South Africa: Trouble in Paradise Park – the Seven-Year Battle to Keep Eviction At Bay

“I would not have invested my money here if somebody told me the truth,” says Hermanus home owner

  • In 2015, 300 residents of Paradise Park in Hermanus were served with notices to vacate after the park ran afoul of municipal regulations. Paradise Park was sold to a developer in 2017.
  • The residents, however, refused to move and fought their eviction.
  • In April 2022, the Western Cape High Court upheld the eviction application giving the park’s residents three months to vacate.
  • Residents’ applications for leave to appeal their eviction order were dismissed. They say they will take the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
  • Overberg Municipality is offering emergency housing, but it is more than 30 kilometres away from the park.

The remaining residents of Paradise Park, Hermanus, say they will approach the Supreme Court of Appeal after the Western Cape High Court dismissed their application for leave to appeal their eviction order last week.

On 20 April this year, the Western Cape High Court upheld an order for residents to be evicted from the park. They were given three months to vacate. The residents lodged a further appeal against the eviction order as well as an application to have the presiding judge recused from the matter, but both matters were dismissed by Judge Andre Le Grange on 20 October.

Despite seven years of dogged resistance, eviction now appears inevitable for those still living in Paradise Park.

The closing of the park will mean the end of a community.

Seven years of resistance

Nestled off the R44 in Vermont, Paradise Park is currently home to more than 100 people, most pensioners and social grant beneficiaries. There are 295 homes, some permanently occupied, some occupied on a semi-permanent basis, and others used on a short-term basis during holiday periods. There are also about 30 camping sites.

For many of its permanent residents, Paradise Park was an escape from the busy city life and a place to quietly retire. Some people have been living in Paradise Park for forty years, others for as little as two years.

Residents were served notices to vacate in 2015 and eviction notices in 2016, but engaged the owner in a legal battle for their homes. The 22-hectare private park was sold to a developer in 2017, which persisted with the evictions.

The People of Paradise Park

GroundUp spoke to three residents who have each been living with their families at Paradise Park for more than a decade.

Resident Philip Du Toit, 67, bought his three-roomed home for R45,000 in 2008, and lives with his girlfriend Charmaine Pulito and his 27-year-old son. He and Pulito rely on the Older Persons Grant, while his son receives the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant.

Before retiring, he worked in the hospitality industry for 30 years and regularly visited the park during holidays.

“There were little bokkies walking around, and every morning we would see them in the park. There were guinea fowls, pheasants, and a wonderful birdlife. They would walk freely through the park and it was beautiful to see that. That’s why when I stopped working, I decided to move here,” he said.

He said the park’s residents are “like a family” and try to help one another in any way needed.

“Not everybody has a car. If I have to go to town, I will put the word out. This one will need sugar, that one will need bread and another will need coffee or a packet of sausage or viennas. Then I’ll collect all the money, go to the shop, buy everything then come back and give everyone what they asked for. Tomorrow somebody else will go. That’s how we do it,” said Du Toit.

Retired school principal Hermanus Pieterse, 63, and his wife were looking for a quiet place to retire when they bought their four-roomed home for R405,000 in 2015. They left their home in Ceres to their youngest daughter, 39.

Pieterse says he was told by the previous owner of the house that he could “live there forever” so long as he and his wife kept to the rules of the park and paid their necessary accounts.

“I invested my pension here. Because I went on early retirement, I was penalised with a third of what I had to get. But I believe God placed me here. My name is not Hermanus for nothing,” said Pieterse.

He said the woman who sold him the house introduced him to the park staff, and told him that while the structure on the ground was his, the ground was not.

Tracey Henn, 48, and her husband moved into their three-bedroom home in 2012. Before moving, during holidays they had regularly visited her in-laws who also live at the park.

“The tranquillity is what I loved, the bird life was absolutely beautiful … I thought that coming to a place like this would be a little safe estate. The people who were living here were all friendly,” said Henn.

Like Pieterse, Henn said there was an understanding that once they purchased the home, they could stay there all their lives.

Paradise born

In 1961, Raymond Schonegevel bought the land on which Paradise Park would be built.

The park began as a place for people to go on holiday, but over time, people began to stay all year. Schonegevel allowed residents to erect rudimentary timber structures and then basic brick-and-mortar structures on some of the plots. According to court documents, no municipal authorisation was obtained for these enhancements.

People would sell these houses, though they did not own the land on which they were built, and 10% of the sale would be given to Schonegevel as a deposit.

The park was administered informally. People were allowed to stay as long as they paid their monthly rental and kept to the rules of the park. They were also allowed to use the park’s amenities like the swimming pool, hall, mini-golf course and laundry units.

Trouble in Paradise

After forty or so years of tranquillity, Paradise Park was unsettled in 2010 when the Overberg Municipality realised that it was only charging for two sewerage connection points, instead of the 312 connections that the park used.

Suddenly, there was a big jump in municipal fees, and new attention to the park by the local government.

The Paradise Park Home-Owners Association (PPHOA) was formed in 2010, to protest against the possibility of rising fees. The association lodged a complaint against Schonegevel with the provincial Rental Housing Tribunal.

This complaint caused Schonegeval to finally formalise his relationship with the people living at Paradise Park. He entered into a three-year written lease agreement with the majority of the tenants, which lasted from 1 March 2011 to 28 February 2014.

