Bellville police officers raided the derelict Boston Centre last week for undocumented people living there.
Once home to the Department of Home Affairs, the centre, on the corner of Voortrekker Road and Boston Street, was declared a problem building in November last year.
It has no running water or electricity, but this hasn’t stopped people, some with children, from calling it home.
Northern News accompanied police on the raid on Friday April 21. Rubbish choked the gloomy passages, and the stench of urine and faeces made it hard to breathe.
The police split into teams, checking every flat in the 10-storey building. They arrested 20 people who had no identity papers and who were then fingerprinted by Home Affairs officials.
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Bellville police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Henrietta van Niekerk said police would continue with regular operations at the “problematic” building.
A resident said she and her boyfriend lived in one of the two-bedroom flats with another two couples. She has been staying there for two months and said people would often urinate in a bottle and then throw it out the window. That was one of the reasons they kept the windows closed, she said.
Her family had fallen on hard times and their options were limited, she said, adding that her daughter was living elsewhere with her mother. The woman said she wasn’t staying with them because she did not get on with the people her mother lived with.
When asked if she paid rent, she said: “Everyone knows you don’t pay rent here.”
Warrant Officer Van Niekerk said police feared the building could pose a health risk to the neighbourhood because its water and electricity had been shut off.
Johan van der Merwe, mayoral committee member for finance, said the building’s power had been cut and water restricted last year, because of its mounting utilities debt.
“The body corporate has arrears debt as a result of sporadic payments, and debt management actions have been taken in order to enforce the settlement of the arrears and monthly payment of the current debt,” he said.
Mr Van der Merwe said individual owners were being billed for rates and were liable for the settlements of rates charges against their individual units.
The block has 65 registered sectional title units – 35 of them are up to date with only current debt outstanding and 30 of the units are in arrears.
The City’s problem building unit is investigating 1 292 problem properties across the city, and 78 of them are in Bellville.
Northern News previously reported on problem buildings in Bellville, where JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said Bellville, Parow, Somerset West and Wynberg were some of the most problematic areas (“’Problem buildings’ pose health and safety risks,” Northern News March 23).
Siyabulela Mamkeli, mayoral committee member for area central, said the attorneys representing the owners had since drafted eviction papers. Meanwhile, the problem building unit would continue to focus on ensuring by-law compliance from the owner.
MrMamkeliencouraged residents to report any criminal activity to the police.