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A summit of inner city stakeholders dissected the twin problems of building hijacking and slumlording, with a view to finding ways to stop the rot.
WAYS to stop buildings from being hijacked and slumlording in the inner city were discussed at a summit held by the City at the Parktonian Hotel in Braamfontein on Tuesday, 19 April.

 

MMC Ros GreeffThe City has a plan to tackle the problem of slumlording, says MMC Ros GreeffThe meeting was attended by stakeholders in the inner city – Region F – among them property owners, bodies corporate, caretakers and City officials. Throughout the day, they debated how to combat these two issues.
 

Speaking at the summit, the member of the mayoral committee for development planning and urban management, Roslynn Greeff, said that despite efforts to eradicate the hijacking of buildings and slumlording, there were still unscrupulous individuals who took buildings from legitimate owners or landlords and populated them with people desperate for accommodation.

Slumlording
“The rental money collected by these individuals is not paid to the City for the provision of basic municipal services,” said Greeff. “These buildings are very often in a very bad state of condition and often have problems with waste, fire and safety.”

Region F had formulated an action plan strategically guided by the Inner City Charter to tackle the ongoing problems. “The focus has to a large extent been to address slum buildings and at the same time to proceed with criminal investigations with various law enforcement agencies in the country,” said Greeff.

To date, 321 buildings are under investigation, 244 suspects have been arrested and 52 cases are on trial.

Hotline
Greeff said the region had established an anonymous hotline number and email address, where people could safely provide information to the City for investigation and referral.

At present, the hotline received an average of 20 calls a week and had responded to more than 200 legitimate complaints. Each one of the complaints was receiving attention, she added. “Concrete steps need to be taken to ensure enforcement of the law, strengthening of partnerships and transformation of slum buildings.”

Problems relating to bad buildings originated during the 1990s when the inner city came under pressure from rapid urbanisation. Many buildings were vacated by businesses and owners, who moved to the suburbs.

 

An illegally occupied building in the inner city An illegally occupied building in the inner cityBuildings became dilapidated through mismanagement and many of them fell into the hands of criminal groups that hijacked them, taking full control of the buildings from their legal owners.
 

Bad buildings
Tanya Zack, a consultant for Tanya Zack Development Planners, said tackling bad buildings in the city required many different actions to be undertaken by multiple agencies. “The City requires a coherent policy to address the large number of bad buildings,” she explained.

The problems associated with bad buildings posed a grave threat to the stability and the course of inner city regeneration. Zack noted that bad buildings had an impact on residents, owners, and the neighbourhood.

“These buildings provide accommodation for the poor residents, while trapping them in a cycle of exploitation and inadequate services.”

She suggested that bad buildings could be eradicated by developing additional low-income rental stock across the city through inclusionary housing, social housing and registered landlords. “We need also to improve conditions in existing occupied buildings.”

Effective by-laws
The regional director of Region F, Nathi Mthethwa, said people who acquired property illegally should be punished heavily. “We need to consolidate all our by-laws so that they become effective and allow us to respond to some problems.”

Mthethwa noted that it was difficult for the City to tackle a building where the building owner was not known, making it difficult to serve notices and build up viable cases. Some owners lived outside the country and had no idea what was happening to their buildings, he stated.

Much to the amusement of the stakeholders, he gave an example of an absent landlord who called him recently to enquire about investment opportunities in the city, after having left the country in 1982.

Challenges
Johannesburg emergency management services’ station commander, January Molo, spoke of the challenges that his department faced when it responded to calls from bad buildings.

 

Once hijacked building, the Chelsea Hotel has been upgraded by the CityOnce hijacked, the Chelsea Hotel has been upgraded by the CityThese included blocked fire escape routes, unavailability of fire fighting equipment, illegal connections of electricity and insufficient lighting. Molo suggested that such buildings should be sealed and monitored.
 

“We should take a leaf from New York success in addressing urban decay.”

Nuisance buildings
Flavia Masekwameng, the City’s environmental health operations manager, said tracing owners of bad buildings to serve summons on them was difficult as the council Deeds Office information was not fully up to date.

“Successful prosecution depends on tracing the physical location and availability of the owners and managing agents,” said Masekwameng. “Notices sent to such people are often returned unclaimed.”

Masekwameng said the success of dealing with “nuisance buildings” depended on a good multidisciplinary team approach, supported by co-operation from the building owners.

During the discussion, stakeholders agreed that a permanent anti-hijacking unit needed to be established in the South African Police Service to win the war against the hijacking of buildings and slumlording.

A communications strategy also had to be set up to ensure broader public awareness of the problems.

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