By Tanya Waterworth

Ralph and Marjorie Robinson have to wake up at 2am every day to collect a little cold water, which may or may not trickle out of the taps.

They are both disabled, so it's always a battle for them to get down 10 flights of stairs because the lifts in their building have not worked for months.

They are just two of the residents in a Durban block of flats whose lives have turned into a "living hell".

The electricity at Elwyn Court on Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road was cut off last June. This means the lifts don't work and there is complete darkness at night.

Now the water supply has become erratic.

One resident, Cynthia Vasagan, also disabled, has not left her flat for seven months because she cannot get down the stairs.

Pensioner Corrie Bergh was badly burnt last week when she spilt boiling water down her legs while trying to carry it from her stove to the bathroom.

"I also have to walk up and down 10 flights of stairs to go and buy bread, which is very painful," said Bergh.

Floors seven to 11 are particularly badly affected by the lack of water and residents say the water normally comes on for an hour or two in the middle of the night.

"Water comes on once - normally in the middle of the night, so we wait up for it.

"By the time I have collected water in two-litre bottles and gone to sleep, the early morning traffic is starting.

"It's very tiring," said resident Ralph Robinson.

"And without the lifts working, I have to go down the stairs on my backside, which is sore from going up and down 10 flights of stairs for the last six months.

"I also have to pay people R20 a time to carry my wife up or down the stairs.

"I am always on time with my levy and all my payments are up to date, so I am pleading for help."

The fire hydrants on the affected floors have also run dry.

The plight of pensioners and disabled people living in Elwyn Court was first highlighted by our sister paper, the Daily News, when the lifts stopped working.

Since then there have been accusations by the residents of mismanagement by the managing agent, Ravi Moodley, from Amerada Property Management, as well as a lack of financial statements and substantiating documents.

Resident Victor King said: "We tried to form a committee and fire the managing agent, but he would not hand over any documentation.

"We wanted to see what he was doing with our money, but there have been no financial statements for four years."

In September, the eThekwini Municipality was called in to assist. A municipal task team was set up and two eThekwini officials were appointed as trustees to manage a new account for levy payments.

But six months have passed and the lifts are still not working and the water supply has been disrupted.

The day after The Saturday Star visited the premises and took photographs, the residents received a letter from the body corporate advising them that individual water meters were going to be installed.

No dates, times or amounts were specified, but body corporate trustee Dan Parusram, from eThekwini Municipality, confirmed the planned installation of water meters. The body corporate would have to pay for them, but he said it was still in "a dire financial crisis".

"Levies are outstanding to the tune of R1.2 million," said Parusram.

"Added to that, there is a culture of non-payment by residents, with more than half the residents not paying for their electricity and water. There is also a lot of overcrowding in that block, with up to 10 to 12 people staying in a flat."

He said that an audit was under way and the next annual meeting was expected to be held next month or in April.

Moodley declined to comment and referred all matters to the trustees.

It also came to light that there are at least two other buildings under his management in Durban, Raynor House and Emerald Park, both of which are experiencing similar problems.

Attorneys Sigamoney Incorporated, acting on behalf of Emerald Park, said this week that High Court action was imminent.

Ineffective management sparks blocks' crises

Many flat owners in Durban's inner city are caught up in the financial mess caused by residents not paying their levies and general mismanagement of blocks.

But Organisation of Civic Rights chairman Sayed Iqbal Mohamed said changes at national government level with regard to sectional title ownership were in the pipeline.

He said an independent body, the Community Scheme Ombud would be introduced.

The Community Scheme Ombud Service Bill was published late last year for public comment.

"The idea is to provide sectional titles owners with a speedy and cost effective dispute-resolution mechanism, which is long overdue. Also, the Sectional Title Schemes Management Bill 2009, once it is passed by Parliament, will bring all sectional title schemes under the Department of Human Settlements," said Mohamed.

With regard to the plight of owners in Elwyn Court, Mohamed said: "Elwyn Court is one of many sectional title blocks that has failed because there is no proper or effective management of the scheme.

"Nationally, we have no fall-back or rescue plans for individuals and families facing difficult times and no attention is ever given to physically-challenged people.

"We need to look at alternate forms of tenure that will provide a practical solution for South Africans."

Mohamed added: "In the meantime, the residents/owners at Elwyn Court will need to approach the High Court to have an administrator appointed.

"This will mean more levies, including special levies, to save the scheme.

"However, the appointment of an administrator does not necessarily mean that the scheme is saved.

"There are instances where the administrator has absconded with levies."