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​Approval is needed before owners can rent out their properties as communes, with health and safety top of the list of requirements.
OWNERS of properties that are operating illegally as communes are urged to come forward and register with the City or face the law.

Clamping down on illegal communes: MMC Ruby MathangClamping down on illegal communes: MMC Ruby MathangMany of these properties are rented out to students. They are not well kept and pose serious health hazards, according to the member of the mayoral committee for development planning and urban management, Ruby Mathang.

Mathang went on a site visit to some of the properties and was dismayed with the appalling conditions in which tenants live, particularly in Region B.

“We were shocked during our visit to the communes,” he said. “Students live in conditions of extreme squalor and it is clear to us that some commune owners have no regard for the health and wellbeing of the students they claim to serve.”

There has been a rapid increase in the number of houses being used as communes in Auckland Park, Rossmore, Brixton, Mayfair, Pageview, Vrededorp, Melville, Westdene, Martindale, Sophiatown, Richmond, Hursthill, Crosby, Newclare, Westbury and Coronationville, attributed to the number of university students wanting to rent accommodation near their institutions. These suburbs are near the University of Johannesburg and Wits University.

Mathang convened a stakeholder meeting with commune owners, the University of Johannesburg and students. He listened to the concerns raised by both parties – and has vowed to resolve the quarrels speedily.

All commune properties must comply with the City’s communes policy of 2009, he pointed out. The policy outlines the uniform standards for properties that are used as communes. It compels the property owners to ensure that their properties are safe at all times and comply with national building regulations and the City’s public health by-laws.

“The policy is fairly new and we appeal to you to work with us. We want to ensure that the policy works for everyone so we will undertake extensive consultation and educational campaigns throughout the region.

“The City will improve its operational efficiencies in the processing of applications for communes so we encourage all illegal operators to come to the party and obtain all necessary rights to operate,” Mathang explained.

According to the policy, every commune must have a valid health permit issued by the City’s department of health. This permit must be sought once town planning approvals have been granted. Communes must also comply with emergency management services requirements, including the display of a street address and the provision of a 4,5kg dry chemical power fire extinguisher in the house.

In 2009, over 500 cases were opened against illegal communes in Region B. In the same period, 120 applications for communes were received. Of these, 35 were declined as they did not meet the necessary requirements. Only 15 were approved.

According to the City’s communes policy, an application to run a property as a commune must be submitted when two or more unrelated people living under one roof are charged for accommodation on one property, with or without the owners living on the property.

Applications must be submitted to the council for approval before the commune can begin operating. Permission granted to operate a commune is attached to the property and not to the property owner.

Owners of illegal communes must apply for approval to avoid possible prosecution. However, submitting an application does not guarantee that approval will be granted. The City’s communes policy is available online.

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