Slumlords’ disgrace

2014-03-21 00:00

NEARLY 130 buildings in Durban’s central business district have been converted into illegal flats as landlords — among them doctors and lawyers —cram tenants into cell-like rooms.

This shadow industry sees slumlords raking in millions each month. They act without regulations charging up to R1 400 a month for a room, some as small as 1,5 m x 1,5 m, some with no ceiling, no ventilation and no lighting. Despite this, tenants — predominantly foreign nationals — are expected to cook, sleep and live in hovels. Tenants are also expected to use shared ablutions while lighting, if it exists at all, is low due to the prevalence of illegal connections.

On Wednesday evening city officials raided nine of these slum horrors with the support of the Durban Metro Police and SAPS. They were accompanied by The Witness.

At 275 Yusuf Dadoo Street, two office floors had been filled with 176 plywood cubicles each being rented out for R1 200 per month. The toilets were leaking and the kitchen areas had broken plugs and grime-laden floors.

One building on St George’s Street — owned by Durban lawyer Malcolm Lutge — is used by street children, as a church and as an illegal panel beating shop.

Lutge said his building had been hijacked and until he found out who had control over it he could not get a court order to regain possession of his R2,5-million investment

Other owners who could be reached by The Witness either denied their buildings were in such a state of disrepair, wouldn’t comment, called it harassment or blamed it on a conspiracy being led by the SAPS.

During the raid city officials identified numerous bylaw transgressions, including health, safety, fire, water and electricity as well as the provision of unlicensed accommodation.

While the buildings are packed with people paying rent, many of the landlords have failed to pay outstanding rates bills.

Hoosen Moolla, who manages the Inner eThekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme (I-Trump) said city officials cannot simply shut these buildings down, as it would mean depriving the tenants of their right to shelter.

He said the city wanted the landlords, who ultimately are responsible, to make sure legal and safe homes were developed.

Moolla said they were making a “positive impact towards cleaning up the city.”

“Right now we can still get access to all areas in the CBD and do operations such as this.

“We must avoid allowing certain parts of the city centre to become like Hillbrow in Johannesburg where evening operations such as ours cannot be done because of the threat against officials safety.”

During the raid police checked for drugs, immigration and residence permits and for any other criminal activity. They closed down businesses selling illegally imported goods.

Municipal officials representing water and electricity swept through the buildings looking for dangerous and illegal connections, damaged pipes and cables, while the fire department reviewed the safety of the buildings.

“In the next week, we will issue all the landlords with notices of various transgressions in their buildings,” said Moolla.

“Depending on the severity, they will have anything between three and 30 days to rectify the situation which will then be followed by court action.”

The Witness contacted several landlords and got a variety of responses.

Shiraz Bassa, speaking on behalf of the owner of a slum building on Yusuf Dadoo Street, said, “I cannot comment. I don’t know anything”.

Dr Zwelika Asmal, who has a practice in Berea, angrily claimed there was a campaign against her family dating back to the 1970s and accused the police of acting illegally.

“I rent this building out to a manager. I don’t know what goes on in there but we are upgrading the building. But the police have been harassing my family for years and this is part of it.” Other owners simply denied any knowledge of the issue.

Lutge said he had reported his building to I-Trump and that once the hijacker was indentified then he can obtain a court order.

“I have quite an extensive property portfolio and bought this property to convert it into flats. It was once used by architects but since the area degenerated businesses are no longer keen to operate there.”

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