Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court handed down a judgment dealing with the right of a domestic worker to renovate her dwelling on her employer’s farm at her own expense. The improvements were meant to bring the dwelling to a level consonant with human dignity, but the farm owner had prohibited the builder from proceeding, arguing that his consent had to be obtained for any such activity.
The Court however said that it was not so simple. A farm occupier’s right to reside must be consonant with the fundamental rights contained in the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA) and the Constitution, in particular the right to human dignity. Occupation is not simply about a roof over the occupier’s head; rather it is about occupation that is conducive to human dignity and other fundamental rights. In fact, a dwelling that is uninhabitable is of no use to an occupier and could in effect amount to a form of unlawful eviction, which ESTA aims to avoid.
The Court also noted that in certain circumstances, the two pieces of legislation could be interpreted to place a financial obligation on a land owner to reimburse an occupier who had made reasonable improvements on his or her dwelling.