GroundUp (Cape Town)

South Africa: Libertas Flats in Parow Are a Human Pig Sty

On Thursday morning I went to see Libertas Flats in Klosser Street, Parow. This block is a human pig sty. It is filthy and stinks. There are leaking ceilings and walls that seem to have been painted a century ago. Many flats are without water and electricity.

I saw tenants, including children who were missing school, with containers moving up and down the stairs looking for drinking water. A cleaner told me that he comes every Monday and finds the place is a mess. He also said there is no security.

Libertas Flats are managed by a company called Sheerprops 1120 run by a Mr John Mountain. The company also manage other blocks in Parow. Some tenants at Libertas accuse the company of breaching lease contracts and disconnecting water and electricity, but the company denies this and blames the tenants for the situation.

The ceiling in the flat of Pastor Charles Lwamba is leaking so badly that his furniture is soiled and has had to be put against the wall. He has containers all over the floor to try to hold the dripping water but it is hopeless. He said his home has been like that for two months and is not fixed yet. His family, including a three-year-old, are struggling to sleep because of the leaking ceiling. He has been staying in the flat since 2009. At that time the rent was R3,400 per month. Now he pays R5,100. When he refused to pay rent and asked the block manager to fix it first, he says the management company disconnected his electricity. The managing company replaced the municipality metre box with his own. "With the municipality meter box, I could buy electricity in every shop and it was affordable. For example for R50 electricity one would get 50 units." Now he says he only gets 33 units per R50 and can only buy vouchers at a few supermarkets. "For this reason I am now using gas for cooking and electricity for light only. It is difficult for me to move out because they said I should paint the place first but when I moved into the flat it was filthy. If I do not paint, I will lose my deposit," he said.

Another tenant who did not want to be named, said that when she moved in, the flat was dirty. She cleaned, bought paint and repaired the cupboards. Three months after moving in the building managers replaced the City Council meter box and asked her to pay R10,000 electricity arrears left by another tenant who moved out. She showed me the bill which is a different name to hers. Yet her name is on the lease. When she disputed paying the arrears, her electricity was disconnected. The block's caretaker said she should move out if she does not want to finish paying the R10,000 arrears. But she is still owed her R4,000 deposit. I saw lease agreements, the disputed bill in arrears from the previous tenant and letters from Sheerprops demanding payment for the arrears.

Sheerprops building manager, Julie Beresford denied the allegations against the company. She said she is aware of the leaking and water problems and that Sheerprops is busy working on it. She explained that the problem is that the water storage tank on the roof and pipes were stolen due to lack of security. When asked why there is no security, she said they were working on it. Next week, she said, the company will put a fence around the building and hire security which will guard it during the night and day. She said the building is targeted because it is near the flea market where there are a lot of people during the day.

She says that when tenants moved in, their flats were clean. "Our main problem is that, sometimes, tenants move in without our knowledge." She explained that if tenants move in and take over an existing lease, the new tenants are responsible for the bills left by the ones they have taken over from. She gave several examples of tenants breaking the rules, including one tenant overcrowding her flat. One tenant was a drug dealer who had to be evicted. Another tenant has been given notice but is refusing to move.

In an email to GroundUp John Mountain said that all actions taken by the company have been completely lawful and that correct procedures are followed. He also said that when any flat is handed over to a new tenant, it is clean and freshly painted and all the services are functional.

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