140722. Cape Town. Homeless people are seen in a empty property (6 Bellona street) in Somerset West. Picture Henk Kruger. Reporter Murray Williams

Cape Town - The City of Cape Town is preparing legal action against a Somerset West property owner whose former mansion has become a haven for criminals and prostitutes.

In June 2011, the city announced it planned to legally attach the “problem” property, 6 Bellona Street, in the Somerset West suburb of Bridgewater – after executing the first raid in a residential area under the new “problem buildings” by-law.

The property is potentially worth more than R2 million and measures around 3 500m2. It was once a magnificent home with rolling lawns down to the Lourens River.

During a visit to the site in June 2011, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith and senior officers pointed out how the mansion had been stripped of windows, floorboards, staircases and all fittings, and had been used by vagrants.

There was evidence of drug paraphernalia at the house and locals alleged the house was used by prostitutes, gangsters and vagrants.

Smith said the impact on the surrounding community had been “extremely negative and that many complaints had been received from residents”. Three years later, residents have the same complaints.

The Cape Argus visited the site on Friday and found the derelict building clearly in use – with a cooking fire still smouldering from that morning.

Human faeces littered the property and neighbours expressed their anger and fear, telling of repeated thefts from their homes by residents of the dilapidated building, and how their lives had been threatened when they tried to confront the occupants.

In 2011, Smith said the owner, who has not been named, had spurned repeated offers by interested buyers to purchase the property as well as an offer by an old-age home to use it as a seniors’ facility. Instead, Smith said, the owner had hoped to develop the property, had been declined permission, and was now simply allowing the property to deteriorate – in contravention of the new “problem building” by-law.

Smith said this was “probably with the hope of pressurising the surrounding residents into agreeing with his development application”.

“This is a deplorable strategy by developers and slumlords that we have seen elsewhere in the city,” he said.

At the time, Gavin Oliver, the city’s principal inspector for liquor enforcement and compliance, said the city would board up the building’s 40 doors and windows, and post security on the site to prevent any further unlawful occupation and illegal activity. It appears that this did not happen, or that the boards were broken down.

Smith confirmed this week that legal action was finally imminent.

“The owner is in contravention of all of the notices issued to him to remedy the situation. The next step is to hand the matter over to the city’s legal department for prosecution. In the interim, the city’s law enforcement staff do regular checks and clear out anyone found on the property.

“Ideally, the city would be in favour of demolishing what remains of the property. However, the appropriate course of action must be determined by a magistrate,” Smith reported.

Cape Argus