Families face eviction from Cape Town’s problem buildings
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
A walk through three adjacent houses on Wright Street in Woodstock offers clear indication why city officials are clamping down on so-called problem buildings.
While these particular houses accommodate unemployed and poor families, they are falling apart from their ceilings to floors, presenting health and safety risks.
The houses, declared problem buildings, share a common backyard where a number of shacks have been built.
It was on a rainy day last week when Weekend Argus visited the properties. One of the shack residents was fixing his roof to prevent leaking.
Rosina Booysen, who has lived in one of the houses for 15 years, said their home accommodated 12 people, including seven children.
“This house was empty when we moved in. A man who worked with the (home) owner said we could live here,” claims Booysen.
“We have no other place to live. I can’t afford rent anywhere.”
Booysen said they have been told they needed to move out though.
“Law enforcement was here last year. They put up boards to say this is a problem building,” she said.
Booysen walked through the house, pointing out its shortcomings.
“The ceilings are falling. The drains are blocked. If it rains a lot of water comes from the drain into the house,” she said.
“The bathroom has no windows. We have running water but it’s only cold. We buy electricity. My brother-in-law is a builder and he gets work sometimes.”
In one of the backyard shacks, Xander Cloete lives with his partner Roleen October and their three daughters. They don’t pay rent and both are unemployed.
“The police have been here a few times to tell us that we should move. They said it’s a problem building. But I don’t have another place to live,” said Cloete.
The City of Cape Town has a Problem Building Unit that identifies structures that need repairing or that pose safety risks. It also works with the local police and property owners to evict illegal occupants in neglected problem buildings.
Jean-Pierre Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, confirmed the Wright Street houses are “already declared as problem buildings”.
“We are seeking legal opinion on the way forward,” said Smith.
While legalities are yet to be finalised, the affected families remain unsure about where they would have to move.
City officials have previously moved illegal occupants of problem buildings to city-run temporary relocation areas, such as the one in Delft, commonly known as Blikkiesdorp.
Janine Willemans, a spokeswoman for the city, last week confirmed the PBU is “currently investigating just over 1,600 complaints of possible problem buildings”.
“Of the total complaints under investigation, 1,450 are privately owned properties, 46 are owned by various government departments and 41 are city-owned properties,” she said.
PBU meanwhile does not “divulge details of problem buildings unless the matter is before the courts”.
Although the Wright Street houses are not before the courts, Weekend Argus visited the houses to confirm what constitutes a problem building, according to the city’s criteria.
Active citizens can inform city officials about a problem building and authorities can then investigate the matter.
The city’s Problem Building Unit (PBU) would inform the relevant property owner of the intention to declare their property a problem building and the reasons for it.
“The owner has the right to make representations against the declaration,” says city officials.
“Once a declaration is made, a compliance notice is issued to the property owner, outlining the remedial action deemed necessary to remove the building from the list of problem properties.
“There is also a monthly problem building tariff of R5,700 that is added to the rates account of the owner in the event that their property is declared a problem building.”
The PBU can also “institute legal proceedings which can take time to conclude” against property owners.
The city’s Problem Building By-law makes provision for offenders to be fined and to face penalties of up to R300‚000 or imprisoned for up to three years‚ or both.
Citizens can contact the PUB’s 24-hour call centre on 021-596-1999.
A problem buildings is one that:
Appears to have been abandoned by the owner with or without the consequence that rates or other service charges are not being paid;
Is derelict in appearance, overcrowded or is showing signs of becoming unhealthy, unsanitary, unsightly or objectionable;
Is the subject of written complaints in respect of criminal activities, including drug dealing and prostitution;
Is illegally occupied;
Where refuse or waste material is accumulated, dumped, stored or deposited with the exception of licensed waste disposal facilities; or
That is partially completed or structurally unsound and is a threat or danger to the safety of the general public.
Source: City of Cape Town