But the conflict between Schonegevel and the municipality was deepening too, and they engaged the court. The municipality found that the houses in the park did not comply with statutory and regulatory requirements. Schonegevel was ordered by the court to comply with all the relevant requirements before 30 June 2012.

Schonegevel hired a consulting firm – they told him it would cost him more than R17-million to comply with the court order. He considered this “financially impossible”, according to Le Grange’s judgment.

Schonegevel proposed increasing the monthly rent from R950 to R1,825 for permanent residents, and from R600 to R1,550 for semi-permanent residents.

Unhappy with this proposal, the PPHOA again took Schonegevel to the provincial Rental Housing Tribunal and the hearing was held on 17 December 2013.

But the Tribunal ruled for Schonegevel on 31 July 2014, and recommended rents of R1,350 for permanent residents and R1,200 for semi-permanent residents, effective from 1 September 2014.

According to Le Grange’s judgment, up until 2011, residents had an “undetermined lease” with Schonegevel. Then they signed a written three-year lease agreement that expired in February 2014. After this, they were “deemed–in the absence of a further written lease–to have entered into a periodic lease on the same terms and conditions as the expired lease.” One month’s written notice was thus needed to terminate such a lease.

Unhappy with the Tribunal’s ruling, some residents embarked on a rent boycott.

Schonegevel told the court he had no choice but to terminate and cancel all the lease agreements with the residents in December 2015 as he was unable to afford the municipal compliance fees. They were given until 31 January 2016 to leave the park.

Some residents left, but most refused to leave. A second written demand was delivered to them in March 2016. They were given another month to vacate the premises, however, nearly 300 people continued to stay on the property.

Schonegevel then began eviction proceedings through the court in October 2016.

He sold the park to Magna Business Services in May 2017. Magna plans to develop the park, and joined as an applicant in the eviction matter.

Schonegevel died in 2021 from Covid.

Life at Paradise Park since the sale

Pieterse said he was shocked to learn that he had been served with an eviction notice barely six months after moving in.

“I was [called] an ‘illegal occupier’. And that, after the lady [who sold the house to us] explained to me that I can live here forever, and nobody interrupted her when she told me that in the office.

“I told the court I would not have invested my money here if somebody told me the truth… Nobody cautioned me,” said Pieterse.

Du Toit said following the sale, the swimming pool was drained, trees were cut down, the mini golf course closed, and ablution facilities were shuttered.

Henn said although residents paid the park’s new owners, there was no clarity on how much they needed to pay. So, some residents continued paying what they paid Schonegevel, others paid R100 and some paid nothing.

“They took everything away that we were paying our levies for. How can I pay the full amount when I don’t even have what we originally agreed on?” said Henn.

Pieterse said the park had always been “in a very good condition”, but in the last year, it had been neglected.

“They are trying to break our spirits [by] intimidation. But our spirits are still high and we will fight till the end for this. These are our homes, we are not illegal squatters,” he said.

Pieterse said that following the sale, their refuse stopped being collected. They currently pay R100 per month to a resident at the park who volunteered to collect it. “That is another way they are trying to break our spirits,” he said.

Henn, Pieterse and Du Toit told GroundUp that they made verbal lifelong agreements with Schonegevel upon buying their homes. But Judge Le Grange in the Western Cape High Court in April found that these claims were not supported by evidence.

Development plans for Paradise Park

The matter was postponed several times as the parties tried to reach a settlement agreement. During 2020, the case was further disrupted due to the Covid pandemic.

The matter was heard again in March 2022, where final arguments were made and the following month the court granted the eviction order.

Paradise Park will be redeveloped as a residential complex, according to an Environmental Authorisation Letter, with 51 single residential plots, a townhouse complex with 155 units, and apartment blocks with 167 units.

According Le Grange’s ruling, Magna said it has spent almost R3.5-million on improvements and compliance with the necessary legal framework. The company also said it is subsidising the residents with its municipal services including rates, taxes, water and sewerage.

They said Paradise Park owes the municipality more than R1-million in arrears, which the residents should have covered.

Looming eviction and the move to emergency housing

In a statement, the Overberg Municipality said they are obliged to provide temporary emergency accommodation to “any residents left genuinely homeless”.

“Emergency accommodation does not mean formal housing, but a plot with shared services where a temporary structure can be erected,” the statement read.

In 2018, the municipality’s council allocated emergency housing in the Stanford Housing Development, about 30 kilometres from Paradise Park. People from 28 households completed applications for emergency housing at Stanford, 20 of whom are older than 60, and three are disabled.

These 28 household applicants for the emergency housing at Stanford will receive:

  • 1 toilet for every 5 households (including a disabled-friendly toilet);
  • 1 tap for 20 households. Additional taps may be installed to ease access for the elderly;
  • A 24 m² informal housing unit per applicant.

The municipality also said it will provide transport where required (furniture, other belongings and affected households) from Paradise Park to the emergency housing site.

All other evictees will be offered the opportunity to temporarily be accommodated in Hawston Thusong Hall, the municipality said.

However, some of the residents are unhappy about the location of the site, the sizes of the units and the basic services offered.

“They want to offer us shacks,” said Du Toit. “The residents here are older people and there’s a double amputee who cannot walk because he has no legs. Now they want to supply one toilet to five houses.”

“There are no proper streets there for him to walk, and the old people struggle to walk. They need to have a toilet and water in their house but now it’s one tap for 20 houses. So, they must now walk 20 houses down the line, to go and get water, and then they must carry it back to their homes–old people cannot do that.” he said.

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