More resources needed to deal with mushrooming problem buildings

The premises at 25 High Road.

ABANDONED and derelict buildings across the metro are being hijacked by unscrupulous slumlords and developed into festering eyesores that pose health and safety risks not only to the desperate and destitute, many of them foreign nationals, who have no option but to live in them, but also to those living in neighbouring properties. Problem buildings have become a growing social ill that eThekwini Municipality seems unable to adequately deal with.

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For ward 31 councillor, Chris Pappas, the Municipalitys bad buildings programme, developed to deal with the growing problem, is failing as issues around the problem hamper the effective running of this programme. The 2015 problem building bylaw he says has yet to be effectively implemented, chief among the issues being a severe lack of dedicated staff and basic resources required to make the programme effective.

“Currently there is only one municipal official working to deal with issues across the entire metro. The programme needs a minimum of 21 staff members to function. On top of staffing shortages the programme requires four vehicles, six cameras and three computers,” he said.

An additional hindrance is the fact the the bad buildings programme currently falls under the direction of the Area Based Management Department. However, the primary responsibility of this department is fault logging, fault tracking and precinct management. According to Pappas, most of the work carried out under the bad buildings programme utilises expertise from the Development Planning Department which includes the Building Inspectorate, Environmental Health and Land Use Management.

A building in East Street, Overport, has been a haven for vagrants for many years.

“Moving the bad buildings programme to the Development Planning Department would greatly increase the effectiveness of the programme and will also allow for stricter adherence to enforcement procedures because the programme currently suffers from a lack of follow through from the building inspectors and the health inspectors. Other line departments involved in this programme include Electricity, Water and Sanitation, Metro Police and Social Development. The resulting lack of capacity and lack of resources leads to time delays which impact on High Court cases where issues are escalated to this level,” he said.

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Also of concern, he said, was the fact that there were currently only two inspectors from the Department of Home Affairs who are tasked to work across the entire province. “The department does not have an overtime budget, which has implications on night profiling operations of the bad buildings programme. This is an issue because a large number of undocumented foreign nationals are living in many of these bad buildings,” said Pappas.

Councillor Chris Pappas inspects in rooms inside the house at 25 High Road.

What was required, he said, was for one to look responsibly at the causes of the phenomenon of buildings being converted into slum accommodation where overcrowding and the extortion of tenants for high rentals without a contract to ensure the provision of basic services or security of tenure were evident.

“The city has a severe lack of affordable housing, however this must not be confused with free housing. Many people are willing to pay rent, but one of two reasons stops them from getting proper rentals. This includes their inability to get a contract with real estate agents because of a lack of documentation such as bank statements or employment contracts, and foreign nationals who wait months and years to get documents because of the failure of Home Affairs,” he said.

Around 90 people living in this property at 25 High Road, Berea, were recently removed.

To prevent more buildings in the city developing into slums, Pappas said the bad buildings programme needed to implement his recommendations. “The City must also seriously reconsider its approach to social and subsidised housing options. More options need to be provided for residents, including the conversion of buildings in the inner city or the adoption of an infill densification strategy,” he said.

 

What defines a problem building:

A “problem building” is defined as a building or portion of a building which is derelict in appearance or is showing signs of becoming unhealthy, unsanitary, unsightly, or objectionable, has been abandoned by the owner, or appears to have been abandoned by the owner, regardless of whether or not rates or service charges are being paid, is overcrowded or has been hijacked.

Other defining factors of a problem building is where a property has been the subject of one or more written complaints, charges or convictions regarding criminal activities being conducted in the building, as confirmed in writing by a member of the Durban Metropolitan Police Service or the South African Police Service.

The pool at the property at 25 High Road, full of rubbish.

Problem buildings are those which are illegally occupied and have refuse or waste material unlawfully accumulated, dumped, stored or deposited on the property.

Problem buildings have been unlawfully erected or have a section that has been unlawfully erected, has been changed and its subsequent usage is unauthorised, is partially completed, or structurally unsound orshowing signs thereof, and are or may be a threat or danger to life and property.

Problem buildings are also those which are in contravention of one or more of the Municipality’s by-laws.

 

 

 

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  AUTHOR
Lauren Walford
Journalist

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