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Property Law feature 3

Background:

Gladwin is the owner of a property. This property was occupied by tenants (hereinafter referred to as “the old tenants”) who bypassed the pre-paid electricity meter. The owner had no knowledge of this whatsoever. The old tenants subsequently vacated the property and new tenants took occupation.

It was not long before the new tenants and the Municipality established that the meter was bypassed. The Municipality immediately terminated electrical supply to the property and demanded from the owner an amount in respect of stolen electricity. Further the Municipality claimed an amount of R40 000-00 + incidental to outstanding historical debt incurred by the previous owner of the property.

Gladwin had no problem with paying the amount demanded for the stolen electricity by the old tenant but queried the amount in respect of the historical debt incurred by the previous owner. The Municipality failed to furnish Gladwin with an answer on the latter and further refused to restore supply of electricity to the property.

Gladwin brought an urgent application to court, asking the court for an order to compel the Municipality to restore the supply of services to the property.

The Municipality, in the interim, agreed to restore electrical supply to the property subject to following two issues to be argued at the hearing:

Whether a municipality is entitled to disconnect the supply of services to a property, or refuse to reconnect or restore that supply, on the basis of amounts owed to the municipality by a prior owner of the property;

  1. Whether a municipality is entitled to do the above specifically in the case where it has not notified the current owner of what the charges owed by the prior owner are made up of or when they were incurred, or has not invoiced the current owner in relation to those charges.

The Municipality subsequently failed to file answering affidavits and two days before the hearing withdrew its opposition to the application.

Held:

The order was granted in favor of Gladwin. The Municipality acted unlawful in refusing to restore the electrical supply to the property on the basis of historical debt of the previous owner.