The City of Cape Town says amendments to its Problem Building By-law will help to expedite cases, such as the one related to the property at 104 Darling Street, dubbed the Irene Grootboom house.
The building, which was listed for investigation in September 2016, and declared a problem building last year, is home to about 18 families, some of whom say they have lived there for decades (“We have nowhere else to go”, CapeTowner, August 2, 2018).
It is owned by the Department of Public Works.
The building, although declared unfit for human inhabitants due to a fire on the top floor (“Blaze guts block”, CapeTowner, November 16, 2017), as well as the lack of water and electricity, has been “claimed” by housing activist group Reclaim the City.
Some of the other concerns listed by the City include vermin infestation, dumping, unlawful occupation, alleged criminal activity and alleged drug activity.
The City has not had much luck in resolving the issue but hoped the proposed amendments would help expedite cases like this one, said the mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services, JP Smith.
The City wants to make a number of changes to beef up its Problem Building By-law, namely making provision for a court-appointed administrator in cases of deceased estates without an executor; increasing tariffs and the value of fines that can be imposed for non-compliance; clearly defining the duties and liability of property owners and granting greater powers to the unit to act in instances where problem buildings are identified, including securing court orders to evict illegal occupants.
Mr Smith said the tenants at 104 Darling Street are there unlawfully. “In terms of the Problem Building By-Law, Section 7 (6) they have no authority to reside there.
“The issue of alternative accommodation needs to be taken up with the owner.”
He said it was up to the owner to have the occupants evicted.
“We understand that the owner was to apply for an eviction order, but thus far there have been no developments.
The City is trying to assist, where possible, to resolve this situation. However, we are bound by the limitations of the by-law in its current form,” he said.
Meanwhile, the tenants at 104 Darling Street are still trying to repair the place and blame the owners for not helping them to fix the space.
Nadia Lottering said people were trying to tidy up and secure parts of the building, while Reclaim the City helped them look for sponsors to assist with materials.
“We had joined a number of protests with Reclaim the City but the owners do not respond to us, so we fixed the problems we had ourselves,” she said.
Another occupant, Ellen Cloete, said they were still waiting for answers from the owners. Asked if she was aware of the proposed by-law, she said that they would wait for the eviction letters and go to court if need be.
“We have been on the waiting list for houses for years. No one cares about us.”
Zacharia Mashele of Reclaim the City said over the past few months, the occupants had been working together to clean up the building and fix it but don’t have enough money to install a new roof, which was destroyed in a fire.
“The building has fallen into disrepair because the national Department of Public Works has not maintained it.”
He said Reclaim the City had written to the owners and the City a number of times to ask for a way forward, but said that the owners effectively ignored residents and the City had said that its hands are tied because it is not the owner.
“Reclaim the City members reject any attempt to displace poor and working class people to relocation camps. If Public Works is unwilling to maintain its buildings then the City should use the full weight of the law to bring them into compliance.
“ The City should expropriate this land from the national department and renovate it as part of a bigger project to redevelop the underused parking lot on Harrington Square for affordable rental housing.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works spokesperson, Thami Mchunu, said approval had been obtained to demolish the building.
But, he said: “The necessary funding still needs to be secured for the demolition. The illegal occupants have to be evicted and the site handed over to the contractor to demolish the building as it is not safe for human occupation.
“The issue with the overflowing sewer has been attended to and the illegally built wall will be removed. A properly constructed wall will be built in order to prevent access into the area.”
The City’s problem building unit has a case load of 1 671 properties that are in various stages of investigation, with 172 properties that have been declared as problem buildings on its database. Mr Smith said the unit received 63 new complaints between July and December 2018, closed 151 cases and issued 114 notices to property owners to inform them that a formal investigation had been launched.
People can have their say on the proposed amendments to the Problem Building By-Law until the end of the month. The draft document can be viewed at libraries and sub-council offices and submissions can be made online at www.capetown.gov.za
Written submissions can be delivered to the nearest sub-council office.