‘Problem buildings’ pose health and safety risks

The outside of a vacant building in Bellville.

The Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District is worried about several “problem buildings” in Bellville, some of which, it says, pose health and safety risks.

The City of Cape Town’s problem building unit is investigating 1 292 problem properties across the city, and 78 of them are in Bellville.

Area central mini mayor Siyabulela Mamkeli said several things could turn a building bad, including: owners who abandoned the property and stopped paying rates, poor maintenance, overcrowding, unhealthy living conditions and illegal occupation.

Problem buildings could also draw a flurry of written complaints if they harboured drug users and prostitutes or were used for illegal dumping or storage.

Then there were the partially built or ruined structures that had become structurally unsound and posed a hazard.

It’s up to the City’s problem building unit to get owners of buildings that run foul of the Problem Building By-law to clean up their act.

A business owner in Kruskal Avenue, who asked not to be named, called for “stricter” enforcement to tackle problem buildings in the area and stop the rot spreading.

“Before opening our business, we needed to comply with all building regulations, and it cost a fortune.”

The owner said one-bedroom flats in some buildings had up to four people in them.

“They even rent out office space with no proper facilities and do not follow the correct channels. At the end of the day, the landlord still gets his money.”

Mr Mamkeli said cases could often drag on for a while if the owner couldn’t be traced and refused to comply.

“While the by-law does make provision for the City to take any action necessary to safeguard a problem building in the event that the owner is untraceable and levy the costs to their rates account, this too requires a legal process before action can be taken,” he said.

VRCID chief operating officer Derek Bock said some of the buildings had been allowed to become slum buildings.

“By this we mean that the landlord has allowed overcrowding and has not adhered to health and buying regulations,” he said.

There was little the VRCID could do other than warning the landlords and reporting the buildings to the City, Mr Bock said.

“Problem buildings attract criminals. Period. The criminals know that they are ‘safe’ in these buildings as the landlord turns a blind eye – he is only concerned about getting his rent money,” Mr Bock said.

Bellville police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Henrietta van Niekerk said they had noticed this phenomenon at some buildings in Voortrekker Road and Teddington Street, but it was important for the public to open a case before the police could launch an investigation.

“A formal file will then be opened against these building and all activities will be monitored and investigated,” she said.

Before a building can be declared a “problem building” the owner must be notified of the reasons for this decision in writing.

He can argue his case, but if the declaration is made, he will be issued with a compliance notice telling him what he needs to do get his property off the problem building list.

Being on the list means a R5 700 tariff is added to his rates account each month… and the City doesn’t have to stop there: earlier this month, the City’s safety and security directorate handed over a site for the first demolition of a listed problem building in Somerset West.

The abandoned and derelict property was declared a problem building in 2014.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said the necessary permissions had been obtained nearly two years ago, but the City had waited for the property owner to make a move.

“Eventually we took it upon ourselves to try and resolve the issue and the day has finally arrived. Once the remnants of the building have been demolished and the site cleared of all the rubbish, we will continue our efforts to recoup the costs of the operation and all other debt owing to the City,” he said in a statement.

Mr Smith said problem buildings were found across the city, but Bellville, Parow, Somerset West and Wynberg were some of the most problematic areas.

Mr Bock said the City should strengthen the problem building unit, if it was serious about the urban regeneration of the Bellville CBD.

Suspected problem buildings can be reported to the City at 021 596 1999 or alternatively you can send an email to bellvillesaps@saps.gov.za