How to fight your eviction: Lumumba Chia's story of success

Facing eviction is a demoralising process that can feel like there's no end in sight. A refugee living in South Africa who fled Cameroon, Lumumba Chia won a court case against his landlord and turned his eviction story into a success.

If you've ever faced eviction, you'll know it's a demoralising process that can feel like there's no end in sight. A refugee living in South Africa who fled Cameroon, Lumumba Chia took control and prevailed over his eviction story. The good news is that you can also fight your eviction and win your case.

...his landlord brought up false rent issues and said he needed to renovate the flat, so Lumumba would need to move out. 
Lumumba Chia walks us around his old street in Woodstock, Cape Town
Lumumba Chia walks us around the streets he used to frequent and tells us about his eviction experience. Image: Matthew Stark, OpenUp.

The beginning of Lumumba's eviction story echoes the experiences of many tenants in South Africa. In 2017, Lumumba's landlord tried to evict him from a home he had lived in for ten years. 

First, his landlord brought up false rent issues and said he needed to renovate the flat, so Lumumba would need to move out. 

...he sent Lumumba a Notice to Vacate. Many people give in at this point, although the law doesn’t oblige them to

When the landlord's verbal instructions and intimidations didn't work, he sent Lumumba a Notice to Vacate. Many people give in at this point, although the law doesn’t oblige them to. This was just the beginning of Lumumba's eviction story of success.

Beechwood apartment block in Woodstock, Cape Town
Lumumba's old block, Beechwood in Woodstock, Cape Town. Image: Matthew Stark, OpenUp.

Alone and afraid?

Lumumba says that there is a lack of knowledge and information about your rights as a tenant and how to fight your eviction. 

It can be even harder to understand your rights when you're a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant worker. You may be told, even by officials, that an outsider doesn't have the same rights as South African citizens. This can lead to feelings of fear and loneliness on top of the immediate challenge with your landlord.

You might fear or distrust the law, or think that the law could work against you or worsen your situation.

Lumumba says that there is a lack of knowledge and information about your rights as a tenant and how to fight your eviction. 

What's more, landlords such as Lumumba's also use intimidation tactics to scare tenants into leaving their homes without following proper legal proceedings. Tenants flee their homes and miss court dates, fearing the law won't work in their favour. Learning what to expect in court can help ease these fears.

So, how did Lumumba trade in fear for success? By arming himself with information. Let's find out what resources Lumumba used next.

Lumumba Chia visits old friends in Beechwood apartments in Woodstock, Cape Town
Despite having moved out years prior, Lumumba still has close friendships with the residents of his old block. Image: Matthew Stark, OpenUp.

Know your rights as a tenant

The biggest challenge Lumumba had to overcome when he decided to fight his eviction was his perception that there was a lack of knowledge and resources available on the subject. The resources that do exist are often full of legal jargon if you decide to oppose your eviction. You'll be confronted with legal documents and proceedings, and it can be confusing to understand what you're even signing or agreeing to.

You'll be confronted with legal documents and proceedings, and it can be confusing to understand what you're even signing or agreeing to.

Lumumba found strength and support through Ndifuna Ukwazi, Reclaim the City and our efforts to empower tenants. Through a legal process that took nine months, he learned that the law could protect him

Through a legal process that took nine months, he learned that the law could protect him

Lumumba says that the most important thing you can do to fight your eviction is to learn about your rights and the legal processes involved. As an activist, he immersed himself in the process and learnt how to navigate the system and how things should work. Consequently, with confidence in his knowledge and his case, he was able to participate in the court proceedings that, ultimately, he won.

Lumumba stands in the doorway of his old apartment and recounts his 9 month long eviction saga. Image: Matthew Stark, OpenUp.

How Lumumba fought his eviction

He says his success was largely down to three things:

  1. Excellent professional and personal support: Lumumba felt heard and supported by the magistrate. In addition, he felt the moral support of all his comrades who came to his court hearings.
  2. A sympathetic and plain-speaking legal counsel: Lumumba's lawyer was a major highlight. His lawyer explained the process and laid out the pros and cons of any decisions Lumumba needed to make. Instead of making decisions for Lumumba, his lawyer encouraged him to take agency over his future and empowered him with the information to do so.
  3. Playing an active role in his own case: Lumumba learnt a lot about the law during his court proceedings. By actively using those around him as learning resources he empowered himself with knowledge about how the legal process works.

Lumumba also laid out some important advice if you're facing eviction. You may feel discouraged and depressed. There's no quick fix, but you have supportive structures you can use. 

  1. Go to a trauma centre if you are struggling to cope with your situation
  2. Attend an Advice Assembly run by Reclaim the City to learn about your rights
  3. Find a legal resource centre to help you with the legal side of your eviction journey 
  4. Consult the Eviction Guide for information to help you every step of the way

Your eviction story can be the start of taking back control. 

Take back control  

If you've decided to fight your eviction, or your eviction story is just unfolding, it's important to remember that you're not alone and that your situation isn't unique. 

While it may be scary to confront your landlord or engage with the law, you don’t have to give in to intimidation tactics or give up on your case. You may feel you don't know enough about the law to oppose your eviction, but you have support structures and resources you can lean on. You can use these to arm yourself with the tools and knowledge you need to win your case and take back control.

Do you have more questions about how to fight your eviction? Take a look at the FAQs and Resources sections below. 

Lumumba's victory allowed him to refocus on his life and his work. He continues to work in the film industry as a set builder. Image: Matthew Stark, OpenUp.

FAQs: Know your rights

What is constructive eviction, and is it legal?

Constructive eviction is when your landlord tries to force you to leave your home by making your home hard to live in. Your landlord could do this by turning off your lights and water. It's illegal, and you should seek legal advice if this happens to you. 

Do I need to leave my home if I receive a Notice to Vacate? 

No. Receiving a Notice to Vacate doesn't mean you must leave your home. You can still try to resolve issues with your landlord, such as paying any outstanding rent. You may need to go to court if you can't resolve your issues. Going to court can be expensive and time-consuming. It's always recommended to settle any disputes without going to court.‌

What can I do if my landlord won't resolve major issues, but I don't want to go to court?

You can take your issue to the Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT). The RHT investigates and tries to resolve your issue. Having your dispute heard is free and does not require a lawyer, although you can have one present if you want. A decision by the RHT carries the same weight as a court order, but the process is usually quicker.

What happens if I lose my eviction case and am evicted?

You must read the court order immediately and very carefully. You must understand how an eviction is executed and what happens on the dates mentioned in the court order. At this stage, you'll know how long you have until you need to vacate the property. You must start looking for alternative accommodation immediately and prepare your belongings to be transported or stored.

Resources 

OpenUp: Eviction Guide

Learn more about how to fight your eviction with OpenUp's Eviction Guide.

Reclaim the City: Website

Find out how Reclaim the City can help you in your eviction story.

Ndifuna Ukwazi: Website

Discover how Ndifuna Ukwazi is fighting to expand access to well-located land and affordable housing.

November 11, 2022
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