The end of the affair – evicting a live-in partner

The Western Cape High Court was recently called upon to consider the rights of a partner in a cohabitation relationship, after such relationship ended.

The plaintiff in the case was a married German national, Mr Hasse. He had, in addition to his marriage, been in a romantic relationship with the defendant, Ms Steyn, since 2005. Mr Hasse spent most of each year in Germany but visited South Africa annually for four months. He owned a property in Cape Town in which Ms Steyn resided with his permission on a rent-free basis as of 2007. During his visits to South Africa, the couple resided there together. Ms Steyn paid the expenses associated with the property using funds sent to her by Mr Hasse. Mr Hasse also paid for her day-to-day personal expenses.

The relationship ended in 2010. In early 2011, Mr Hasse informed Ms Steyn that he required her to move out of the property. She refused to vacate the property, and Mr Hasse instituted eviction proceedings against her.

In the course of the proceedings, Mr Hasse claimed that he had entered into a sort of lease agreement with Ms Steyn, and that she had breached the agreement by failing to properly manage the property and the funds provided to her for this purpose. He further alleged that her right of residence arose solely from his consent, which he had withdrawn, and that he had validly given her notice to vacate.

Ms Steyn on the other hand alleged that Mr Hasse had guaranteed her a residence for at least ten years, and had promised to buy her a townhouse if their relationship ended.

Both parties claimed to be under financial stress, and to desperately require either the sale of the property or continued residence therein, respectively.

The magistrate hearing the matter granted an eviction order. The court found that there was no lease agreement but that the right of residence arose only from Mr Hasse’s consent. He had withdrawn his consent as he was entitled to do, and properly followed the procedures to secure an eviction. Ms Steyn did not face the prospect of being left homeless if evicted. It was just and equitable that she vacate Mr Hasse’s property.

Ms Steyn appealed against the eviction order, to the High Court. Before the proceedings, she took the position in correspondence that she and Mr Hasse had entered into a universal partnership, and that he therefore legally owed her a duty of financial support. Before the court, however, she implicitly conceded that there was no universal partnership between her and Mr Hasse. The High Court noted that mere cohabitation does not give rise to any legal duty of support. However there was nothing to stop cohabiting partners from entering into an agreement creating such a duty.

In the present case, the evidence did not support any finding that Mr Hasse was obliged to maintain Ms Steyn. The court found that her allegations that she was promised accommodation for ten years and/or a townhouse were not credible. On her own version, she and Mr Hasse did not discuss finances or the future. The alleged agreement was raised late in the proceedings and was improbable.

Having disposed of Ms Steyn’s allegations as to Mr Hasse’s duties to her, the court considered what was equitable.

Ms Steyn had supported herself before her relationship with Mr Hasse and had done so since he withdrew his support. She also had two adult children who were legally obliged to support her if needed. She would not be rendered homeless if evicted.

Ms Steyn claimed before the court to be suffering from debilitating motor neuron disease since 2006, however this was the first time she had mentioned such an illness, and she supplied no evidence in support of such a diagnosis having been made. The court therefore did not take the alleged illness into account.

There was no basis on which Ms Steyn’s eviction would be unjust or inequitable.

The appeal against the eviction order was dismissed, and the High Court confirmed that Ms Steyn was obliged to vacate Mr Hasse’s property.

A step closer to the re-opening of land restitution claims in South Africa

On 25 February 2014, the national assembly passed the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, which will in its current form allow for new land restitution claims to be lodged until 30 June 2019. Many of those who were dispossessed of land missed the original deadline of 31 December 1998, and thus were denied redress. The Department of Rural Development’s assessment of the original process identified shortcomings, resulting in the recommendation to reopen the process. 

The Bill will now be considered by the National Council of Provinces, before it can become law.

While the passing of the Bill is an exciting development for the many who were shut out of the process owing to lack of information or poor support in the 1990s, it is noteworthy that the budget of the Commission which handles land restitution claims has been repeatedly cut in recent years. The Commission currently sits with a backlog of claims, many of which appear to be stuck, with claimants and the Commission unable to agree upon a resolution. With an influx of new claims likely, it is hoped that the Commission will be empowered with a suitable budget, and that mechanisms will be adopted to finalise outstanding claims, some of which date back as far as 1995.

Claims arising from dispossessions that occurred after 19 June 1913 are currently the only ones considered. This is due to a provision in the Bill of Rights which entitled people to redress for racial dispossessions after that date only. The Department of Rural Development has noted that this has excluded claims by Khoi-San communities who were dispossessed in earlier times, and has undertaken to make efforts to address this matter.