THE deteriorating condition of Kingston Flats in Albert Park. The dispute with occupants has turned violent and the remaining renovations, including replacement of main water pipes, will take at least another three months. Leon Lestrade African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - A dispute about the occupation of a dilapidated block of flats in Durban's central business district has spun out of control, leading to death threats.

“They (former occupants) have ordered a hit on me,” declared Emmanuel Telka, who has leased the building from a family estate that owns the property.

Police are now patrolling the precinct regularly.

Situated near Albert Park, Kingston Flats at 35 Park Street has been home to about 100 people, many of whom have had lawful occupancy for more than five years.

Then, in July a notice was served on occupants advising them to vacate the building by September 30 to enable renovations.

“Should you wish to return after the renovations are completed, you may return in early January 2019 or by agreement, terms and conditions apply,” the notice read.

This was followed by the circulation of a bogus letter on an eThekwini Municipality letterhead declaring the building unsafe. The letter was purported to be from the municipality's human settlements unit which declared it had no knowledge of it.

While several tenants found temporary accommodation and started moving out, dozens objected, refusing to leave.

“We wanted alternative accommodation to be provided and a legally binding agreement that we will be able to move back in once renovations are done,” said a tenant, Lungi, who asked that her full name not be disclosed.

Lungi and several other tenants subsequently sought the assistance of an attorney, Sibongiseni Nene. Nene successfully applied to the Durban High Court for an interim interdict restraining Telka from harassing occupants or terminating water and electricity supplies to any of the units.

The temporary interdict had no effect. Soon residents, many of whom had stopped paying rent, found themselves living without electricity or water, and later locked out of the building with all their possessions still inside.

“Telka had also sent his bouncers and paid some boys on the street to harass us. They were told to rape us, and also stab the lady in unit 73 (Lungi) and leave her dead because she had become a problem,” said another Kingston tenant.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said no such cases had been reported, but did advise that a contempt of court charge was under investigation, along with several cases of crimen injuria.

While these matters are to come before court again on January 10, the situation on the street has turned nasty.

When the Daily News visited Kingston Flats on Friday, an armed security guard talked about being confronted by eight armed men demanding that tenants who still have possessions inside Kingston Flats be granted access.

Police were called in to defuse the situation and have since been regularly patrolling the area.

On a subsequent tour of Kingston Flats, supervisor Trevor Birch provided background to the volatile saga, saying tenants who had been illegally subletting units in the building, were responsible for the situation going so awry.

“They had been crowding as many as 8, 12 to 15 people into bachelor and one-bedroom flats, collecting the rentals for themselves. They had practically hijacked the building. They were obviously reluctant to lose this source of income,” Birch said.

He provided documentation showing that the municipality's environmental health services department had ordered a variety of repairs to be done as far back as August. He said as such repairs involved replacement of main water pipes, the building had to be vacated.

“But people wanted to continue living here even amid leaking sewage. It became absolutely ludicrous,” Birch said.

In December, the Daily News reported a similar incident at Brianmore in Maud Mfusi (St George’s) Street where residents were given fraudulent “eviction letters” using the municipality's letterhead.

The residents were instructed to vacate the premises for the building to be renovated but some residents suspected someone was trying to “steal the building”.

Hoosen Moola, head of the Inner Thekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme, said they were still investigating this incident.

Daily News