‘We suspect it is a hijacked building’

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‘We suspect it is a hijacked building’

City of Joburg investigates building owner after wall collapses on three children

Journalist

The City of Johannesburg suspects the building where a wall partially collapsed on three children on Monday is one of many hijacked buildings in the inner city. 
Victoria Rammala, the city’s head of property hijacking investigations, said there were currently 438 complaints of hijacked buildings under investigation in inner Johannesburg and in southern areas such as Turffontein and Rosettenville.  
She said investigations on Monday showed that a Mr Selfick was the registered owner of the building in 39 Davies Street where the collapse that killed three children happened.
Rammala said Selfick owned several buildings and had obtained eviction orders for many of the properties he owned on that street block. But because he was unable to provide temporary accommodation for residents the Socio-Economic Rights Institute had successfully opposed most of the eviction orders.As the law requires building owners or the City of Johannesburg to provide alternative accommodation, Selfick could not evict the residents so that he could fix the buildings.
But at the scene of the collapse several residents said a man named Johannes Ngcobo  was the owner. Ngcobo told Times Select he had been unable to fix the building because there were disputes over its ownership. Tenants pay him up to R600 per month to live there.
Rammala said the city believed that Ngcobo had hijacked the building, saying he is “not the legitimate owner”.
She said the docket surrounding the investigation of the hijacking of this particular building was with the National Prosecuting Authority which had yet to decide if it would pursue further action.
Rammala said the number of hijacked buildings could be even higher.
“We have community sessions whereby we try and educate people about information modus operandi on how property is hijacked. Once we have sessions get more complaints.”
But evicting residents means either the owner or the City of Johannesburg has to provide housing to the indigent people. If the owner cannot provide housing when it gets an eviction order it can take the City of Johannesburg to court to do so.
Asked why it could not find alternative accommodation for  those living in hijacked buildings, Rammala said the city did not have enough space to house the tenants.
It was impossible to say how many people lived in these hijacked buildings that needed accommodation, she added.Mayor Herman Mashaba has previously said the City of Johannesburg had a backlog to provide housing to at least 300,000 people. It is estimated 3,000 people move into Johannesburg each month. 
The hijacked buildings also cost the city because most of the hijacked buildings used illegal electricity collections so it didn’t collect rates and taxes.
The city was trying to deal with the problem, said Rammala. It was the “only municipality” with a dedicated unit to illegal buildings.  She said it had a number of ways it was trying to address the problem:

It has 16 cases at Johannesburg high court against suspected property hijackers who collect money from  tenants for buildings they don’t own. Last year a property hijacker and an accomplice, who was a lawyer, were jailed for 15 years and eight years respectively.
It has also helped 22 legitimate owners who approached them for support reclaim hijacked buildings.
The city had “released” 13 buildings owned by the City of Johannesburg to developers to develop the buildings for low cost housing in October.

It wants to provide housing for about R600 and R700 a month, the same amount that some of people in buildings pay a month to live in “squalor”, said Rammala.
“They can be paying the same as they do to hijackers but live in a much better facility.”
In order to take control of more buildings to lease to developers for low-cost housing, the city wants to take ownership of abandoned buildings when the real owners cannot be traced.It wants to be able to approach the court for an order that the building be transferred into the City of Johannesburg.
The city asked former Public Works minister Nathi Nhleko in February for the government to allow the city to be the “nominee” for abandoned buildings.  Rammala received a response the next day saying they would consider the request. But Rammala said nothing further has been heard.
Mashaba has said he hoped new Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi would give the request his full attention. The mayor said housing was a provincial and national competency and the city required support to meet the needs of residents...

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