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Tuesday Apr 14, 2015

Hijacked buildings a threat to Joburg CBD

The City of Joburg's inner city could return to the decline it experienced in the 1980s after a year of trying to revive it.

Tenants have taken over The Ridge, a block of flats in Berea.

Desperate property owners and investors in the CBD are threatening to pull out - and to warn prospective investors not to put their money into the area because building hijackings are on the increase.

This is the message the Property Owners and Managers Association (Poma) is sending following a new spate of building hijackings.

The owners claim they are getting little or no assistance from Joburg metro officials or the police when their buildings are hijacked.

Said Poma chairman Renney Plit: "We, as property owners of numerous inner-city buildings which we have refurbished, are deeply concerned about the hijacking of buildings, which affects us not only as owners who could be targeted, but also because hijacked buildings impact on our buildings in that they become havens for criminals.

"We have spent time and money in refurbishing old buildings and offering people decent and affordable accommodation," he added.

The metro is losing about R8 billion a year in revenue from illegally occupied buildings and houses. But it says that, in conjunction with the police, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority, it has been tackling the issue of building hijackings in the inner city.

"We are dealing with cases that have been reported to us, either personally by the property owners or through the problem-property hotline.

"Meetings with stakeholders are held monthly to discuss cases reported to the city," Shaun O'Shea, assistant director citizen relationship for Region F, encompassing the inner city, pointed out.

The metro said it had introduced a problem properties bylaw (PPB) to try to address the large number of properties that do not comply with existing legislation on health, fire, town planning and building control by-laws.

"The aim of the PPB is to provide integrated and proactive steps that can be taken to intervene before a particular property falls into disrepair to the extent that it becomes a slum, a hijacked property or crime haven, and prejudices the amenities of the surrounding area," said Joburg metro spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane. The city was also embarking on a block-by-block operation to stop the acceleration of regeneration, address any service delivery breakdowns, tenant safety and security, he added.

Two buildings have been hijacked so far this year.

The Star is in possession of a petition handed to the City of Joburg by the Mzansi Progressive Movement requesting assistance to stop "illegal" evictions, and for the ownership of hijacked buildings to be integrated to "allow voters to have ownership though a subsidised housing scheme".

The organisation is proposing that it should be allowed to put in place its own security to monitor streets and illegal businesses.

It is also calling for an independent commission to deal with sales and the fraudulent transfer of buildings. In the petition, they list 11 buildings affected in the inner city, which Poma believes will be targeted next.

The group could not be reached for comment.

  • A building in Berea, The Ridge, refurbished at a cost of R40 million in 2013, has been hijacked.

    The owner, who would not be named, and who is an emerging property entrepreneur, is being funded by the Trust for Urban Housing Fund.

    The trust is an institution promoting inner-city investment by helping potential investors become property entrepreneurs. It provides loans to buy or improve residential property in all South Africa's inner-city areas. It is funded by, among others, the Gauteng Partnership Fund and the National Housing Finance Corporation. The trust's liaison officer, Pressage Nyoni, said problems started in September last year when the owner started defaulting on payments, saying tenants were not paying rent.

    "We launched an investigation and found there were some minor problems regarding upkeep and maintenance. We intervened and assisted the owner with issues such as appointing a cleaning and security company," he said.

    On December 31, the trust handed over the security of the building to a new company.

    "There was immediate, vicious resistance. We had to back off, but we subsequently got a court order instructing the tenants not to interfere with the management of the building.

    "This was ignored and the tenants took over the building placing their own security and cleaners in the building," he said.

    The trust obtained an eviction order. The tenants appealed and lost.

    "These hijackers told the tenants to place R1 000 into their trust account. It is sinister because a new, emerging black property entrepreneur is being targeted. Because we get funding from the Gauteng Partnership Fund, government money is also involved here," he said.

    The owner has already paid R600 000 in legal fees for court orders. With the eviction costs, he could lose about R1.6m, not counting the serious vandalism at the building and the loss of income since September, said Nyoni.

    Another building in Parktown, Williston Court, has also been hijacked. The owners would not be named, but said they bought the building with tenants in place last year in October.

    They want to renovate it so they served notice on 20 tenants. But they met with resistance even though the tenants were offered resettlement costs and other accommodation.

    "We gave them three months' notice, but from February 1, they started a rent boycott. Our security was kicked off site and they have vandalised the building. Two flats were set on fire," said one of the owners.

    They obtained a court order to stop residents interfering with the management of the building, but when they tried to put their own security into the building, riots broke out.

    "The guards were forced out at gunpoint and assaulted with petrol bombs, bricks and hot water. The tenants then took to the streets cutting down trees in Louis Botha Avenue and blocking the road," they said.

    Now, they will have to apply for an eviction order.

    The Star

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