New approach to problem buildings

The problem building in Wright Street, Woodstock.

The City of Cape Town says amendments to its Problem Building By-law will help to expedite cases, such as the property in Wright Street, Woodstock, which has been a thorn in its side since 2013.

Mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said the building had been declared a problem building in July 2013, as it was in a state of disrepair and overcrowded, with occupants living in unhygienic conditions.

He said the property also had a history of alleged drug dealing and other illicit activities.

Until now, the City has not had much luck in resolving the issue but hoped the proposed amendments would assist in expediting cases like Wright Street, he said.

The City wants to make a number of changes to bulk up its Problem Building By-law, namely making provision for a court-appointed administrator in cases of deceased estates without an executor; increasing tariffs and the value of fines that can be imposed for non-compliance; clearly defining the duties and liability of property owners and granting greater powers to the unit to act in instances where problem buildings are identified, including securing court orders to evict illegal occupants.

Last week, Mr Smith and the City’s safety and security portfolio committee chairman, Mzwakhe Nqavashe, visited the Wright Street property – where 8, 10 and 12 Wright Street had been turned into one property, with several shacks erected on the premises.

Mr Smith said the unit had run the gamut with the owner, exhausting all possibilities within the bounds of the Problem Building By-law.

“The key issue is the increasing number of illegal occupants on the property. It is up to the owner to have them evicted, but, thus far, this has not happened. The City is trying to assist, where possible, to resolve this situation. However, we are bound by the limitations of the by-law in its current form,” he said.

The Tatler has reported on several arrests and raids that have taken place at the property. In December last year, Woodstock police confiscated six plastic bags filled with tik worth an estimated street value of R3 000. A 37-year-old woman and 38-year-old man were arrested.

In September, police seized 11 packets of tik and four mandrax tablets, and they arrested a man for dagga possession.

During a raid at the Wright Street property in May, police arrested 39 men and a woman (“Police arrest 40 at Woodstock’s problematic Plasie,” Tatler, May 17 2018).

At the time, Woodstock police said they were responding to complaints from residents about crime in the area.

Resident Anwar Geduld said it was sad to see the state of the Wright Street property.

He has lived in the area for all his life, but said most of his neighbours had sold their property and moved out of the area.

Mr Geduld said it was only him and another two neighbours left.

“The situation is bad and not healthy for us. They party from Friday to Monday morning,” he said.

Mr Geduld said the owner had just left the property, as he was behind with his payments.

The City’s problem building unit has a case load of 1 671 properties that are in various stages of investigation, with 172 properties that have been declared as problem buildings on its database.

Mr Smith said the unit received 63 new complaints between July and December 2018, closed 151 cases and issued 114 notices to property owners to inform them that a formal investigation had been launched.

“There is no question that the problem building unit has made enormous strides since inception. Big wins included Senator Park in the CBD and Bellona Crescent in Somerset West, although these were not walks in the park. Wright Street in Woodstock is the flip-side of the coin,” he said.

“Tracking down building owners to hold them to account is possibly the biggest stumbling block. Where an owner is deceased and the estate is without executor, it becomes virtually impossible to act, to the detriment of neighbours and communities who have to live with the problem. Another challenge is where the building is illegally occupied, like Wright Street. So, we have workshopped a series of amendments to try and address these issues,” said Mr Smith.

There are 33 cases in various stages of investigation by the problem building unit in the Woodstock area.

The public participation process will run until the end of the month. Interested parties can make submissions online at www.capetown.gov.za or view the draft by-law at their local library or sub-council office. Written submissions can be delivered to the nearest sub-council office.