Rental woes

People have been squatting in Long Street since last year.

Residents of a Scottsdene housing complex who have stopped paying rent, citing poor living conditions, now face eviction.

The sheriff issued the eviction notices to the Sunset Village residents on Thursday July 4.

The block of flats in Long Street, which is owned by development company Calgro M3, has been at the centre of several riots and acts of looting since it was built in April 2018.

Scottsdene backyarders illegally occupied the flats and were later evicted (“Illegal occupants evicted”, Northern News, April 4,2018). The first tenants moved in last August after violence protests died down, but some the evicted backyarders continue to squat nearby.

Fifty-two of the blocks 81 flats are occupied. Each flat has an open-plan kitchen and lounge, two bedrooms and a bathroom.

The sheriff issued 42 eviction notices last week. Four were served in March.

The tenants complain of “poor living conditions” and accuse Calgro M3 of “not handling the situation in a proper manner”. They say the sheriff dropped the letters at security and left.

None of the tenants wanted to be named, saying they feared being victimised by being evicted sooner than expected. One of them said she refused to pay her R4 600 because of mould, which she said was caused by there being no air vents in her flat; cracks in the walls; and bad plumbing, which she claimed had caused sewage spills that had made her one-year-old daughter sick.

Pointing to pictures of the sewage spill in November 2018, she said: “When we first moved in here, my family and me were happy to call this our home, but not long after that it became a disaster. Our lives were in danger because of protests, our houses lacked maintenance, and we were walking in one another’s poo.”

She said a plumber she hired told her the pipes were installed incorrectly.

Another resident said Calgro M3 had made amendments to their contracts.

“Calgro promised in the contract that only Kraaifontein people will live in the flats, but Congolese nationals and others are living here now. Not that we have a problem with them, but it was not stated in the contract,” she said.

The electric fence had not worked since they moved in, she said.Ian Petersen, who moved out of the complex in March, said Calgro was still deducting water and rent money from his account.

“After three months of living in those apartments, I knew there would be trouble. Most of the time, we lived in our lounges because the room plugs were not working at all or either sparking.

“Our walls were always damp because of no ventilation, and we were always fearing for our lives because of violent protests, but Calgro just couldn’t care, they were just worried about the money not the clients.”

Mr Petersen said Calgro was threatening to have him blacklisted.

Wayne Williams, group executive director at Calgro M3, said the eviction notices were handed out last Thursday because of a “rental boycott.”

“Calgro has always been in constant communication with the tenants regarding the consequences of not paying rent. Some tenants are in arrears of more than R80 000. The total rent outstanding due to the rent boycott is now more than R2 million,” he said.

Mr Williams said Calgro had a list of maintenance complaints reported, and the maintenance teams were investigating them. However, he said, “mould in the units is a result of tenants not opening their window when cooking. Mould should be avoided and treated by the tenants themselves. Both landlords and tenants are responsible for repairing damages. The agreement clearly states that maintenance on the inside of the apartments are tenants’ responsibilities.”

Asked about the electric fencing not working, he said, “a security complex doesn’t necessarily mean that there must be an electrical fence”.

The complex’s perimeter was fenced with main a gate, biometric access control and 24-hour guarded security, he said.

The flats were open-market rentals and anyone could apply to rent one.

“All of the tenants lease agreements have expired and now new lease agreements have been signed,” he added.

All tenants who moved out with an arrears balance, like Mr Petersen, needed to settle their arrears amount, including utilities.

He encouraged tenants to engage with Calgro regarding their outstanding rental and utility bills.

“We will try and accommodate tenants as much as possible,” he said, but added that those who refused to pay would be evicted. “We cannot hold this over any longer.”

Department of Human Settlements spokeswoman Muneera Allie advised the tenants to approach the Rental Housing Tribunal if they felt they had been unfairly treated. “Should the landlord force any obligations upon any tenants without them agreeing thereto one may lodge a complaint at our offices,” she said, noting that tenants could send a “please call me” to 079 769 1207 or email rht.enquiries@westerncape.gov.za

Tasneem Hassen, from the South African Board for Sheriffs, did not respond to questions about whether or not a sheriff could hand over eviction notices to a person other than the one being evicted.

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