Court orders Msunduzi to reconnect meters in flats

2012-08-27 00:00

MSUNDUZI Municipality backed down on Friday and agreed to reinstall and reconnect 15 electricity meters at the Chapters flats complex in Scottsville.

The municipality also had to pay legal costs incurred by the body corporate, which was forced to approach the high court after all attempts at negotiation over the electricity supply failed.

The impasse arose following a claim by the municipality that the complex owed more than R2 million in electricity charges after officials discovered that a number of meters at the 18-year-old premises were not registered on its system and had apparently never been read since the complex was built.

Msunduzi further claimed that the body corporate was obliged to pay more than R200 000 for alleged “tampering” with meters, which occurred after the original disconnections took place on August 3.

This was despite the possibility that the “unauthorised” reconnections (which occurred during “one of the coldest weeks in 15 years” when KwaZulu-Natal was covered in snow) were in fact carried out by a municipal employee.

According to court papers, all appeals to Msunduzi to assist the “long-suffering residents, who were unfairly left without hot water”, by reconnecting the electricity supply while negotiations to settle the dispute continued, went unheeded.

On Friday an urgent application to the high court resulted in the municipality consenting to an order by Judge Fikile Mokgohloa instructing Msunduzi to reinstall by 5 pm the 15 meters it had disconnected on August 7 and 8.

The municipality was further ordered to reconnect the electricity supply to the complex and to pay all the legal costs of the application.

Alan Barr, of Natal Property Consultants, managing agents for the body corporate of the Chapters scheme (which comprises 150 sectional title units), said in an affidavit they had tried to resolve the matter without incurring legal costs, and had been led to believe the dispute could be resolved.

That was until a meeting took place with acting municipal manager, Thokozani Maseko on August 17, he said.

Barr said Msunduzi had not tendered any explanation as to how it was possible for 15 electricity meters at Chapters not to have been registered on its system for 18 years even though other meters located at the same place were regularly read and accounts rendered.

He said it was “untenable” that current owners of flats should be held liable for obligations that might have arisen before they assumed ownership.

Further, he submitted, a large part of the sum Msunduzi claimed was owing must have prescribed due to the time that has passed.

Concerning the alleged “tampering”, Barr said Maseko had indicated that having regard to the materials and equipment that were used to reconnect the meters in question, the “unauthorised” reconnection may well have been done by a municipal employee.

Referring to the letter claiming the body corporate owed R2 005 470,86 (in respect of the unread meters dating back 18 years), Barr said “one cannot with the greatest imagination interpret or make sense of this bill”.

Barr alleged that the initial disconnection of meters by the municipality without prior notice, when the unread meters were discovered, had been unlawful, but said it was clear that the municipality expected everyone to disregard that, because it suspected subsequent tampering.

SIDEBAR: Syd Brown of Natal Property Consultants, who spoke to The Witness, said the entire exercise had been a waste of ratepayers money which could have been avoided had the municipality been prepared to negotiate.

A resident who owns a flat in Chapters, but who did not want to be named for fear of victimization by the municipality, said the Chapters saga was typical of the

high-handed manner the municipality has come to deal with residents in the city.

“They are so intent on filling up the coffers left dry by the previous administration that they are riding roughshod over the people who live in this city. I hope they

have learnt a lesson from this court case, “ he said.

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