficult to prove their validity and this will lengthen the legal process.
  • If a tenant oversteps the agreement the landlord must follow the proceedings set out in the contract
  • Take a fine tooth comb to the applications of potential tenants. Get all their contact numbers and go through all documentation and information. Call their previous landlord and also employer to make sure that they are trustworthy.
  • For more information, visit passop.co.za/your-rights/housing-rights-pie

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