Call for affordable rentals

Zackie Achmat is deeply concerned about ongoing evictions in Woodstock and Salt River.

Activist Zackie Achmat has described as “tragic” the eviction of people in Salt River and Woodstock, and called out the City of Cape Town for not supporting those who are driven out of their homes by gentrification processes and higher rental prices.

This comes after an agreement was reached in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Friday July 29, in terms of which current Alfred Street, Salt River residents Nooraan Dreyer and Gadija Cornelius and their families would live rent-free on the property for the next four months, but would have to vacate the premises, which is being converted into dentists’ offices, after this period.

Mandisa Shendu, who represented the tenants, said while the four months of living rent-free would enable them to save “some money” for their next occupancy, the result was not ideal.

Mr Achmat, who attended the court proceedings last Friday, expected that in the next few years there would be numerous eviction challenges emanating from the Woodstock and Salt River areas.

“The first question is why a representative from the City of Cape Town was not in court to serve papers offering the tenants an alternative? The second point is that landlords should start carrying the burden when tenants are evicted. The City should make a by-law to this effect,” Mr Achmat said.

The City was listed as a respondent in the motion. However, spokesperson Priya Reddy said: “According to our understanding, this pertains to a private property matter in which the City is named as a respondent, as per legal precedent and only in terms of offering alternative accommodation, where possible, to qualifying individuals.”

But the NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi, of which Mr Achmat is an an associate director, said the City should have responded, referring to the Blue Moonlight case heard in the Constitutional Court in 2011. In that matter between the City of Johannesburg and Blue Moonlight Properties, involving 86 poor people unlawfully occupying private unused property as living quarters, the court found a municipality should provide alternative accommodation where a private eviction will render tenants homeless and should be joined to the application.

Mr Achmat also lamented that the Rental Housing Amendment Act of 2014, which involving better regulating the relationship between landlord and tenants, was not yet operational.

“People are desperate to live close to their families and the beautiful city without having to pay heavy transport costs to their places of work, yet there is the injustices of high rent and evictions arising not only to poorer people, but also middle-class working professionals who want to enjoy the city,” he said.

The issue of higher rental prices in Cape Town has become particularly contentious in recent months.

Initial research conducted by Ndifuna Ukwazi shows that in the past two years, the rate of increase in rent across the inner-city and surrounding suburbs, including Woodstock and Salt River, was 17%.

“From our experience with tenants we have engaged with, increasing rents are making places within the city more and more unaffordable to working class and low-income residents and making renting in Cape Town a luxury for only some,” said Ndifuna Ukwazi researcher, Sarita Pillay.

“Long-term residents of Salt River and Woodstock are seeing their buildings sold to new developers, and because they are on precarious lease arrangements they find themselves evicted from their homes. As rents in their neighbourhoods are increasing, they are unable to find a place to stay in the neighbourhood they’ve lived in for decades – let alone anywhere else in the City Bowl. Young professionals are also affected by increasing rents, paying a high proportion of their salaries toward rent.”

Ms Pillay said “from what we know”, the Rental Housing Amendment Act had not been enacted due to personnel changes in the national Department of Human Settlements.

“Arguably and unfortunately, rental housing is not a high priority on Human Settlements’ agenda, and there is likely little pressure to give the bill a commencement date. We are hoping to speak more to the national Department of Human Settlements about the delay in the next few weeks, and they seem willing to engage.”

Ndifuna Ukwazi’s Jared Rossouw told the Tatler another area of concern was the long-standing practice of month-to-month rentals in Woodstock and Salt River.

“We are currently dealing with another case, in which three different families are involved. It is an old building in Foundry Road in Salt River. The building is very old but was recently sold to a new owner, presumably with the intention of fixing it up and re-renting it,” Mr Rossouw said.

“One woman has lived in the building for 25 years, and two Congolese women also have long tenancies. As soon as the transfer of the property occurred they received letters that they needed to be out of the building.”

Mr Rossouw said the problem lay in the fact that the “vast majority” of poorer tenants had not demanded long-term rentals. Instead, they paid rent on a month-to-month basis, meaning that contractually landlords could “act on a whim” in terms of ending agreements.

Property law expert, Anri Smuts who was speaking in his personal capacity, said the the Rental Housing Amendment Act was intended to give more protection to both tenants and landlords. However, he said that increasing rent was a way of life in big cities all over the world.

“The new act is intended to make sure that there are fair dealings It is also intended to provide assistance to government.”

He said a possible reason for the delay was the need for national government to set up branches in all provinces that were informed about the act.

He did not think the act would make a difference when it came to rent regulation.

“For most cities around the world a rent increase of eight to 10 percent is normal. People have to make a profit and things like electricity and water become more expensive. People want to live near the city because it is convenient but one of Cape Town’s biggest problems is that we don’t have a proper rapid public transport system that is affordable. This is one of the biggest problems in South Africa.”