What to do when a sheriff is at the door

The sheriff or deputy sheriff must serve or execute all documents issued by our courts

Imagine getting a phone call from a member of your family who has just watched the sheriff of the court take appliances and furniture worth tens of thousands of rands from your home.

If that isn't bad enough, imagine that it is for a small debt, which you paid - more than one year ago. That's precisely what happened to Frans Grobler of Sabie, Mpumalanga, last week.

Grobler, who works in the construction industry, is away from home for long periods of time. To protect his wife and home, Grobler contracted a private security company a few years ago, but after about nine months, he cancelled the contract due to poor service.

At the time, the security company claimed he owed them one month's subscription fee plus another month for failing to give notice for terminating their services.

Since he never signed the terms and conditions of the contract spelling out the cancellation procedure, Grobler refused to pay the cancellation fee. The security company handed over their account to attorneys to collect the money.

They in turn took a default judgment against Grobler for R806. (Default judgment is taken against you when you don't defend a claim brought by another party.) That was in February 2015.

On August 19 2016, when Grobler was served with a warrant of execution, the debt had grown to R1,524, almost double what the security company was claiming owing to costs incurred since the judgment was taken.

A warrant of execution is a document issued by the clerk of the Magistrate's Court or the registrar of the Supreme Court and addressed to the sheriff authorising him to attach property and sell it to raise an amount sufficient to satisfy the debt in the judgment, plus costs, including the sheriff's fees.

Ten days later, on August 29 last year, Grobler paid the R1,524 and considered the matter closed. At the end of November this year, Grobler's adult son, who lives at the family home, informed him that the sheriff had come to the house to give notice that goods would be attached to recover the debt of R1,524.

"I wrote to the attorneys and told them to check their paperwork; the money was paid. I have proof of payment," says Grobler.

The attorneys wrote back acknowledging receipt of the payment and claiming additional costs had been incurred, including tracing fees, sheriff's fees, auction drafting documents and the cost of advertising the auction.

But Grobler says he never received the letter.

One week later, on Wednesday last week, the sheriff arrived at the Grobler's home with a notice of attachment. It was dated August 23 2016. He attached a stove, fridge, flat-screen TV, washing machine, tumble dryer and chairs; the attached goods were to be sold on auction the following day.

Sowetan Money asked the attorneys acting for the security company for comment. In response Jaco Weitsz of DomanWeitsz claimed that what Grobler paid was not enough to cover the execution debt.

"Payment of the amount on the warrant does not discharge the execution debt," he said. The sheriff claimed further costs, expenses and interest, which the debtor did not pay. Weitsz was unable to say how much Grobler still owes because the sheriff's services in respect of the auctioning, storage and other costs was still outstanding.

Hanoneshea Hendricks, Legal Aid's national legal manager of civil, says that in the event that the sheriff proceeded without proper instructions, then the party that suffered damages can institute proceedings against the sheriff and claim damages.

If you are dissatisfied with the manner in which the sheriff executed his duties, you can lodge a complaint with the South African Board of Sheriffs. You can submit a complaint online on the board's website, which has guidelines on how to submit a complaint.

Grobler says he intends suing the attorneys and sheriff. He is also lodging a complaint against the attorneys with the Law Society. The SA Board for Sheriffs did not respond to requests for comment.

When a sheriff is at the door

What does the sheriff do?

The sheriff or deputy sheriff must serve or execute all documents issued by our courts. These include summonses, notices, warrants and court orders.

How do you know if the person knocking on your door is really a sheriff?

All sheriffs and deputy sheriffs must carry a valid identification card issued by the South African Board for Sheriffs while on duty and must be able to produce it on request.

What rights does the sheriff have?

When executing duties with a legal court order the sheriff can: enter your premises (even when you're not there), open any door, vehicle or piece of furniture on your premises. Sheriff can attach, remove and sell your vehicle, furniture and movable or immovable property.

What rights do I have?

The sheriff must treat you with dignity at all times. The sheriff must explain the meaning of any documents he serves on you and what you need to do next.

The sheriff may not attach and remove necessary items such as your food and beds, beddings and clothes. Nor can he or his staff attach any tools of trade you may need to carry out your work. - www.sheriffs.org.za (SA Board for Sheriffs)

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