The ongoing debacle regarding inner city decay in Pretoria central, took another turn on Friday, with rental agencies placing the blame at the door of the property owners who contracted them to administer the properties, and pocket the monthly rentals.
Rental agency Huurkor, which manages a large profile of residential apartments in the city centre, is widely accused by tenants of prioritising the collection of rentals but turning a blind eye to the derelict structure which many families call home in the city centre.
“We manage property on behalf of owners, who pay us a commission on the rent received. Huurkor has a maintenance department which handles any and all maintenance issues reported by residents,” said Huurkor director for the rental department, Pieter Smith
“However, there are individuals [apartment owners] who do not renovate their property when faults are brought under their attention. We notify the property owner of any maintenance issues reported by his/her tenant, and can only act on the owners’ instruction.”
He said apartment applicants “are advised before signing [lease contracts], that faults are not to be fixed without consent from the owner”.
Smith said some property were so dilapidated to the extent that owners had to be notified that their apartments were removed from the rental agency’s “advertising list due to much needed maintenance, as Huurkor found the conditions unacceptable and not up to standard”.
Some of the property owners have not set foot at their properties in decades. Some are based in foreign countries but receive their monthly dues.
Smith did not respond to questions regarding the overcrowding of the apartments due to its tenants sub-letting to other tenants, desperate for a roof over their heads.
On Thursday, Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga weighed in on the matter, threatened that the municipality would revamp the numerous derelict buildings and pass the hefty bills to the owners.
“We want to attract investment. We want this city to be a place where people can play, live and work. You cannot do that if one building is up to standard but the next building looks like a slum. We are going to have to clean that. What causes to have things like that is having 20 people sharing a two-bedroom flat. We are going to check and correct on that,” said Msimanga.
“We are also going to engage with property owners. We give them a time frame to fix and upgrade their buildings. Failure to do that, the city will do it and they will get the bill. It doesn’t help to have people staying in [plush suburbs] renting out these properties but they don’t even care what is happening.”
“We’ve identified a number of buildings owned by people who are no longer in the country, who receive rent at the end of each month, but they don’t care whether there is maintenance or no maintenance of their buildings.”
Countless property management companies have mushroomed in Pretoria due to the high demand of CBD apartments by students enrolled at numerous tertiary institutions in the city, civil servants due to the head offices of government departments being located centrally and many other people from all walks of life.
Numerous tenants in the CBD buildings told the African News Agency (ANA) that some of the buildings they stay in are a health hazard due to perennial non-maintenance and glaring cracks in the old structures worsened by overcrowding. Rentals are high, with a single bedroom apartment attracting rental of around R4,000 per month, excluding electricity and water bills.
At some of the buildings, walls were peeling off with a strong stench of garbage from uncollected trash. Elevators at some units are a luxury, with tenants scurrying in the high rise buildings’ dark, filthy staircases. At one apartment under Huurkor’s profile, tenants complained of rampant criminal activities within the building complex due to lax security.
“Huurkor is taking money from us as tenants, giving the property owners their share and that is the end of the story. By playing middleman in this whole transaction, Huurkor provides leeway for property owners to just pocket money and neglect their obligation to the tenants. Our greatest fear is that these buildings will crumble one day. Maybe at that point government will intervene and hold our landlords accountable,” said one civil servant based the Parkzicht block of flats managed by Huurkor.
To maximise the profits, unscrupulous “landlords” subdivide the standard rooms, resulting in overcrowding and filthy, slum-like conditions right in the heart of South Africa’s capital city, which also accommodates the seat of government, the grand Union Buildings nearby, and the second largest number of embassies in the world after Washington D.C.
Earlier this year, the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in Tshwane led a protest march to Huurkor and Premium Properties offices, demanding a turnaround on the appalling conditions at the apartments. At the time, the rental agencies were accused of charging tenants exorbitant prices, not maintaining the buildings and failing to provide security.
African News Agency