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In City of Johannesburg v Rand Properties (Pty) Ltd 2007 (1) SA 78 (W), the High Court refused to grant the City of Johannesburg an order to evict squatters from an unsafe building in the inner city, pending the implementation of a comprehensive and co-ordinated programme to progressively realise the right to adequate housing for people in the inner city of Johannesburg who are in a crisis situation.

The judgment gave rise to a number of questions and came in for sharp criticism by the Supreme Court of Appeal. The SCA, in overturning the High Court’s decision, pointed out that the Constitution affords no person the right to housing at State expense at a locality of that person’s choice (for example, the inner city). Moreover, it is not correct to say that to deprive a person of unsafe housing amounts to a denial of his or her right of access to adequate

The SCA also pointed out that a municipality’s right to issue a notice to occupants to vacate an unsafe building is based on s 12(4)(b) of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1997. The Section is not unconstitutional, but the decision to issue a notice must be rational having regard to the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000. A Court has no discretion to disregard a valid notice to vacate issued in terms of the Act and to condone the continuance of unlawful acts by occupants of unsafe premises.

The SCA stressed, however, that its decision did not mean that a municipality is absolved from any constitutional obligations when issuing notices to vacate in terms of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act. A municipality has a duty to provide a measure of relief in the form of temporary shelter. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal is to be welcomed. The housing crisis in South Africa will not be solved by allowing
homeless persons to occupy unsafe buildings illegally.