File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - Property hijackings have spread to Joburg’s northern suburbs, causing chaos in Windsor East where between 20 and 30 blocks of flats and individual sectional title units have been hijacked.

The situation is so bad that a group of landlords approached the South Gauteng High Court in Joburg two weeks ago for an interdict preventing the Windsor Community Recovery Movement from intimidating their tenants.

The eviction of tenants who have not been paying the rightful owners their rent is set to start soon.

Ward councillor Bev Weweje has been trying to get the scourge ended at a time when mayor Herman Mashaba is cracking down on slumlords in the Joburg CBD.

The hijackings started in about June when tenants were told by the group, who started targeting neglected buildings in Windsor East which is part of Cresta, to pay their rent to them and not to the landlords.

“Many of these tenants were threatened if they did not do so,” she said.

Weweje added that the group had started with good intentions of ridding the area of slumlords who were overcrowding buildings, but had now become a menace.

“They first appeared as the Robin Hood of the suburb, assisting tenants living in derelict and neglected buildings.

“There are, in fact, many bad buildings in the area where owners take advantage of tenants by overcharging them, which leads to them subdividing their flats and results in overcrowding.

“Many of these flats are also used as shebeens and drug dens,” she said.

But these tenants now face losing their homes or having to pay large amounts of back-dated rental to the legitimate owners.

And the group have also been demanding ownership papers from the landlords.

“We had one owner who co-operated when they demanded to see his proof of ownership.

“He even dropped the rentals from R3800 to R3500 to accommodate them, but they continued harassing the tenants and taking their rent. They appear to now be out of control.”

Weweje said that while the issue of slumlords had to be attended to, the actions of the group were illegal.

“I also don’t believe they are paying the city for services, which makes the situation worse as legitimate owners will find themselves owing thousands for services,” she pointed out.

A few weeks ago, a group of landlords got together and successfully obtained an interdict preventing the group from intimidating their tenants.

Attorney Greg Vermaak, acting for the landlords, said this was a typical hijacking method.

“We got the interdict and we are now proceeding with eviction orders against defaulting tenants. Individually-owned buildings as well as sectional title units are being targeted, especially those in bad condition.

“The tenants are the most vulnerable, especially those where there are absent landlords,” he said.

Vermaak said the movement was targeting bad landlords, yet the committee was claiming that the same landlords did not own the building. This was a contradiction, he said.

He added that the movement has broken the law by accepting rental money, as it was not entitled to the “rent”. Its members could face jail time for these illegal actions, he added.

If people have gripes with landlords, they should go to the Rental Housing Tribunal for resolution, he said.

Mashiteletje Ntsoane, representing the movement, said they would no longer interfere with tenants, but that some of the tenants were approaching the group for assistance with problematic landlords.

“We have been trying to establish the real ownership of these buildings as there are middlemen who are collecting rent from the tenants, and let the buildings slide into decline.

“It is the poor people who suffer the most. Many of these middle- men have produced fake ownership papers obtained from the internet. We want to eliminate them so that rentals can be lowered.

“These tenants are coming to us for assistance, we are no longer going to them since the interdict. The reality is that the rightful owners are also affected by this fraud,” he said.

The Star