The Ridge, a residential block of flats in 08 Abel street, Berea, Johannesburg has apparently been highjacked and run by an illegal syndicate. Picture: Antoine de Ras, 12/04/2015

Johannesburg - The City of Joburg’s inner city could return to the decline it experienced in the 1980s after a year of trying to revive it.

Property owners and investors in the CBD are threatening to pull out as building hijackings increase.

This is the message from the Property Owners and Managers Association following a spate of property hijackings.

The owners claim they are getting little or no help from the city or the police when their buildings are hijacked and feel investors should be warned of the dangers.

A building in Berea, The Ridge, refurbished at a cost of R40 million in 2013, has been hijacked.

The owner, who would not be named, and who is an emerging property entrepreneur, is being funded by the Trust for Urban Housing Fund.

The trust is an institution promoting inner-city investment by helping potential investors become property entrepreneurs. It provides loans to buy or improve residential property in all South Africa’s inner-city areas. It is funded by, among others, the Gauteng Partnership Fund and the National Housing Finance Corporation.

The trust’s liaison officer, Pressage Nyoni, said problems started in September last year when the owner started defaulting on payments, saying tenants were not paying rent.

“We launched an investigation and found there were some minor problems regarding upkeep and maintenance. We intervened and assisted the owner with issues such as appointing a cleaning and security company,” he said.

On December 31, the trust handed over the security of the building to a new company.

“There was immediate, vicious resistance. We had to back off, but we subsequently got a court order instructing the tenants not to interfere with the management of the building.

“This was ignored and the tenants took over the building placing their own security and cleaners in the building,” he said.

The trust obtained an eviction order. The tenants appealed and lost.

“These hijackers told the tenants to place R1 000 into their trust account. It is sinister because a new, emerging black property entrepreneur is being targeted. Because we get funding from the Gauteng Partnership Fund, government money is also involved here,” he said.

The owner has already paid R600 000 in legal fees for court orders. With the eviction costs, he could lose about R1.6m, not counting the serious vandalism at the building and the loss of income since September, said Nyoni.

Another building in Parktown, Williston Court, has also been hijacked. The owners would not be named, but said they bought the building with tenants in place last year in October.

They want to renovate it so they served notice on 20 tenants. But they met with resistance even though the tenants were offered resettlement costs and other accommodation.

“We gave them three months’ notice, but from February 1, they started a rent boycott. Our security was kicked off site and they have vandalised the building. Two flats were set on fire,” said one of the owners.

They obtained a court order to stop residents interfering with the management of the building, but when they tried to put their own security into the building, riots broke out.

“The guards were forced out at gunpoint and assaulted with petrol bombs, bricks and hot water. The tenants then took to the streets cutting down trees in Louis Botha Avenue and blocking the road,” they said.

Now, they will have to apply for an eviction order.

The Star is in possession of a petition handed to the city by the Mzansi Progressive Movement calling on the city to stop “illegal” evictions and to integrate the ownership of hijacked buildings in the RDP to “allow voters ownership through a subsidised housing scheme”. The petition lists 11 buildings that owners believe will be targeted next.

But the city says it is tackling the issue.

“Meetings between the stakeholders take place monthly to plan interventions on cases reported to the city,” said Shaun O’Shea, assistant director of citizen relationship for the inner city.

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The Star