Slumlords beware... By-law passed on problem buildings

The by-law has taken years to finally make it to the council

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality is a step closer towards shutting down derelict and dangerous buildings in the city after its problem buildings by-law was passed by the council this week.
The by-law has taken years to finally make it to the council, with a lengthy public participation process. Delays and several council meeting disruptions since March meant that the city could not adopt the new problem buildings by-law for months even though it was ready for approval.
The by-law will, however, come into full effect once it is endorsed and gazetted by the Eastern Cape government.
The metro plans to use the by-law to rejuvenate the city centre and force property owners to either demolish or fix their rundown buildings.
Up until now, the municipality had no official law that allowed it to force property owners to revamp their derelict buildings, which have become havens for criminals.
Once gazetted, the by-law gives the municipality the power to order building owners to clean, repair, renovate, repaint, alter, close, demolish or secure problem buildings.
The by-law also states that offences and penalties could see the landlord liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.
In addition, the landlord would be liable for all costs incurred by the municipality, including legal costs.
The new law will also affect overgrown open plots and overcrowded accommodation, while it also gives police the power to lodge a complaint with the city’s human settlements department.
Human settlements boss Nolwandle Gqiba on Friday said its lawyers, who were on standby waiting for the by-law to be passed, could now finally act.
“Now that council has passed the by-law, we can start actioning everything that had been on hold from our side.”
Gqiba said the municipality ’s lawyers had served errant property owners with notices.
“Now we are able to use the by-law and its contents as law now.
“The sooner property owners familiarise themselves with it, the better for them,” Gqiba said.
He said officials would take the necessary action to arrest some property owners. The municipality had sent notifications to the owners of buildings in Victoria Street, including the Victoria Hotel, two abandoned buildings on Military Road, and the Premium Mill building along Victoria Quay.
Transnet and the provincial department of education were also among the property owners that had been issued with notices.
Senior building inspector Phumza Gwabeni on Friday revealed that Transnet, which had been served with a letter of demand in July to demolish derelict historic houses owned by the parastatal across the road from the South End Museum or face legal action, had not responded.
“Transnet has not come back to us, so we are moving ahead with legal action against them.”
Gwabeni said the city would be approaching the Port Elizabeth High Court to force Transnet to demolish the buildings.
“This by-law will extend our muscle in terms of future cases, especially the buildings we had identified as having unhygienic or overcrowding issues. Those issues were not catered for in the [previous] legislation,” Gwabeni said.

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