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Tuesday Oct 16, 2012

Valuations blow for 10 000 Joburg property owners

Beleaguered Joburg ratepayers have been dealt another blow by the City of Joburg.

Nearly 10 000 property owners received a massive shock when they learnt that their successful objections to the inflated valuations of their properties in the General Property Valuation Roll in 2008 were negated by the Valuation Appeal Board at hearings where they were not present or represented.

At these hearings, the original, higher valuations were restored, and in some cases increased.

The compulsory review of valuations is done in terms of the Municipal Property Rates Act, and must take place if the successful objection to the original valuation results in a decrease in the valuation of more than 10 percent.

The length of time it took the board to complete all the reviews meant that some owners were informed only recently of these higher outcomes.

Property owners who believed their objections were successful were not advised of the date of the board's hearings and were not asked to be present.

The shock was compounded by huge backdated accounts for rates and, to add insult to injury, the account was payable immediately.

The DA is taking the matter up with the public protector, claiming that there are clear provisions in the constitution and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act that require administrative action that is reasonable and procedurally fair.

John Mendelsohn, the DA spokesman for rates and valuations, has asked the public protector to investigate the constitutionality of the practice of compulsory reviews in the owner's absence, as well as the lack of proper record keeping by the board.

The request, he says, is timely, because when compiling the first of two Supplementary Valuation Rolls for 2012, it resulted in 14 000 objections being submitted.

In addition, the council has started the compilation of a new General Valuation Roll, affecting more than 1 million properties, which becomes effective on July 1 next year.

"Both these exercises will undoubtedly generate many more compulsory reviews that will come before the board for adjudication. The Valuations Appeal Board unfairly hears compulsory reviews of property valuations behind closed doors, in the property owner's absence, and without giving the owner notice of the date of the hearing. The owner is only notified of the outcome of the hearing," he said.

If a previously successful objection to a property valuation was negated by the board, restoring the original and higher valuation, it resulted in a huge rates increase and a bill backdated to the date of the original valuation, he said.

The only remedy open to the aggrieved owners is to apply to the High Court, at their own cost, for a review. Apart from the steep cost of litigating in the High Court, said Mendelsohn, when it came to having to provide the court with a record of the proceedings of the board, as required by the court rules, the owner would learn that the board kept no full record of the proceedings, only a record of the outcome.

"That means there is no record of how the decision was arrived at, which the court requires," he said.

Jane Smith of Bryanston is one of the city's victims. Her property was revalued from R1.9 million to R2.9m in 2008. Her objection was upheld.

In about March this year, she got a backdated account for R20 000, only to find that the valuation of her property was back at R2.9m.

"We had no idea the valuation was going to be reviewed. We were neither invited, nor told about it - there was no communication whatsoever," she said.

Smith said she had to sign a payment agreement with the city to pay off the arrears over three years.

Denis Hunt, a DA councillor, had a similar experience.

In 2008, his Sandton property was valued at R3.3m. He objected, and it was revalued at R1.8m, which the city accepted. The city then appealed against its own valuation without informing him and the appeal board revalued the property at R2.4m.

Hunt again tried to object, with no outcome, he said.

Then suddenly this year the property's listing appeared on the supplementary valuation roll at R3.8m, even higher than the first valuation. He again objected, with no result.

"I believe this is a deliberate campaign to target residents in the upper-income brackets," he said.

The City of Joburg didn't respond to several requests for comment.

The Star

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