UNCONFIRMED reports that a building situated behind residential properties in Peter Mokaba (Ridge) Road is being converted into student accommodation have raised the concerns of residents who say they were unaware of the changes being made to the property.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said she and her husband had recently returned from holiday in Cape Town to discover building activity well underway on the property situated behind their residence.
“Unconfirmed reports say that the building is being converted to student accommodation. You can understand that all residents, and I am sure those living in the apartments around us, are very disturbed if this should be true,” she said.
The woman said she was under the impression that the property in question was zoned commercial.
“Now we will have students living there. Not one person that we have spoken to knows what is going on. According to our security guard, the work is well advanced, so we need to act urgently,” she said.
However, ward 31 councillor, Chris Pappas, said after residents had contacted him about the building activity, he had investigated the matter and discovered the area was zoned residential 1.
“As there is no municipal policy for student accommodation, the building owner is allowed to convert,” he said.
Pappas said once he was certain the building would be used for student accommodation, he would write to the Ratings Department to ensure rates are increased on the property.
“The building owner will not need to consult with residents regarding plans for the building as there is no special consent or change of land use. There are however some controls, including development controls as per the central Land Use Scheme and building regulations that must be adhered to. We will need to ensure the owner prescribes to the number of people per meter squared, the number of bathrooms and bedrooms per unit and the number of people per unit,” he said.
On top of this, Pappas said health and safety issues needed to be considered, such as cooking areas, litter areas, density and adequate parking.
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“These are the controls the City can have on the building through the Development Planning Department, however the challenge is enforcement. The law is there, but it needs to be enforced,” he said.
Pappas said a lot of student hostels were being established in the suburbs because the inner city was too expensive.
“Landlords and universities cannot afford rental in the inner city, although it is the ideal place as there is close proximity to transport and amenities. The government gives universities subsidies for accommodation and I have seen a lot of student accommodation opening in Brickfield Road and the Berea. The buildings are owned by one person and the university pays rental for a year, and then becomes responsible for noise issues, management and maintenance. Residents are encouraged to deal directly with the universities when problems occur. For example, residents have dealt successfully with a hostel in the Sydenham area,” he said.
Pappas said due to the lack of municipal legislation regarding student accommodation, this had now become an issue in residential areas.
“Durban is far behind on Land Use Management legislation. The draft policy for student accommodation dates back to 2012. I will put pressure on Land Use Management to finalise the document to increase control,” he said.
He said should residents have issue with noise from student accommodation, they should contact Metro Police and ensure they get a reference number as this would help in building a case of noise disturbance.
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