Attorney Chanelle Gladwin explained that rates charges are based on the rating categorisation the municipal valuer puts on the property. Picture: Karen Sandison/ANA Pictures
Johannesburg - The City of Johannesburg is illegally changing its residents’ property ratings from residential to business, thereby increasing their monthly rates.

The accusation has been made by municipal specialist attorney Chantelle Gladwin, who says many clients come to her with this complaint.

“It has come to our attention that the city’s valuations and rates departments have begun implementing an old policy on a mass basis.

“This is having an enormously detrimental impact on certain members of the public because they are being charged rates based on the business tariff when they should be charged rates on the residential tariff, and their attempts to rectify the problem are being met with bureaucracy,” she said.

Gladwin explained that rates charges are based on the rating categorisation the municipal valuer puts on the property. The valuer must follow the Local Government: Municipal Property Rates Act, which, she said, is “quite strict and any deviation from that procedure will render the imposition of the charge unlawful”.

The city’s rates department - or any other city official in rates or billing - had no lawful authority to decide rating categories.

“Any interference by the rates department with the rates charges billed in respect of the rating category and value determined by the municipal valuer is unlawful. Notwithstanding this, which has been explained to various officials many times over the years, the city’s rates and/or billing departments continue to interfere.

“For several years now we have been fighting the city in cases where the rates department unilaterally, and without following legal procedures, simply changes the tariff from residential to business, on the basis that their property, although being used for residential purposes, was zoned business.”

When one files an objection/appeal to information on the property roll, residents are objecting/appealing the property’s categorisation or value, yet the city’s rates department has created tariff change application forms, and it tells people who are being billed on the incorrect rating category to complete these. This too was unlawful, she said.

Also, the rates department makes this process available only to some consumers, such as those where a sectional title property is billed on business rates because of certain zonings.

Gladwin also has reports of officials being rude to residents who complained, threatening to increase the value of the property.

The city, however, says it applied the new property rates policy since July 1 this year.

“It’s factually incorrect to say the city is using the old policy to charge property rates. The policy states all rateable property will be classified in a category and will be rated based on the category of the property from the valuation roll, which is based on the permitted use of the property,” said revenue department spokesperson Kgamanyane Stan Maphologela.

The policy says that where a property is used for residential purposes, notwithstanding that it is zoned for any other purpose, the owner of such property may apply for residential rates, which will apply.

“The city doesn’t interfere with zoning. Once the residential tariff is granted, it doesn’t affect the zoning at all. For instance, if your zoning was business, and the property owner applies to use the property for residential, only the usage right changes to residential, but the zoning still remains as business.”

At no stage would the city unilaterally change the customer’s tariff without consent, Maphologela said. The rates policy was a public document available to everyone. Customers who were victims of harassment should immediately report those incidents.

He added building inspectors had the right to visit properties to determine the use of properties, whether they were being used for residential or business.

Gladwin, however, said that in its response, the council was avoiding the core issue - that it was unlawful for the city to adopt a policy that gave it the right to change a person’s tariff without a corresponding change in rating categorisation.

“It simply forges ahead assuming that what it is doing is lawful, when none of the laws give the city the right to change the tariff. The city’s response actually acknowledges that it is changing the tariff and not the category.

“We have a number of cases in our offices where the city changed our clients from a tariff to the ‘illegal use tariff’ because their building plans/zoning were not lawfully compliant. We are fighting this in court,” she said.

The city annually conducts a public participation process and runs education campaigns on rates.

This information is on the city’s website.

The Star