The top floor of an apartment is completely torched in Natal Street Yeoville yet the building is inhabited just a few hours after the fire.
Picture: Timothy Bernard
17.02.2012
The top floor of an apartment is completely torched in Natal Street Yeoville yet the building is inhabited just a few hours after the fire. Picture: Timothy Bernard 17.02.2012

Building blaze in Yeoville leaves residents homeless

Time of article published Feb 21, 2012

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THERESA TAYLOR

An illegally occupied building in Yeoville with a sordid history has been ravaged by fire, leaving its 40 residents without safe accommodation.

Last Friday, in the early hours of the morning, the top floor of Esshill Court on Natal Street caught fire after a woman and her boyfriend allegedly knocked over a candle during an argument. The entire floor was destroyed.

But even before the fire, the building was in a sorry state. In 2009 the owner, Mary Chao, was murdered in the house after she attempted to regain ownership of it from hijackers who had moved in while she was on holiday.

Since then, occupants of the overcrowded building have not paid rent to any party, as hijackers abandoned it after the murder.

There were no lights or water, toilets were blocked and a terrible smell hung in the air.

Accustomed to living in a state of chaos, residents of the bottom floor of the building intend staying on, despite water pouring through the ceiling because of a broken roof.

Buildings like this one are just one of many in Yeoville’s scarred landscape. Ward councillor Carlos Da Rocha said the building was the second overcrowded building in his ward to burn in the past two weeks.

These events maintain Yeoville’s status as a transitional suburb, a place to stay in just long enough to find somewhere better to go.

“These days there are very few people moving into Yeoville thinking: ‘I want to buy a house here,’ ” says Maurice Smithers, director of the Yeoville Bellevue Community Development Trust and a resident of Yeoville since the 1980s.

The problem began in the 1990s when Yeoville’s majority white population began leaving the suburb. Banks red-lined the area, meaning 100 percent bonds were not given on houses, making them difficult to sell.

This left a generation of what Smithers calls “reluctant landlords”.

Properties declined and tenants had less and less of an attachment to removed landlords. Tenants were easy targets for hijackers to bamboozle, with fake lawyers, court documents and change of ownership papers or hijackers simply took a hard line and kicked all the current tenants out or threatened to cut services.

Once out of the hands of their owners, properties quickly fell into further decline. Both Smithers and Da Rocha said they couldn’t put a figure on how badly the problem of hijacked and illegally occupied buildings was affecting Yeoville. But they know it’s bad.

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