A 67-year-old retired Pretoria man was awarded R50,000 in damages after the Body Corporate of a complex where he lives sent him a defamatory letter.
Eduardo Perreira has lived in Sunnyside Gardens for the past 15 years.
He was described as a religious man who is happily married with two adult children.
He is a member of the Body Corporate and was formerly on its Board of Trustees after being elected in November 2014.
In 2015, the Body Corporate’s attorneys sent Perreira a letter via email over complaints which had been received claiming that Perreira was causing a nuisance to other residents of the building, that he is running a carpentry business from his garage, he is illegitimately utilising the common property electricity to sustain such business, and lastly, he is not utilising the garage for the purpose it should be used.
Furthermore, the letter demanded that Perreira comply because trustees will no longer tolerate any nuisance from him and he was instructed, among other things, to stop being a nuisance to other occupants, and to stop running his business from his garage.
After receiving the letter, Perreira said he viewed the letter to be slanderous and he was disgusted at the accusations against him and felt threatened.
He sent attorneys of the Body Corporate an email, denying the allegations and requesting an apology, but didn’t receive a reply.
A couple of days later, he received the same letter via post. He consulted his attorney who addressed both letters, but also didn’t get any response.
Perreira then took the matter to court and it was heard in the Tshwane Central Magistrate’s Court where he claimed R100,000 in damages.
The magistrate found that the letter was defamatory in its use of the words ‘you are causing …’ and ‘you must stop / immediately cease’.
The magistrate said that inference can be drawn on the evidence that the intention of the Board of Trustees was to defame Perreira and injure his reputation among the members of the Body Corporate.
“The plaintiff felt insulted, hurt, slandered and embarrassed, he still wept about the incident and people still look at him in meetings.”
As a result, Perreira was awarded R50,000 in damages.
Unhappy with the outcome, the Body Corporate took the matter on review and it was heard again in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
Acting judge L Barit also found that the letter was defamatory, both on its plain meaning, and because it implied squarely, that Perreira does not abide by rules and misuses electricity for his personal use, effectively meaning he was stealing it.
The acting judge added that an award of damages to Perreira for defamation was not punitive, but rather compensatory and remedying harm to his reputation and dignity.
“There is no reason to interfere with the quantum of damages awarded by the magistrate,” added the acting judge.
The acting judge ordered the Body Corporate to pay Perreira R50,000.