New approach to problem sites

The incomplete block of flats in Lansdowne Road, near Wetton Circle, has come under the spotlight again, after the City of Cape Town proposed amendments to its Problem Building By-law.

While the City of Cape deliberates on whether to approve amendments to its Problem Building By-law, it is hoped that once approved, it will help to expedite resolving cases involving problem buildings like the incomplete block of flats in Lansdowne.

The Athlone News first reported on the unfinished building eight years ago, after a 12-year-old girl was allegedly raped there (“Derelict building problem”, April 13, 2011). Reports of other criminal activities, such as drug abuse and prostitutes taking their clients there, have also since emerged.

The construction of the building, situated in Lansdowne Road, near Wetton Circle, started back in August 2009, and in 2011 construction stopped because the owners ran out of funds.

Should the City’s full council approve the amendments, the problem building unit will be granted greater powers in dealing with problem buildings, including securing court orders to evict illegal occupants.

Other amendments, if approved, will also make provision for clearly spelling out the duty and liability of property owners in relation to their properties, making provision for a court-appointed administrator in cases of deceased estates without an executor and increasing the monetary value of fines that can be imposed for non-compliance.

The City’s mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt, said the City was investigating the matter, adding that a notice to resume or complete building work had been served on the property owner in June 2015.

“To date the building work has not been completed in accordance with the approved building plan,”she added.

According to the Athlone News reports during 2011, however, the 2015 notice served on the owners, was not the first one.

The reports state that the City served a notice to complete the building by April 28, 2011, and in May 2011, the City was in the process of serving the owners with a second notice.

According to the then acting director for the City’s planning and building development management, Jaco van der Westhuizen, the second notice would have caused the validity of the building plan to lapse and would require the building to be demolished and all building material and rubble to be removed from the site.

The City at the time, consulted with its legal department about the matter.

The only difference between now and eight years ago, is that a boundary wall had been erected around the building.

Ms Nieuwoudt said the City cannot demolish a building which is located on privately-owned land.

Ward 60 councillor, Mark Kleinschmidt, said he was aware of, and had received complaints from residents about the building. He is of the opinion that “if a building is not utilised, it must be thrown down”.

“A derelict building can attract anti-social behaviour and can become a cesspool for crime.

“The incomplete building in Lansdowne Road is not the only concern. There is another dwelling, on the corner of Alma and Highgrove roads, which is also a problem building,” Mr Kleinschmidt said.

It is hoped that the proposed amendments will help to expedite cases involving problem buildings like these. The public participation period came to an end last month.

Ms Nieuwoudt said its district office was not aware of any official complaints regarding the incomplete building which had been submitted after the initial notice was served.

The City’s problem building unit has a case load of 1 671 properties that are in various stages of investigation, with 172 properties that have been declared as problem buildings on its database.

Athlone News’ numerous attempts to make contact with the owners of the property were unsuccessful.