The SCA has found that the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) doesn’t apply to student accommodation. It ruled that student accommodation doesn’t constitute a ‘home’, reports HeraldLIVE.

In its ruling on Monday, it said the accommodation was for a finite period with a limited and defined purpose which was to accommodate students for the academic year and assist them to study at the university.

In 2021 the Western Cape High Court dismissed an application by the owner/manager of a student residence, New Market Junction, to evict Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students. At the time, students had been asked to show why they should not be evicted from the residence which they continued to occupy without the property owner's consent.

The owner had leased the residence to the university. Students were allocated accommodation by CPUT until the end of November 2020. The students, however, refused to vacate after CPUT gave them notice to leave within 72 hours of their last examination in 2020 The owner then requested private security guards to forcefully remove them on 12 January 2021.

When the students resisted, the owner approached the High Court on 15 January 2021 for an order to evict them.

The students contended that the provisions of the PIE applied to the proceedings brought by the owner and that the application was fatally defective.

But the owner argued that the residence did not constitute the students’ home and if evicted they would not be rendered homeless as they had homes.

Acting SCA Judge Nelisa Mali indicated at the beginning of the case the court had been informed students were no longer staying in the residence which rendered the appeal moot.

However, both parties agreed the appeal should proceed because of the wider and far-reaching implications.

‘I am also persuaded that this court should hear the appeal because the rights and duties of students provided with accommodation by CPUT is an issue of recurring controversy,’ said Mali.

She said though the substantive provisions of PIE reference the occupation of land, it is plain PIE gives effect to the constitutional protections against the peril of homelessness.

It follows that, if the occupation of land does not constitute the home of an occupier, PIE does not find application, reports HeraldLIVE.

The court upheld the appeal with no order regarding costs and declared PIE did not apply to the students' unlawful occupation of the residence and that the owner was entitled to evict them.

The main issue was what constitutes a ‘home’ in terms of the law, says a Business Day report.

Mali noted several previous judgments that said a home is somewhere that people regularly occupy with a ‘some degree of permanence’.

The next question is whether this applies to student accommodation. Mali said all the students ‘came from homes’ and student accommodation does not replace this, meaning they would not be homeless.

She also noted the accommodation is provided for a limited time for the specific purpose of accommodating students during the academic year.

‘The arrangement is by its nature temporary,’ she said, ‘and for a purpose that is transitory.’

This means it has no degree of permanence in keeping with definition of ‘home’.

Mali concluded: ‘This accommodation is not a home. It is a residence, of limited duration, for a specific purpose, that is time-bound by the academic year, and that is, for important reasons, subject to rotation.’

The report notes all 90 students had, however, already left the residence by the time the SCA heard the case.

Full HeraldLIVE report

Full Business Day report