The City of Cape Town will go head-to-head with three property owners in court at the end of this month. The legal action relates to properties that have been declared problem buildings by the City’s Problem Building Unit.
This is a first for the City, as no building owners have been prosecuted under the Problem Building By-law to date. However, a number of them have been prosecuted under the Environmental Health By-law, the Fire and Life Safety By-law, the Credit Control and Debt Collection By-law, as well as the Land Use Planning Ordinance of 1985.
The Problem Building Unit was established to implement the Problem Building By-law promulgated in 2010 and to help the City identify, control and manage dilapidated and problem buildings. Problem buildings are properties that contravene national building regulations; are overcrowded or in a deplorable state; are the subject of numerous complaints from the public; are invaded by illegal squatters; or pose a serious health or safety risk in terms of national building regulations.
The three properties that will soon take centre stage in court are situated in Langa, Belhar and Parow. They were declared problem buildings more than a year ago, but the owners have ignored all compliance notices and efforts to help them rehabilitate the properties.
‘Ideally, we would always opt for compliance versus legal action if given a choice, because while the litigation continues, the neighbours are still subjected to the problem. However, we cannot continue to sit idly by either. We have a responsibility to those affected by the actions of errant property owners and so where we have exhausted all other avenues, we will seek relief from the courts and I hope that this watershed moment is a wake-up call to other property owners to toe the line,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
Currently, the Problem Building Unit has 1 330 active cases in various stages of investigation and 159 properties have been declared problem buildings. The unit is in the process of finalising legal action against more property owners in the near future.
One of the biggest challenges is tracking down property owners who have absconded, as the by-law allows for owners to make representations before the City can declare a problem building.
‘We’ve had numerous cases where property owners have stepped up and worked with us to get their buildings or land into an acceptable state and I thank them for their cooperation; but there are others who simply refuse to act in spite of the misery they’re heaping on others. I have very little sympathy for them and I can promise that we will pursue them to the full extent of the law,’ added Alderman Smith.
Anyone who is found guilty of an offence in terms of the provisions of the Problem Building By-law is liable to a fine of up to R300 000 or a jail term not exceeding three years or both. In the case of a continuing offence, an additional fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 days for each day on which such offence continued may be imposed. The person is also liable for the costs incurred in remedying any damage resulting from their offence.