The plague of problem and abandoned buildings is in the spotlight with a renewed call for action to eliminate these crime hotspots.The Woodstock Improvement District (WID) is proving how action helps after successfully removing a key player in vagrancy and drug-dealing circles after a 10-year struggle. Chris Lloyd of the WID explains that a building in Railway Street owned by Prasa plagued the Woodstock community for too long, simply because there was no plan to remove it and there were vagrants living in the building all this time.“In June last year, the building was finally demolished. With this action we have cut a large part of the immediate issues of drugs, rape and murder that were taking place in this area. What should have been an easy task turned into a monstrous undertaking of legalities and logistics. All this being very understandable, but this space only perpetuated the selling and buying of drugs in the area, furthering crime and violence in adjacent areas.”He points out that homeless people had set up shacks behind the building. “While there are still some people in the area, the majority of them have been removed. The area is currently being fenced to solve the problem of vagrants. Another exciting development is that the Prasa property has now been completely fenced off to further protect the area and prevent any future crime in that area.”Lloyd explains that this was a joint effort between the WID, police, Traffic, Law Enforcement, Salt River CID, Observatory CID, City Bowl Armed Response and Metro Police.In Maitland, Garden Village and Pinelands residents are also calling for action to deal with problem buildings.Roderick van Dieman from Maitland feels the success in Woodstock should lead to similar operations in his area.“There are just too many buildings here that have just been abandoned and they become places that lead to criminals taking refuge in them,” he says. “Apart from the criminal activities there is also health issues that can affect the people living in them.“I see there’s a building in Pinelands on the old police sports ground where the families have children. There’s no services on that property, so how are they living?”Maitland police spokesperson Constable Lorencial Johnson agrees that these problem buildings play a big part in crime in the area.“I am glad that we have started engaging with all stakeholders in the area, including the ward councillors, to tackle this problem,” he says. “There are no easy solutions to this problem and currently the police, in conjunction with MaitCID, Law Enforcement and the Maitland Community Policing Forum with its neighbourhood watches, are just filling a bucket with lots of holes in it. “This is evident when a person is arrested for an offence – he or she will be removed from the building, but because it is easily accessed, another person just moves in to continue with these activities.”Suzette Little, Mayco member (North), says the City of Cape Town’s problem buildings unit is currently investigating almost 2000 complaints of possible problem buildings. “The unit charges property owners (transgressors) a monthly problem-building tariff, which is recovered by instituting debt collection proceedings. This tariff is designed to encourage property owners to comply with notices issued and save themselves additional financial headaches. The monthly tariff is in addition to any costs incurred by the City for cleaning up after property owners.”A problem building is a building that is abandoned, dilapidated, in contravention of national building regulations, overcrowded or housing illegal squatters. To report a problem building, residents should contact the unit. Reports should include the accurate location of the building and a detailed summary of the nature of the problem.The unit will then investigate the reported building and serve a notice to the owner listing any contraventions, ordering that they be corrected. If the owner does not do so within the appropriate time, the City will oversee the restoration of the building and will bill the cost to the owner. If the building cannot be restored, it may be necessary to facilitate the sale or demolition of the building.To report a problem building call the problem buildings unit on 021 596 1999 or 0860 765 423.