A group of tenants from Shireen Mews, social housing flats in Phoenix, have approached the Durban High Court in a bid to gain the rightful ownership to the properties.
The flats, which were built by Woodglaze Trading, a company linked to businessman Jay Singh, have been at the centre of controversy over ownership since they were built in 2005.
The 164-unit development was part of eThekwini Metro Housing - built on council-owned land for first time home buyers in the low to middle-income groups.
However, they were sold and transferred in 2013 to a company known as Aploflash CC, according to one of its directors Shiraz Mahomed.
This move prompted tenants to boycott paying rent as they claimed the flats were subsidised by the municipality, therefore, could not be sold to a private company without them being given preference.
Mervyn Govender, chairperson of Phoenix Residents’ and Tenants’ Association, said they decided to stop paying rent because the project was turned into a profitable business while the housing plan was to help those who can not afford to buy houses.
He also complained about the state of the flats and the rentals imposed by the new owners. Some of the units have cracked, have broken doors, windows and electric boxes.
In the court papers, the tenants want the municipality to provide contractual terms and conditions with the developers.
They also want the municipality to make infill site land available for the development of low to middle- income earners.
The city is named among the respondents in court papers that were filed last week.
“We have reported the matter to the SIU and Hawks to investigate the illegal transfer of eThekwini Property.
“They take advantage of the fact that we are marginal people, we do not have information about our rights. If you check the municipality’s records, this development was aimed to assist first-time buyers in the low to middle-income groups. They were built on council-owned land - according to the law, such development cannot be sold to a private company.
“Therefore, we decided to stop paying rent because we believe these houses belong to us.
“We want to see all the details of the sale and transfer agreement so we can be satisfied we are paying the right owners,” he said.
But Mahomed denied the development was subsidised with a “rent-to-own” arrangement. He maintained he and his associates were rightful owners of the properties.
Mahomed would not disclose how much he paid to buy the flats. He said he was owed over a R1million for rent by tenants, and as a result, his municipal account was in arrears.
“I had to get an eviction order to get rid of them, so I can get tenants who are willing to pay. I have no information about the rent-to-own arrangement, we are the rightful owners of the properties,” he said.
With regards to the maintenance, Mahomed blamed tenants claiming they “deliberately vandalised” his property because of the feud.
“It is not all tenants who do not pay rent, the majority is paying but only a few who are refusing."
The Sunday Tribune sent a list of questions to the municipality but it had not responded by the time of publication.