Crummy buildings not welcome

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Sabrina Dean & Mariné Jacobs

Peeling paint, crumbling walls, broken windows, graffiti – we’ve all seen the signs and symptoms of dilapidation on the once fair features of our city landscapes.  Ask your grandmother and she’s likely to tell you how in her day, that derelict old hovel was the most state-of-the-art building in town. Now, many of these relics of the past are just biding their time until they are demolished to make way for new “state-of-the-art” developments.

But is it acceptable for them to just crumble away into a state of disrepair while waiting for redevelopment plans to come to fruition?
Several readers have contacted Courant over the last few months about derelict or entirely vacant buildings in Bloemfontein, particularly in the Westdene area. We took a look at what the law says about the rights and responsibilities of property owners.
Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality spokesperson Qondile Khedama said the municipality can take action against the owners of a building if it is dilapidated and in contravention of municipal by-laws.  He said legal action can be taken against owners in terms of Section 12 of the National Building Standards and Regulations Act 103 of 1997.

However, Khedama also said the municipal by-laws are still under review after the local municipality changed to a Metro in 2011. He did not clarify whether the old by-laws are still being followed, or if no by-laws are in place until the review is complete. In response to a question on whether or not vacant buildings provide a breeding ground for criminal elements, Khedama said: “These buildings still belong to their respective owners and the municipality cannot be expected to provide security.” Property management expert and author of The Landlord, Mike Spencer, told Courant that a lack of general law enforcement by local authorities in Bloemfontein leads to businesses unlawfully springing up in a whole host of residential areas. “The town planning scheme is virtually unobtainable and there is almost no enforcement of zoning laws,” said Spencer.

Khedama denied this, saying there is enforcement and matters are referred to court for prosecution. Spencer did, however, allay concerns over possible criminal activities. He told Courant he is a member of the community policing forum and the subject of criminal activity in abandoned buildings has never come up. Spencer also confirmed that owners are responsible for the maintenance of buildings, even if they are vacant. He said the six empty buildings in Westdene – which BFN residents asked Courant about – will soon be demolished and redeveloped.

Khedama confirmed this and said demolition should begin within the next few months. “Nobody wants a vacant building; it is a matter of supply and demand. That is why constant development is needed to keep the properties relevant and keep the city growing,” said Khedama.