South African courts frown heavily upon those who decide to take the law into their own hands. This was made very clear by our High Court in a recent case.
A homeowner in a sectional title scheme fell behind in the payment of monthly levies. The body corporate reacted by locking his motor vehicle out of the scheme by suspending the owner’s access disk to the complex he lived in. In taking this bold action the body corporate simply suspended the owner’s rights to access unilaterally and without first looking to a court for permission to do so. These actions, according to the body corporate, were condoned by the scheme’s Conduct Rules. In terms of the Conduct Rules the body corporate is entitled to “disconnect and lock out electricity supply or perform any other act necessary…..” to enforce compliance with the Rules .
However, the courts disagreed with the body corporate’s decision. The court ruled that a person in peaceful possession of a property could not be disturbed unless a court order authorised it. In effect, the body corporate’s action resulted in an illegal infringement of the personal rights of the homeowner. The court awarded full access to him. In addition to this, the court made a punitive costs award against the body corporate, making the situation even worse for them, in that they were ordered to pay the owner’s legal costs on the scale as between attorney-client.
This case is another clear indication from our courts that no person is entitled to take the law into their own hands. To condone such action would eventually lead to a state of lawlessness. We accordingly encourage you to seek legal advice before taking action.
Information supplied by Guthrie & Rushton Attorneys.