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Thursday Feb 23, 2012

Westville property wins demolition reprieve

The eThekwini Municipality has done an about turn, two years after it promised to demolish a Westville house that has been undergoing renovations for a decade.

The municipality now insists there is no good reason to apply for a demolition order, saying the structure of the Blair Atholl Road house is not unstable and has not created imminent danger or health issues.

The unfinished house has irked neighbours for several years, who have described it as unhygienic and a haven for vagrants. Disgruntled neighbours believe the house has devalued their homes.

After issuing a number of notices to the owner, Cholaram Maharaj, and granting him several extensions to complete his house, the municipality decided to take legal action against him two years ago.

Soobs Moonsamy, head of the ethekwini Municipality's development planning, environment and management unit, had said at the time that Maharaj could be forced to demolish his house.

She said according to municipal records, Maharaj had started the renovations in 2002.

However, Maharaj, a medical doctor based in Isipingo, said he had bought the property only seven years ago after it had been damaged by floods.

He said he had bought a single-storey house to which he added a second floor.

While he acknowledged that progress on the house had been slow, Maharaj said he had not forgotten or neglected it.

Moonsamy said in terms of section 11 of the National Building Regulations and Building Standard Act, if no progress was made with the construction of a building for more than three months, the municipality may give the owner notice to continue with the building work and to complete it within a stipulated period.

"This period may be extended by the municipality. If the owner fails to comply with any such notice, then the municipality may give the owner further notice, ordering that the building be demolished if the municipality is of the opinion that the building is unsafe, unsightly or derogates from the value of the neighbouring properties," she said at the time.

"The municipality has issued a number of notices to the owner of this particular house and has granted several extensions of time for its completion, but the owner has not complied," she had said, adding that the municipality was taking steps to obtain a demolition order from the high court, promising that papers would be served imminently.

Two years later however, the house is still incomplete and the city has now backtracked, saying the application for a demolition order would be too costly.

A spokeswoman for the city, Sohana Singh, said the building inspectorate had advised that the structure was complete and the outstanding work was mainly internal work, such as the ceilings, electric installation, plumbing painting, gutters, and landscaping.

"The municipality needs to be satisfied that there is good reason to apply for a demolition order, for instance if the structure is unstable and as a result created imminent danger or if there are health issues.

"It has been found that this is not the case. As it is quite costly to apply to the court for a demolition order, the municipality will issue a notification to the owner to complete work within six months, failing which, we will approach the high court to request that the owner complete the work within a reasonable period of time."

Maharaj said the house was nearing completion and took a swipe at his neighbours, whom he accused of trying to coerce him into selling the house for a "ridiculously low" price.

He said he was now contemplating selling the house.

"I think it's better to sell. It has proven to be too much work for me to keep at it. In three months time it will either be finished or sold."

In 2010 the house was set alight and Maharaj had pointed an accusing finger at his meddlesome neighbours.

Cape Argus


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