Tenants face evictions

The front door of the tenant's room where she sellotaped the broken windows.

Unsafe and unsanitary conditions – and the fact that the lease-holder had no right to sub-let the property to tenants are among the challenges faced by a group of people living in a building once occupied by the South African National Circus School and who are now going to be “evacuated” from the premises.

The City of Cape Town, the owner of the Willow Street property in Observatory, currently has a lease agreement with Dimitri Slaverse, the founder of the Circus School which is registered as an NGO.

In July 2015, about a year before their 10-year lease was to have expired, the Circus School was instructed to vacate the land by the end of the month (“Circus must pack up Big Top”, Southern Suburbs Tatler, July 9, 2015). At the time the Tatler reported that the land had been earmarked as a multi-use field as part of the enhancement of Hartleyvale.

The Tatler has been unable to ascertain what happened since then.

Tenants of the one-storey building on the premises said they have been renting rooms from Mr Slaverse for between R1 500 and R2 400 a month.

Currently 28 tenants live on the property, but conditions are far from ideal.

Windows are broken, there is no lock on the front gate or the door leading to the main hall, most toilets cannot flush and there are no working showers in the building.

The lights in the passage are also out of order.

But JP Smith, the City’s mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said people should not be living there as the lease agreement stipulates that it is to be used for sporting purposes, which includes the education and training of children in the circus arts, and not as a permanent residence.

Furthermore, he said, the City had no record of any request for permission to sub-let to tenants. The City also indicated that it did not know for how long the building had been used as a place of residence.

When City of Cape Town officials, accompanied by representatives of the fire department visited the premises on Thursday and Friday June 7 and 8, they declared the building unsafe for habitation.

Mr Smith said the inspection by Fire and Rescue Services had been undertaken in response to a complaint from the recreation and parks department and it was during this inspection that they found that people were, in fact, living in the building.

Mr Smith said there were no approved plans for the renovations which had been made, there were no land use permissions for the change in occupancy, the electrical wiring was overloaded — which means there was an increased fire risk — and there were no fire extinguishers inside the building on inspection.

Kami Gordon, who moved in in April and lives with her adult autistic daughter, pays rent of R1 500 a month and claims Mr Slaverse recently erected a divider in her room so that he could sub-let her room to another tenant.

Ms Gordon said she had raised her concerns at the office on the premises.

She also complained of insect infestations, a lack of security measures, and broken windows. If she is to move, she said, she doesn’t know where she’ll go to.

At a recent meeting — from which the Tatler was barred when officials learned that there was media in the room, tenants asked whether, as owners of the property, the City was responsible for upgrading the building.

When asked about this afterward, Mr Smith said: “The City formalised a lease agreement with the South African National Circus School Trust and, in terms of the lease, the maintenance is the responsibility of the lessee.”

The City of Cape Town are looking to evacuate the tenants, they did not use the word, eviction, though many tenants are concerned as to where they will be evacuated to.

Gregory Booth who has been staying there since August 2017, paying R2 400 a month and sharing a room with his adult son, expressed his concerns to the Tatler.

“My problem is that we are going to be evacuated and we will have nowhere to go and I am looking after my son who has a medical condition and if we end up on the street there is going to be a problem,” said Mr Booth.

Another tenant, who has been living there since October, pays R2 400 a month for a room he shares with another tenant.

The man, who didn’t want his name published, for fear of reprisals, said living in the building had become “traumatic” and he lives in fear of being forcefully evicted.

Tauriq Jenkins, the chairman of the Observatory Civic Association, said he was concerned about the poor condition of the building and that the association was investigating the issue.

“It is also crucial to see whether this particular building and plot is of direct significance (or inordinately linked) to a planned arrangement relating to Hartleyvale Stadium,” said Mr Jenkins.

Mr Slaverse was not available to comment.