Durban — The owner of a hijacked building in eThekwini has blamed the City for continuing to bill him for lights and water while it has failed to assist him in evicting the hijackers.
Mahmood Motala, whose building was hijacked more than five years ago, told the Daily News on Tuesday that had the City or government assisted him and other owners whose buildings had been hijacked, the matter would have been resolved earlier.
He said apart from stressing about losing income through the hijacking of his property, the City was making his life more miserable by continuing to send him hefty water and light bills that were continuously accumulating in his name.
He added that his latest bill was close to R3 million. Motala appealed to the City and the provincial government, especially the Public Works and Human Settlements Department, to get involved and help him get his buildings back.
“I wish to appeal to both the City management and the government to assist me, not only in getting back my property, but to also write off the huge debts I continuously accumulate while somebody is making money out of my property. It is painful that while criminals make money out of my property, I the owner have to stress about paying for water and lights bills I never used,” said Motala.
He further stated that he believed the recent Johannesburg disaster in which 77 people perished in a fire in a hijacked building was an eye opener for the City and the provincial government not only to be concerned about hijacked public buildings but privately owned ones too.
Motala said he knew many owners suffering the same fate. Narrating how he lost his building, he said he was approached by an Ethiopian woman in 2016, who said she was looking for space to use as a warehouse for her business.
He said she paid rent until 2018, then started making excuses, and thereafter she stopped taking his calls.
Furthermore, Motala said when he went to the building he discovered that the place had been turned into a residence and there were tenants inside.
He said he was advised not to come closer because it was not safe as the place was said to be under the control of dangerous druglords.
He added that in one incident where there was an attempt to evict the people, a taxi full of armed men came and disrupted the eviction.
“The City is aware of the situation. I even have a court order against those illegal people occupying my property.
“I am also aware that City officials went in and disconnected water and lights, but it was restored the following day and the City continued to send me bills. I call on the City to act swiftly, not only for my gain but to prevent the disaster because it might happen that there are innocent people who are renting to someone,” said Motala.
He added that by helping him get his building back, the City would also benefit because the real owner would pay for services including property rates.
He also said he even tried to hire a private security company to evict the people, but it said it needed half a million rand because the place was highly dangerous. He said he could not afford to pay half a million rand.
KZN Human Settlements and Public Works spokesperson Mlungisi Khumalo said it would be difficult for his department to intervene in privately owned properties. He said the matter was between the municipality and the owners since the municipalities collect rates. He added that when MEC Sipho Nkosi visited the city he was checking hijacked government buildings only.
eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said if an account remained active, it remained the responsibility of the property owner to pay for municipal services consumed and write-offs could be advised by the relevant department if they were advised to terminate the supply.
For the write-offs she said the property owner should approach the municipality to close the account and disconnect the services – reporting that the building was hijacked was not enough.
“An account would have to be settled and closed so that the City can stop billing. We bill as per use of services,” said Sisilana.
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