The consequences of co-habitation when relationships terminate

When parties start living together as a result of a romantic relationship, few love birds think about the consequences of such a co-habitation should the relationship turns sour. One such a pear shaped relationship ended in an eviction for one of the parties in Steyn v Hasse and Another 2015 (4) SA 405 (WCC). Hasse obtained an eviction order against Steyn, which Steyn subsequently attempted to set aside in court.

Background

Hasse is a married German businessman, primarily residing in Germany, but is also the registered owner of the property situated at 10 Vredelust Street Somerset West.

Hasse and Steyn allegedly entered into an oral agreement for the lease of the property from 20 February 2007 with the express terms that Steyn would take care of the house, the swimming pool, the garden and she would make sure that the costs related to the property would be paid from her designated bank account with cash that Hasse provided to her. Steyn subsequently took occupation on 20 February 2008.

Hasse alleged that Steyn breach this agreement by her failure to account properly to him which scenario put tremendous financial pressure on him. Hasse informed Steyn that he wanted to rent or sell the property and asked her to vacate the premises on 30 January 2011.

Notices to vacate were served on Steyn, but she failed or refused to vacate.

When Hasse brought an eviction application, Steyn not only opposed it, but denied that there was ever an agreement of lease concluded between them. She stated that the parties were romantically involved and that she started living on the premises on 1 April 2007. Hasse lived on the property for about four months of the year and returned to Germany to live with his wife for the remainder of the year.

Hasse furnished Steyn with a general power of attorney and had given her his bank card to withdraw any money she needed to perform the agreed upon services referred to above and allegedly agreed on between the parties. This status quo lasted for about five years. Hasse gave Steyn an expensive ring, bought her a Ford Fiesta and introduced her as his wife to other people. Hasse also allegedly assured Steyn that he would give her the security of a home and said that if their relationship didn’t work out he would buy her a townhouse of the same value as her previous townhouse.

Although Steyn received an eviction notice on 18 April 2012, she was allegedly not in a financial or physical position to vacate the premises. In 2006 she was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and was apparently unable to find other accommodation. She is also financially dependent on Hasse.

Steyn said that Hasse failed to provide her with the necessary finances to look after the property since December 2011 and that she contributed R73 080.00 of her money towards maintenance expenses. She also disputed the notion that the first respondent was going through a difficult time. Steyn insisted that she was not unlawfully occupying the property and stated that she started living on the property because of Hasse’s express invitation and consent thereto.

Although Hasse indicated that he initially allowed Setyn to live on the property for free, he said that he later withdrew such consent. Hasse admitted to being romantically involved with Steyn, but stated that this relationship had terminated in 2010. Hasse further said that the general power of attorney given to the appellant had been revoked on 5 November 2007 due to Steyn’s failure to look after the property in his absence. Hasse also denied ever promising or offering Steyn the security of a home for a ten year period or offering her another place to stay if their relationship came to an end and that there was no obligation for him to maintain Steyn. He was of the opinion that Steyn could secure alternative accommodation with either of her two children.

Steyn presented the following arguments for setting aside the eviction order that was granted against her:

  • it was unjust and unequitable to evict her from the property considering the fact that she was an elderly disabled, unemployed woman who headed her household and had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease;
  • the eviction would lead to her homelessness;
  • that a relevant municipality should have compiled a report regarding alternative accommodation for her and that the matter should have been referred to mediation in terms of Section 17 of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998;
  • Steyn further disputed whether:
  • there was an agreement between her and Hasse, allowing Steyn to occupy the property for a minimum of 10 years; and
  • whether a cohabitation agreement existed between the parties and what the material terms of this agreement were.

Court’s findings

The court found that there was no reciprocal rights and duties of support between the parties. Steyn had occupied the property because of the romantic relationship and based on the consent of Hasse, but has Hasse withdrawn this consent and served the necessary termination notice in this regard on Steyn. There was also no lease agreement between the parties and was Steyn’s occupation subsequently unlawful.

The court found that it was just and equitable to evict Steyn. The court took into account, the fact that the appellant lived in a townhouse previously and on her own version had financially contributed the amount of R73 080.00 despite her stating that she was unemployed. There was no need for the Court to obtain a report from the Municipality as an eviction order would not leave Steyn homeless.

So how does a universal partnership come into being as a result of co –habitation?

According to Volks NO v Robinson and Others 2005 (5) BCLR 446 (CC), co–habitation refers to people who, regardless of their gender live together without validly being married to each other. Co-habitants do not have the same rights as partners in a marriage or civil union, especially the duty of support. For the duty of support to arise there must be an agreement.

For a universal partnership to exist each party must contribute something and must the partnership be carried on for the joint benefit of both parties. The object must be to make a profit according to Muhlmann v Muhlmann 1981 (1) SA 67 (A).

In the above matter the relationship between Steyn and Hass did not comply with the essential requirements of a universal partnership and was Steyn as a result thereof lawfully evicted from Hasse’s property.

By
Justina Chirwa
justina@dyason.co.za