Fury as undertaker moves into flats

Durham Square in Salt River is now home to a funeral parlour.

Residents of a block of flats in Salt River are furious after a funeral parlour moved into the building without municipal approval to operate an undertaker service there.

The Durham Square residents say they weren’t given a chance to object to the new tenant, Doves funeral parlour, which moved into the commercial section of the building last month. And the City says a certificate of competence, which the undertaker is required by law to have, has not been granted.

The block’s trustees say they should have been notified before the undertaker’s lease was approved by Orcinus Properties, which owns the commercial section of the building.

Durham Square has 137 flats and ten commercial units. Its building manager Michael J. Jorgensen said he had learnt from one of the block’s letting agents, on September 17, about the new tenant.

“The information was given to me third handedly, and it was Orcinus Properties’ duty, as the owner of the commercial section, to give us this information before the Doves funeral tenant occupied the premises.”

Orcinus claimed to have distributed flyers and taken out two newspaper ads, including one in the Cape Argus on July 6, asking for public objections, but neither he nor any of the residents had seen them, he said.

“I am at Durham Square every day, but I have never seen any flyers. The commercial section trustees should have made sure that the residents of Durham Square were aware of the new tenant, Doves.

“Doves will involve different types of health issues because the premises will now operate as a mortuary that will receive, process and dispatch corpses of dead humans.”

Having an undertaker so close to a residential block of flats would hurt investment in the area and some tenants had already given their landlords notice, he said.

Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said that while Doves had moved into the Durham Square, “on or about 13 September”, the City had not yet issued a certificate of competence for the premises to operate as funeral undertaker, as required by law. According to Dr Badroodien, the City’s environmental and health department received an application for such a certificate on June 30, but “the application is still under consideration”.

“There has been no engagement between Orcinus Properties and the City yet, we only received an application as required in the legislation.”

He added: “The objections that were submitted to the City health department by Durham Square Residents recently have been recorded and will be considered as part of the application for a certificate of competence.”

Doves managing director Samantha Davey said they had no comment, and Orcinus Properties responded to our questions saying: “The leasing of premises to Doves is a commercial arrangement on which we see no reason to have to comment to the media. The lease was entered into with full disclose (sic) to the Durham Square Body Corporate, through its chairman and committee members. Orcinus will respond to any further queries raised by the Durham Square Body Corporate as may be necessary.”

Durham Square Body Corporate chairman, Bruce MacDonald said: ”We received absolutely no information regarding the lease, which I believe was signed, on 1 July 2021 or thereabout. Our first real realisations about the new tenant were in mid-August when we were requested to provide multiple remote controls for access to the garage. My questions that were emailed to Orcinus on 20 August, seeking clarification about the rumours of the new tenant, went totally unanswered.”

Durham Square trustee Muneer Asmal said he had only heard about the undertaker after residents reported seeing Doves vehicles in the underground parking area.

“We were not notified, and no flyers were provided to the block, trustees or owners so that we could have objected – I would have certainly objected.”

It was a health hazard, particularly during the current pandemic, and it would hurt property values, he said.

“Tenants do not want to lease in a building that has a mortuary at the bottom.”

He said he was unhappy with how Doves had sought approval and notified neighbours.

“As an owner, I intend to challenge any approvals granted by the City, to the full extent of the law.”

Another flat owner, Sam Mabaso, said she had learnt about the new tenant in an email from the trustees on September 20. “We weren’t given an opportunity to object before it was opened to the public, and, regardless of the type of business, as owners and tenants, we should’ve been made aware of the new commercial tenant as we ultimately share the same space.

“A funeral mortuary will definitely impact people’s desire and willingness to want to live in the building knowing that there’s a mortuary downstairs where bodies are being transported in and out the building.”

Flat owner Natanya Israel said: “A funeral parlour underneath a block of flats unsettles residents and also hugely impacts on the value and growth of the property because nobody will purchase to live there in future. In short, our investment is under massive strain, and our tenant is threatening to abandon her lease and leave. This puts a huge strain on us financially.”

Coffins being stored at the Doves funeral parlour at Durham Square.
The garage door at the commercial side of Durham Square, used by Doves vehicles.