The whys and hows of problem buildings

Principal inspector Wayne Aldrige from the City of Cape Town’s Problem Buildings Unit gave a detailed description of the services provided by the unit at the last Milnerton Community Policing Forum (CPF) public meeting held on Tuesday August 1 at Milnerton police station in Koeberg Road.

Mr Aldridge, who has been in service with the City of Cape Town for 28 years, first worked with the displaced people’s unit before joining the problem buildings unit.

Currently the unit only has eight law enforcement officers covering the City of Cape Town.

“The eight of us, that’s including me, deal with over 5000 cases,” said Mr Aldridge.

He defined a “problem building” as a building or portion of a building that: has been abandoned by the owner, is illegally occupied, derelict in appearance, overcrowded, becoming unhealthy, unsanitary, unsightly, dealing with prostitution, dealing with drugs, receiving written complaints in respect of criminal activities, where refuse or waste material is accumulated, dumped, stored or deposited, where there is a threat or danger to the safety of the general public.

He said the unit often received complaints they don’t deal with such as overgrown vegetation, land invasion and barking dogs but said that no complaint was ignored and that he passes these on to the “relevant departments”.

He said the unit enlisted the help of a range of people when investigating a problem building such as fire inspectors, health inspectors, building inspectors, property management and enforcement agencies.

Mr Aldridge said there were eight stages during the investigation of a potential problem building. Stage 0 is where a complaint is received followed by stage 1 where a case file is opened.

The case is handed to an investigating officer in stage 2, followed by a desktop investigation in stage 3.

Mr Aldridge said this investigation included using the City’s ISIS system to identify who the problem building belongs to, searching the erf number, making sure the right address has been given, pulling rates and taxes and searching the contact details of the owners or people responsible.

Stage 4 includes a “notice of intended inspection” where the owner is given seven days to make their building available for inspection.

“However I don’t think it makes sense to give a notice of inspection to a drug lord and warning them that we’re coming so we don’t do that. There is a clause in the by-law that allows us to get past that”.

Stage 5 includes a notice of intention to declare a building a problem building. The owner is given seven days to make “representations on why the building should not be declared as a problem building”. Stage 5 (A) includes a “joint operation” between the problem building unit and various City departments such as fire, health and other law enforcement agencies to carry out an integrated inspection of a building to determine whether it is a problem building or not.

Stage 6 declares a building a problem building and the owner is given 21 days to “remedy the finding of the problem building identified by investigating officers”. “

You have 21 days to appeal the matter to the office of the City manager. If you don’t appeal it your building is declared a problem building and we charge you R5000 a month until you fix up your property for the first six months then it goes up to R10000, R15000, R20000 and R25000 a month”.

He said this monthly fee went on the rates and taxes of the building.

Mr Aldridge said a problem building signage is erected on the premises.

The problem building unit then cleans and secures the building and if the owner fails to pay the costs the City may recover it “in terms of the Credit Control and Debt Collection By-law, 2006”.

In stage 7 owners are informed about legal action taken against them for “non-compliance” of notices served and the owner will be summonsed to court.

Mr Alridge pointed out that all these stages are supposed to take place within 49 days “given the time frame within the by-law” but said that in reality “this has never taken place”.

He said that he has dealt with a case that took 10 years while others took five years and even more.

Designated Liqour Officer Warrant Officer Alan Dalton said currently there are 176 licensed liquor premises in the area. He said, so far, he knows of 20 premises that doesn’t exist anymore because they’ve closed down or moved but the license is still active. He said he was waiting for the liquor department to verify the closures of these premises before making it public.

Brigadier Marius Stander gave a crime report for July and said that Dunoon still had the highest number of assaults reported. Hot spot streets for robberies in Joe Slovo included Freedom Way and Democracy Way.

Brigadier Stander said robberies also picked up in Bosmansdam Road and Omarumba Road.

Dunoon again peaked at the highest with property crime followed by Montague Gardens, Milnerton Central, Rugby, and Joe Slovo.

The next Milnerton CPF public meeting takes place on Tuesday September 5 at the Milnerton police station at 7pm. Call 083 708 3670 for more details.

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