A building contractor sought to argue that the word ‘acquire’ in the Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act 1998 meant ‘buying or obtaining ownership’. The court held that the primary meaning of ‘acquire’ is ‘come to possess something’. The suggestion that persons who have rented their places of permanent residence have not ‘acquired a home’ as that phrase is understood in common parlance, was said to be untenable in the context of the Act.

The construction company was trying to avoid the obligation to pay a R1.5 million enrolment fee to the National Home Builders’ Registration Council. It further argued that the words ‘leasing’ and ‘renting out’ a home introduced in a 2008 amendment did not apply to the section dealing with enrolment fees because the definition only applied ‘save where the context indicates otherwise’. Lessees, they said, have other ways of protecting themselves under the leases against defective premises.

The Act was enacted to ensure that built homes comply with the Council’s standards and specifications. The fact that lessees may have rights under the lease is no argument at all because purchasers also have contractual rights. The purpose of the legislation is to avoid contractual disputes.

Legislation will be interpreted by having regard to the words of the legislature, not by taking account of what a party feels the legislature should have said.

A constitutional challenge to the enrolment fee was also said to be ‘devoid of merit’.

The case is National Home Builders’ Registration Council & another v Xantha Properties 18 (Pty) Ltd.