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The City of Cape Town’s Problem Building Unit has seen an increase in the number of cases closed as a result of compliance from property owners, but its caseload continues to grow.

The Unit was established in 2011 to give effect to the City’s Problem Building by-law approved by Council in 2010 which aimed to decrease the number of derelict and vandalized buildings within the city.

To date, it has closed 713 cases – 40 of those between January and March this year, compared to nine in 2017. Some of its notable successes include the turnaround strategy for the once notorious Senator Park in Cape Town’s central business district and securing its first ever demolition order for a problem building in Somerset West in March 2017.

Currently, the Unit’s caseload stands at 2 314, of which more than 80% relates to privately owned property. Between January and March, 102 new cases were received for investigation. This caseload is largely attributable to increased awareness through subcouncil presentations and community meetings about the Problem Building by-law and the unit’s ongoing work.

There are many reasons why buildings become a problem. In most cases it’s because owners have abandoned them or they’re absentee landlords. We also find that deceased estates are a challenge and not only in instances where there is no will. There are also cases where there is no executor or the beneficiaries can’t agree on who will take responsibility for a property.

Any abandoned and poorly secured property is at risk of falling into a state of disrepair, but is also vulnerable to squatting by illegal occupants and even criminal elements who cause tremendous hardship for neighbours.

We’re grateful to those property owners who have stepped up and accepted responsibility for securing their buildings and complying with provisions of the by-law. However, it would be preferred if property owners took proactive steps to avoid falling foul of the by-law to begin with. An investigation into determining whether a property is a problem building is onerous, time-consuming and frustrating at times as we struggle to track down owners while managing expectations from the surrounding community who has to live with the problem.

In fact, we have amended the by-law to make it more effective and expedite investigations into problem buildings. This includes scope to turn to the courts to appoint administrators for deceased estates as well as to expedite the expropriation of properties where circumstances warrant it. We hope to have the amendments come into effect before the end of the year.

It is also worth reminding communities that not all buildings with problems are problem buildings. Very often, complaints are referred to the Problem Building Unit, adding to the caseload, when in fact the problem should be addressed by another City department, based on the criteria below:

Abandoned by the owner Overgrown vegetation
Derelict in appearance Unpainted house
Overcrowded and posing a health risk Derelict vehicles on a property
Illegal occupation Unlawful business
Written complaints in respect of criminal activity like drug dealing and prostitution Land invasion
Accumulated refuse or waste material that is dumped, stored or deposited on the property Construction site
Threat or danger to the safety of the general public Loud noise

 The public is encouraged to report any concerns about problem buildings or buildings with problems to the City’s call centre on 0860 103 089.

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