Council tenants feel bullied

2016-07-14 14:35
Bridget Phillips, a resident of Nyala Flats in Manor, says her electricity was disconnected despite having paid towards her Msunduzi electricity account. She and fellow residents believe they are being strong-armed into signing new leases with the municipality.

Bridget Phillips, a resident of Nyala Flats in Manor, says her electricity was disconnected despite having paid towards her Msunduzi electricity account. She and fellow residents believe they are being strong-armed into signing new leases with the municipality. (Kailene Pillay, The Witness )

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Pietermaritzburg - The Msunduzi Municipality is giving a lifeline to pensioners renting council flats, but says it will deal harshly with illegal tenants and those unwilling to prove their indigent status.

The council’s comments come after residents of the Manor Flats complained that the municipality was using strong-arm tactics to coerce them into signing new leases with higher rentals.

However, municipal spokeswoman Nqobile Madonda said they can help tenants who prove their low-income status by bringing forward the relevant documentation.

She added that tenants had no choice but to sign the new leases in order to continue living in the council flats.

The good news was that the council had discussed the situation with all its rental stock and resolved that a standard R500 a month rental would be set for state pensioners. In addition, they would have their debts written off.

Madonda said those tenants who claimed to be low-income earners must come forward with all their documentation to prove their income, so that the municipality could determine the category into which they fell.

However, only four tenants had come forward with the documentation so far.

“In general, people do not want to comply and continue to not pay rent.

“The poor tenants must advise what they can afford to pay towards their debt, and we can request the council to consider their plight. Various options are available, but people must come forward as individual tenants,” Madonda said.

The municipality started disconnecting electricity for the non-payment of rent and electricity at a block of flats in Manor on Tuesday.

“Once they complete their new lease and comply with the municipality’s requirements, we will inform the electricity department to reconnect them. They have to sign the lease as it is a council resolution and that is legal and binding,” Madonda said.

But the tearful residents claimed the council was “heartless” to disconnect their electricity during the cold winter and leave their children to suffer.

“I had my baby outside in the cold until 11 pm, waiting for my electricity to be reconnected. Some of the smaller children had to have cold baths and stay in the dark while we ran around trying to get reconnected,” said one.

Although many residents agreed that their electricity accounts were in arrears, they said they had made arrangements with the municipality in 2014 to pay what they could afford on a timeous basis.

“We have been paying the municipality according to the arrangements we made. Everything was going fine until these new leases came about. Now they are trying to bully us into signing the leases by cutting our lights,” said Banu Vally.

However, Madonda said that most tenants were paying less than what they had agreed to pay, “and that is unacceptable”.

A number of families were affected by the disconnections, with some showing The Witness receipts proving they had made a payment in this week.

“It came as a shock to us because we paid toward our accounts. When we called to query why we were being disconnected, we were told to go to [municipal offices in] Gallwey Lane [in the CBD] to sort out the issue,” said another resident, Bridget Phillips.

Madonda said that no threats were made to the tenants, but the council was pleading with them to come forward as individual tenants and discuss their situations.

“Tenants must understand that municipal employees have to implement the resolution, and that non-payment is unacceptable. Why do people not want to verify their information?” she asked.

Madonda added that the tenants should seek alternative accommodation if they could not comply with the municipality’s requirements.

DA mayoral candidate Mergan Chetty, who assisted the Manor residents on Tuesday night, deemed Msunduzi municipality’s actions “unforgivable”.

He said the residents had called him around midday on Tuesday for help in getting their electricity reconnected.

“When they showed me their receipts for what they had paid towards their accounts as recently as this week, I knew they had been dealt the short end of the stick. I had to help. It was the right thing to do,” he said.

Chetty said he made numerous calls to council members and municipal managers, and waited until 10.30 pm with the residents until their electricity was reconnected. “The council is losing the battle against the tenants, and now they are using underhanded tactics against them. This is not fair,” he said.

Chetty said the fact that tenants had receipts showed that although they “battle to make ends meet, they still made payment”.

He called on the municipality to be open with the residents and tell them what is really going on. “They are people too and we cannot treat people like this. They will have nowhere to go if they are kicked out from Manor,” he said.

• kailene.pillay@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality

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