A cold, rotten home

The rotten empty shell of a building in Albert Road has one half occupied by tenants and the other still remains vacant.

Rotten, cold, damp and wet were the words used by a desperate mother to describe the ghastly, rundown building in Albert Road which she has called home for nearly 30 years.

Last Sunday, July 9 at about 10pm, Avril Alexander and her three children prepared for bed, but little did she know that her world would come crashing down and threaten her residence in Woodstock.

A rotten roof caved in over two bedrooms. Fortunately, the boys were able to escape unharmed from their room.

“They jumped up just in time. We heard a loud bang and it frightened everybody in the house. I could not believe I was looking at this big hole in the ceiling and more so, I was thanking God that the roof did not land on my children,” she said.

Ms Alexander is leasing the building from owners who are believed to be in another province. The entrance to her property is on Grey Street.

She has been forced to make numerous repairs to it during the past 30 years. “I informed the owners – they even came out to the building and agreed that the building was rotten, but they did not do anything about it. I repair one leak on this side of the house and then we discover another leak on the other side. That has been the story of my life and I keep having to pay every time to have things repaired,” Ms Alexander said.

But, she refuses to move, having been offered an opportunity by the council to relocate to one of its Temporary Relocation Areas in an area referred to as Blikkiesdorp, near Delft.

She chooses to sleep with her children in the lounge of their home, braving the cold, wind and rain that now floods through the gaping hole in what was the children’s bedroom.

“I will not move from here. My kids go to school here, the hospital is here and our whole life is here. I have chosen to sleep with them (children) in the lounge and moved all my furniture to my mother’s place. I went to the council to ask for help and they told me that because it’s an emergency I must move to Blikkiesdorp, but I refuse to do so,” Ms Alexander said.

It seems as if Ms Alexander is not the only one sharing gripes about the condition of the property.

In 2015, Zainab Saleem, another tenant who lived in the building for nearly 19 years and ran Saleem’s Cafe downstairs, had a life changing experience when a fire gutted their home (“Deadly inferno”, Tatler, June 18, 2015).

Her brother died in the fire and her family has since split apart as they had to find other places to live.

Ms Saleem said she had reported matters to the City of Cape Town recently when they requested for electricity meters to be installed and was informed that the building’s electrical work was not up to standard and the whole building needed to be rewired.

“We have informed the owners, but nothing ever gets done. The building is rotten and is falling apart. These are people’s homes we are talking about. We understand that the owners have plenty of other properties to worry about, but the people here are trying everything to maintain this property – a function the owners should really be worrying about,” Ms Saleem said.

She was forced to move on though, now sharing a house with a few family members, with the rest scattered around Cape Town. “We used to be all together and since the fire, everybody just went their separate ways. That building is in a terrible state and problems seem to be getting worse,” she said.

It’s now a concern that the property Ms Saleem had occupied for 19 years has now been left unsecured and has become the ideal spot for vandals who scavenge through what’s left of the home to see what they can sell as scrap.

When the Tatler visited the building last week, there were still remnants of the fire, such as burnt clothing and products from the cafe littered around the property.

A shoddy support structure at the entrance of the building on Albert Road has also raised fears of the building coming down, endangering pedestrians passing by.

However, despite the concerns, the City’s Problem Buildings Unit confirmed that the Albert Road property was not listed as a problem building, nor have any complaints been received regarding the state of the property.

Mayco member for safety and security; and social services, JP Smith, said the City preferred to address any issues before a “building/property reaches a state of total degradation”.

“The Problem Building Unit relies heavily on complaints from the public. Residents are therefore advised to please report any concerns to the Unit or the City’s central call centre,” he added.

Mr Smithsaid officers would be assigned to conduct an inspection to ascertain whether the property falls within the definition of a problem building.

“Where buildings are declared ‘problem buildings’, the owner is served with a compliance notice to effect the necessary repairs/clean up to the satisfaction of the City within a specified period. If the owner fails to adhere to the compliance notice, the City may do the repairs/clean up and recover the costs from the owner,” Mr Smith said.

However, before the City can make a declaration, they have to inform the owner in writing of their intention and give them an opportunity to make representations about why the declaration should not happen. Once a building has been declared a problem building and added to the declared problem building list, the owner of the property could be charged with a R5 000 monthly tariff until the property has been removed from the declared problem building list.

What the City could confirm at the time of going to print is that there were rates and services outstanding, linked to the Albert Road properties and that action was being taken to recover the outstanding debt.

The owner of the property could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print.

BLOB If residents wish to lodge any complaints, the City central call centre can be contacted on 086 010 3089.