Flat tenant accused of using water for business

A Port Elizabeth businessman who rents out water fountains is facing eviction from his rented accommodation after allegedly being caught on camera leaving the flat with hundreds of litres of water over the past three months.

While Pure Water Solutions director Michael Bilsbury insists he has been using the water for “personal use” such as camping and complimentary gifts for clients, the municipality says he is clearly abusing the system at the height of a water crisis.

CCTV footage allegedly shows Bilsbury walking into the Aston Lofts building in Heugh Road, Walmer, carrying empty 18-litre bottles and later emerging with the bottles filled with water.

A neighbour has also seen him allegedly doing the same thing up to 15 times a day. His water usage is included in his rental amount. The cameras have also captured Bilsbury allegedly loading the bottles into his Pure Water Solutions branded van.

In a letter to property rental agent Stay Today, Aston Lofts property owner Mark Gaskin said he had received a complaint on Friday that Bilsbury was running a business from his flat.

“I investigated and confirmed via the CCTV security cameras that the tenant has been refilling large water fountain containers with the tap water from my residential property,” Gaskin said.

He immediately requested that the rental agent send a letter to Bilsbury.

Gaskin said Bilsbury was in breach of his lease agreement as he had allegedly been running his business from the flat.

“The tenant has been in breach of the lease since occupying the premises as the CCTV footage shows this activity has been ongoing since October 2017,” Gaskin wrote.

He said that should Bilsbury not move out, he would lay a criminal complaint of theft.

Stay Today agent Peggy Zwaan declined to comment yesterday.

However, Zwaan sent the letter to Bilsbury last week, ordering him to stop what he was doing immediately.

Bilsbury wrote back, saying: “It wasn’t many [bottles], but I understand. I will make other arrangements for those.”

A resident in the block of flats, who asked not to be named, said she had seen Bilsbury remove water from his flat several times a day since she moved into her flat in October.

She said Bilsbury would walk in and out of his flat between 10 and 15 times every day, carrying the filled 18-litre bottles of water to his car.

“I have seen this happening on a daily basis – he comes and he goes and he comes and he goes,” the woman said.

Bilsbury denied the allegations yesterday, saying he had only taken water from his apartment about twice.

Asked if he thought using more water amid tight water restrictions was right, Bilsbury said: “I am allowed to drink water myself – if you go camping you need water, don’t you?”

Bilsbury also said he had been giving the water for free to clients who were renting his water fountains as a courtesy gift “on the house”.

“This is not a huge thing – it was just something extra when you buy a [fountain] machine,” he said.

“I see nothing wrong with this as no water was being wasted.”

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip said: “Business people are not allowed to trade or transact with municipal water – even if you are giving it away as a gift, it is an offence.

“He [Bilsbury] is clearly overusing his daily allowance as we are restricting domestic residences to a certain amount a day – and this guy giving water to his clients, he is clearly exceeding his daily limit.”

Trollip said it should also be regarded as misrepresentation and abuse of municipal resources set aside for domestic use.

“These allegations are very serious,” he said.

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