Home PodcastJulie Alli Property hijacking on the rise – experts

Property hijacking on the rise – experts

by Zahid Jadwat

As Police Minister Bheki Cele is expected to release the First Quarter Crime Statistics on Friday, an expert warns of an increase in property hijacking. The trend has been on the rise due to increased poverty, according to specialist investigator Mike Bolhuis.

“It’s been going on for quite some time, but has escalated recently due to the fact that poverty and crime in South Africa is escalating on a daily basis,” he said. “When you leave your premises unprotected, criminals will enter.”

Experts believe syndicates have taken advantage of state inaction, whereby they forcibly take over a property and use it as a base for crime. In some instances, they might even rent the property out to tenants of their choice.

“They will completely destroy it, stay in it and operate from within and commit crimes in the area,” said Bolhuis.

Dominic Steyn, head of the corporate, commercial, tax, and litigation at Cowan-Harper-Madikizela Attorneys, told Business Tech that there had been a noted increase in Pretoria East, GP, and Cape Town, WC.


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What is the modus operandi?

According to Bolhuis, syndicates send a “frontman” to identify vacant properties and homes in an area. This individual then occupies an empty home, emptying valuables and then bringing in other criminals.

“Over a short period of time,” he said, “they will completely empty the house; take out the copper pipes, the geysers, the electricity wiring, obviously whatever furniture and anything else that’s available – even valuable plants,” he said.

After selling the valuable items to raise money, Bolhuis said, the syndicate then illegally rents the property out to tenants.

“They would stay there and they would take in others that would pay a minimal fee to also
stay there. It becomes like a criminal hub and from there they commit further crimes,” he said.

Bolhuis said that property hijacking could occur anywhere, from mines to homes in the suburbs and vacant land. The consequences, he warned, are serious.

“This becomes a very serious problem because they steal and rob in the area and they put up a set up there from where they would operate, even taking extra people and taking rent money from those who stay there,” said Bolhuis.


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Protracted legal action

Reclaiming hijacked properties can be an arduous – and costly – mission. Steyn believes that property hijacking is on the rise due to inadequate legislation and collusion between property hijacking syndicates and Police.

“In a nutshell, the [Unlawful Occupation of Land Act] provides that a property owner must approach a court to obtain an order for the eviction of unlawful occupiers,” said Steyn.

The Act requires the court to consider the rights of the elderly, children, disabled persons and households headed by women, as well as alternative accommodation for those to be evicted.

“In our experience, a property owner will be lucky to have the unlawful occupiers evicted within a period of 10 months from the date of the eviction application being instituted, and far longer where there are multiple occupiers.

“If an eviction application is opposed – which it usually is when organised syndicates are involved – the process can drag out for years. Legal costs for the property owner can easily exceed R800,000, and they are seldom recoverable.”

Meanwhile, Bolhuis said the government could fix the problem of property hijacking by addressing poverty and unemployment.

“Our government has failed us because if this country was run properly and correctly – if we had created jobs for the unemployed and the poor – we wouldn’t find ourselves in this situation,” he said.

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