City of Joburg to expropriate derelict buildings

“In light of our plans to ensure the rejuvenation of the inner city of Joburg and to ensure that we are able to develop quality low-cost housing, student accommodation, and affordable rental space for small businesses, the City of Joburg is commencing with plans to expropriate derelict buildings in the inner city,” said Executive Mayor for the City of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba

As of 30 December 2017, 265 alleged hijacked buildings have been reported to the City and the matters are at various stages of investigation.

The City’s Group Forensics and Investigations Services (GFIS) Unit has made many inroads into the scourge of property hijackings in the inner city. Some of the highlights of work done by this Unit over the past eight months include:

  • 15 property hijackers have been arrested;
  • 12 properties have been returned to owners;
  • Nine criminal dockets are currently before the Courts; and
  • In December 2017, a property hijacker and his accomplice (an attorney) were convicted of fraud and sentenced to 15 years and 8 years in prison respectively.

To ensure that this challenge is addressed holistically, it is imperative that cases of property hijackings are dealt with both criminally and civilly. The process includes the criminal prosecution of the hijackers, as well as civil litigation to address the issues of bylaw compliance as well as the City potentially taking over ownership of these buildings.

48 matters are currently being investigated by the City for civil proceedings such as expropriation, declaratory orders, attachment of debts, and abandonment agreements. The outcome of the investigations will guide the most suitable action that will be taken by the City in dealing with these buildings.

The redevelopment of such properties will greatly assist the City in enhancing access to low cost, affordable housing for our residents close to economic opportunities.

It is common knowledge that the City of Johannesburg is facing a housing crisis, highlighted by the following statistics:

  •  Estimated 300 000 housing unit backlog;
  • 158 000 individuals on the housing waiting list;
  • Estimated 190 informal settlements; and
  • Estimated 3000 individuals migrating to Johannesburg per month.

It is therefore key for us to find new, innovative ways to address this crisis.

Unfortunately, some properties have been abandoned and owners cannot be traced. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the City to ensure compliance with applicable by-laws, which in turn contributes to the degradation of the urban environment.

Far too many residents living in these derelict buildings, are forced to survive under inhabitable and inhumane conditions, infringing on their rights to dignity.

Where the owners of hijacked buildings cannot be located despite a diligent search, the City intends to bring an application for a declaratory order to declare that the property has been abandoned and directing the Registrar of Deeds to register the property in the name of the State or its nominee.

“To this end, I had written to the former Minister of Public Works, Mr. Nathi Nhleko, to request that an agreement be concluded with the Department of Public Works, in which the Department will name the City as its nominee for the transfer of these abandoned properties in Johannesburg,” Mashaba continued.

“I can confirm that the former Minister’s office had received our correspondence and was in the process of considering the matter. Given recent political shifts within the Department, I hope that the new Minister of Public Works, Mr Thulas Nxesi, will give our request his full attention, as a matter of urgency.”

This will ensure that the City is able to expedite the redevelopment of these properties for the benefit of our poorest residents.

Where owners of hijacked properties can be found, the City will consider entering into compliance agreements whereby the owners are willing and able to cooperate with the City to revamp their properties. Should these property owners be unwilling to enter into such agreements, the City will not hesitate to commence expropriation proceedings in Court.

“After decades of flagrant neglect and a lack of political will to deal with criminality in the inner city, this administration is determined to transform the inner city of Joburg into a safe and habitable place for our residents to live work and play,” he concluded.

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