Answer to a question from a reader

My husband kicked me and our children out of his mother's house that she gave to us. Can we fight it?

The short answer

You will need help from your mother-in-law if the title deed is still in her name

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I moved into my mother-in-law's RDP house in 1994. In 2002, she moved to live with her daughter so that my husband and I could raise our children there. She told us that we shouldn't apply for a house because she was giving us that one. I helped pay for electricity and to have a geyser and ceilings installed.

Since then, my husband and I have separated and he has forced me out of the house because it belongs to his mother. I moved out with my children and he moved his girlfriend and her children in. On what grounds can my children and I fight for this house? It is the only home we know. 

The long answer

It must be very painful for you to lose your home after living there for 22 years. The government policy about RDP houses has always been that they should remain in the family. But sadly, the fact that you helped to put in electricity, geyser and ceilings, does not make any legal difference to who owns the house. Title deeds are the only legal proof of ownership. 

Perhaps you should start by finding out whether your mother-in-law ever had title deeds for the house which she left in 2002. If she did, the house belongs to her, legally, not her son. If she did have title deeds, but has lost them, you can get a copy of the deeds at the Deeds Office. If you are not sure if she ever had title deeds and if it is difficult for you to approach her, the Deeds Office can check whether title deeds were ever issued. You would need to give them her full name, ID number if possible, and the erf number of the house (not the street number).

As your children are her grandchildren, your mother-in-law may well be unhappy that they have been evicted from their home. If it is possible, it may be helpful to discuss the whole situation with her, and see if a plan can be made. 

You may also wish to approach the municipality where she made the application for the house and ask them what you and your children’s rights are, as you have lived there for 22 years. You should ask what they can do to help you. 

In the end, you may have to seek legal advice and help. The Women’s Legal Centre is an NGO that takes on cases for women who cannot afford a lawyer, free of charge. These are their contact details:

Cape Town Office: 021 424 5660

Johannesburg Office: 011 339 1099

Helpdesk Queries:

You could also approach the following organisations:

  • Legal Resources Centre 

Cape Town: 021 481 3000


  • Lawyers for Human Rights

Cape Town: 021 424 8561

There is also Legal Aid which is a means-tested government organisation that must help people who can’t afford a lawyer:

Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110

Legal Aid Ethics Hotline: 0800 153 728

Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 8, 2021, 3:06 p.m.

See more questions and answers

Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.