Residents take City of Joburg to court for allegedly hiking sewer rates
Momentum for the class action against the City of Joburg over changes in sewer rates for blocks of flats, is growing rapidly as more and more residents are receiving hugely-inflated sewer bills.
It is estimated some 300 blocks of flats were affected when owners and body corporates suddenly found themselves with shock hikes from July 1.
The city advised many sectional title body corporates it had adjusted their municipal accounts to “change the sewer tariff from ‘block of flats’ to ‘multi-dwelling’”.
In several cases that we have seen, this has resulted in body corporates being charged several hundred thousands of rand of backdated charges, for the financial years of 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Attorney Chantelle Gladwin Wood said her firm was dealing with about 50 cases.
“We will start legal action for 30 blocks as soon as the 42-day period of objection is over, which will be within the next few weeks. We are investigating another 20 who may join the class action.
“Momentum is gathering, but even before we launched the class action, many blocks have received reversals after our intervention. We are busy with the letters of demand and appeals which take around 42 business days to process. If there is no change we will thereafter institute court action – but we have not yet instituted as this time period has not passed for any of the affected parties and we are still in the ‘query’ or ‘dispute’ phase of the proceedings,” she said.
There are two issues: For the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial year, sewer rates did not depend on the value of the units, but only on whether there was one or more large buildings with communal entrances. However, she said, the city had wrongly categorised all, or only some of the units in the scheme/blocks, as multi-dwelling when they should have been blocks of flats for the 2019/20 and 2020/21 year – this depends on the value of each of the units/flats as well as some other riders, as contained in the tariffs, she said.
The legal action will raise a the dispute with the city about cut-offs; raise an appeal with the city’s municipal manager if the issue is not satisfactorily resolved when the appeal falls due and launch a court application, together with other affected parties, to order the city to adjust the accounts and remove the incorrect billing, raise the fact that the city wrongly categorised the flats.
The city did not respond to a request for comment, but earlier said the charges for sewer were retrospectively corrected to align sewer billing with council-approved tariffs.
City spokesperson Kgamanyane Maphologela said the city had conducted an audit on a number of properties to ensure revenue completeness and accuracy and the outcome revealed the sewer/water tariff charged on certain properties was not in line with the council approved tariffs description as published.
He said customers had been notified of all these pending amendments by letter.
Anyone facing financial difficulty in paying the new rates should enter into a payment plan through the customer service centres across the city or via email at [email protected] org.za