Team to deal with Pietermaritz St ‘slum’ buildings after complaints

2019-05-17 15:00

Overcrowded rooms, broken lifts and tenants suspected of being prostitutes and criminals are plaguing Pietermaritz Street residents.

After numerous complaints, Msunduzi Municipality has set up a task team to deal with the problem structures across the city. The team, headed by the Msunduzi Town Planning Unit, is to step up visible policing in the area.

Numerous tenants in Pietermaritz Street buildings told The Witness that some of the buildings they stay in are a health hazard due to perennial non-maintenance and overcrowding.

Rentals are high, with a single bedroomed apartment attracting rental of around R4 000 per month, excluding electricity and water bills.

To maximise the profits, unscrupulous “landlords” subdivide the standard rooms, resulting in overcrowding and filthy, slum-like conditions right in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal’s capital city.

Durban University of Technology students, who asked to be identified only as Thabile and Wiseman for fear of victimisation, said the situation in the inner-city apartments was perilous for students and low-income earners.

Their apartment had been modified with curtains to accommodate additional tenants. “We only know that the building we stay in is managed by [a property management company], but we have not interacted with anyone from that company. The ‘landlord’ who leased the apartment stays in the suburbs and only pitches up once, at month end, to collect rent. To start with, the lift is constantly out of service, there are leakages all over the place and the floors are filthy, but we can only have the option [to leave] after we graduate and start earning more money. Right now, we have to be content with sharing a single bedroomed apartment with strangers,” said Thabile.

“The situation is worsened by the deafening levels of noise from cars blasting music almost every evening while parked on the streets outside. One cannot sleep, let alone read a book. These wild everyday street parties get worse on Friday nights and weekends.

“These buildings might look fine on the outside, but they are slums on the inside.”

Wiseman weighed in, saying the building they rent at is in desperate need of renovations. “I don’t know how government allows people to raise children in such filthy environments. The stench speaks volumes about the filth in the building.”

Asumani Kilozo from Ethiopia, who has been sharing a one-bedroomed flat with six friends, said although the room was small, it was an ideal setting for them.

“We prefer staying in groups. We do piecemeal jobs and don’t earn very much, so we split the rent,” Kilozo said.

He said they paid R3 400 for rent, excluding water and electricity.

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said properties located in the vicinity of Pietermaritz Street are assigned under the land zoning as “General Residential 1 to 3”.

This means that the properties could be used as bed and breakfast establishments, boarding houses, flats, hostels, medium density housing, or residential buildings.

“These land uses are freely permissible without having to apply to the council for approval,” Mafumbatha said.

However, Mafumbatha said there are municipal policies which regulate the property use. “For example, the Msunduzi Bed and Breakfast policy says that a bed and breakfast may only accommodate 12 people at any given time.”

Should the number be exceeded, the municipality had a right to issue a warning notice to the owner, who could be liable for a fine for flouting the by-laws.

Mafumbatha acknowledged that overcrowding on Pietermaritz Street was due to a shortage of affordable housing in the CBD.

“It’s quite evident in the development trends that have been forming within the CBD. The majority of properties in the city centre have transformed over the years.

“You find that previously residential properties have now been converted into business premises and no longer provide accommodation facilities.”

She said while there was indeed a shortage of affordable housing in the CBD, due to the structure of the city, it was nearly impossible to develop affordable housing at a large scale.

“The municipality has engaged in the process of identifying land outside of the city centre for the development of affordable housing, for example the housing developments in Aloe Ridge.”

She said while each development application was assessed in accordance with a set statutory framework, the overcrowding was putting a strain on the City’s infrastructure.

“These have been a challenge to the municipality, but council tried to remedy them by way of law enforcement and prosecution.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality

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