A fatal fire in a cluster of illegal shacks on a single residential plot in Summer Greens could have been avoided if the City had followed its by-laws, say residents.
The City says it is now taking the owners of the Summer Greens property to court for illegal building after a man and his dog burnt to death there last month, but residents say the authorities should have acted a lot sooner.
The fire destroyed five shacks and displaced 17 people from the property, according to City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse (“Man burnt to death in Summer Greens fire,” Tabletalk, November 21). No other injuries were reported.
Summer Greens residents have been complaining about illegal building in the area for years.
“Next time we fear that more lives would be lost if this doesn’t get immediate attention,” said resident Tammy Scholtz.
“The City and its inspectors need to be proactive with dealing with this, and it starts with not just letting any person just build on their property without the proper consent from the City and surrounding neighbours.
“We have been sitting with this problem for the longest time, and the City is dragging its feet. We know there are so many properties here in Summer Greens with homeowners who have just erected illegal structures and so on. I’m pleading with the City to do something,” she said.
Harsher punishments for those found guilty of breaking City by-laws would deter others from doing so, she said.
Summer Greens Ratepayers’ Association chairwoman Bridgette Lloyd said they had raised the issue with the City many times, and they were still waiting for a response to an email sent on October 17 last year.
“A man has died. Why did the man and his dog have to lose their life before the City does something? Who is going to compensate the man’s family now? Why did the City’s land-use department not do their job and make sure they remove illegal structures from properties like the one where the fatal fire happened?”
Residents logged C3 service requests, but the City ignored its own by-laws, she said.
“The City should be held accountable for this man’s death. They are not enforcing their own by-laws, and this is why we sit with this problem.”
Ms Lloyd said a dog had burnt to death in a fire started by vagrants at the back of Emerald Park on Thursday last week.
“We have been logging complaint after complaint about these vagrants and the fires they make in our canals and parks. Again the City doesn’t do anything. Houses can catch alight, and the poor homeowners will lose their belongings. The City must be held accountable.”
Summer Greens Neighbourhood Watch chairman Craig Alexander said rampant overcrowding was threatening the area’s safety and wellbeing.
“Over the past few years, we have seen the infrastructure of the community decaying due to overcrowding and illegal building. While we are grateful to the City in their swift responses when dealing with repairs to certain infrastructure, we still feel the City has failed us when it comes to regulating and taking action against illegal buildings and overcrowding.
“The overcrowding has a direct impact on the crime in our community. It actually increases crime. We often find that there will be 10 to 15 people living on a property and house break-ins happen a lot in these compounds where it is overcrowded.”
Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Eddie Andrews said the City had served a notice on the owners and was taking the matter to court.
“Once a complaint regarding a suspected unlawful structure is logged, the matter will be investigated and a notice will be served on the owner to comply with the relevant law. Should the owner fail to comply with the lawful instruction, further legal action will be instituted to take the matter to the relevant court. Fines or penalties are determined by the magistrate as a result of the outcome of the court process,” he said.
The City largely relied on the public to report illegal building and only did “limited” spot checks, he said.
“Once a complaint is lodged with the City, building inspectors will investigate and initiate legal action where necessary.”
When Tabletalk visited the property, the person who opened the door said the owners did not live there, and he refused to provide contact information for them.