This comes after the DA in eThekwini wrote to city manager Sipho Nzuza raising concerns that the city had failed to enforce the problem buildings by-law that was passed three years ago.
The problem buildings by-law came into effect in 2016 to try to address derelict buildings and hold the owners of these properties accountable.
Marlaine Nair, the DA’s eThekwini Whip for Economic Development and Planning, said in the letter that the city had a large number of derelict buildings that had become hideouts for criminals.
Nair listed three buildings that need urgent attention: 85 Anton Lembede Street, 20 Johannes Nkosi Street and the West End building on the corner of Joseph Ndluli and Dr Pixely KaSeme streets.
“The administration has a legal obligation to ensure that the by-law is enforced. The issue of problem buildings requires the complete enforcement of the by-law in order to significantly tackle this problem,” Nair said.
The Mercury visited the three buildings this week and found that one was being used as a storage facility and was being rented out to people who had erected makeshift shelters, another housed retailers and the third was being renovated.
The owner of the building at 20Johannes Nkosi Street, who refused to be named, said the building had been owned by her late husband and she had been trying to obtain the documentation to change the ownership of the property.
She said that when she went to the municipality, she was told that the ownership of the building was under investigation. She said the roofless building had for decades been rented by street vendors to store their goods. The building also had tenants who rented space for their shacks, she said.
The building at 85 Anton Lembede Street houses retailers on the first floor. A security guard said that the upper floors were being used as a storage warehouse, while the West End building was being renovated. EThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the city’s multidisciplinary problem by-law enforcement teams conducted monthly citywide blitz operations.
However, he said there were processes that had to be followed and the city had to find the property owners before taking action.
“The municipality does not have the power to act in the absence of an official letter from the property owner, preferably endorsed by a court of law asking for the city to intervene,” said Mayisela. He said some owners abandoned their buildings. He added that they also had cases of properties being held by deceased estates, which took much longer to resolve.
He said the city had to act within the confines of the law and respect the occupants’ rights.
“We cannot just swoop down on a building and evict people without any warning. We also cannot act without permission from a court. Profiling is very important as this gives us enough evidence to present our case in court.”