Slumlords rule the city

2013-09-06 00:00

DURBAN business people are making hundreds of thousands of rands a month from slum buildings as the demand for low rental accomodation in the city has skyrocketed.

At least 132 buildings have been identified around the city as being fire hazards; offering cramped accomodation; converted for illegal accomodation; being derelict; having no toilet and water facilities; and being a haven for criminals.

In 2011, the city identified at least 60 buildings in Durban that had been illegally converted for accomodation.

This figure has increased since then, with some slumlords charging up to R1 600 for a space in a cubicle, with up to 20 people being crammed into one room.

The city has taken five slumlords to court and in one case a sale in execution has been granted in favour of the municipality.

Municipal head of the Safer Cities and iTrump Unit, Martin Xaba, said the city had identified 37 buildings in Durban’s CBD and Pinetown that were in contravention of city by-laws and where work had started to remedy the concerns.

Sectional title buildings posed huge challenges such as non-payment of rates and services, overcrowding and neglect or abandonment of high-rise buildings to the municipality, Xaba said of the problem buildings.

He said that a lack of supply of decent accommodation, lack of affordability and lifestyle choice had resulted in a market for slumlords.

Xaba said the degeneration of the buildings had affected the rates base of the municipality.

“Efforts to tackle bad buildings have been met with some success, but the city had not been able to tackle the cause and symptoms of this growth in slum accommodation,” said Xaba.

In a report tabled in the Community and Emergency Services Committee, Xaba said tourism was one of the vital parts of the city’s revenue stream, which was being affected by the slum buildings.

“The adverse condition that people are living under in these buildings is scary. These buildings contravene environmental health regulations.”

Xaba said slumlords were turning warehouses into dens for illegal accommodation.

“In these buildings more than 20 people are forced to sleep with cheap board serving as a partition. These cramped quarters are usually occupied by illegal immigrants,” he said.

Xaba said the slumlords earn hundreds of thousands of rands with some converting shipping containers outside their slum buildings to collect more rental income.

Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Andrew Layman said the problem of derelict buildings had been discussed with the officials involved in the city’s Better Buildings Project.

He said there is lot of behind-the-scenes work going on to try and clean up the buildings, conduct regular inspections and prosecute landlords.

“Often the difficulty is the legal procedure. The chamber supports the city’s endeavours in this regard and would like to see more, and quicker, prosecutions … particularly in Mahatma Gandhi [formerly Point] Road.

Layman said the derelict buildings on that road give rise to perceptions of insecurity and visits to the Point area are reduced for this reason.

The municipality has announced plans to demolish some of the buildings, but any inititiatives need to get the go-ahead of the Amafa Heritage council.

Head of the organisation’s Built Environment Section, Ros Devereux, said if a building is more than 60 years old, but not protected in terms of Appendix 7 to the Town Planning Scheme, then it could be considered for demolition, but application must be made to Amafa for prior approval.

“A condition of that permit, if issued, would be that the demolition does not take place more than 30 days before development is about to commence. This condition is there to prevent the cleared sites from becoming havens for squatters and/or dumping sites, impacting on other heritage buildings in the area.”

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