15 May 2017

South Africa: Woodstock Families Face Eviction

About a month ago, Delia Fielies, 65, and several of her neighbours were served with an eviction notice to vacate their homes by the end of May for not paying rent.

Fielies has been living at 27 Albert Road in Woodstock for more than 30 years. She is among a group of 19 families facing eviction from a block converted into apartments in Albert Road.

On Tuesday, some of the residents will be in court to appeal the eviction.

Residents accuse the landlord, a Mr Patel (Ahmed Ebrahim, his lawyer, refused to disclose his first name), of neglecting to maintain the property. They say they stopped paying rent after their water was cut nearly a year ago by the municipality due to non-payment by the landlord. Ebrahim disputed this.

According to residents, the water bill was high after they tried dousing two separate fires on the property; one in June 2015, in which a tenant died, and a second fire on 24 December 2016.

Fielies, who works at a clothing factory in the area and lives with her three grandchildren (aged ten and eight and a two-month-old baby), says residents now have to collect water "for a fee" at nearby shops and houses and carry it back to their apartments every day.

"We have to carry water in big plastic cans. I have to roll them on the ground because it's too heavy for me to carry. Before the water was disconnected, we paid our rent every month. After the first fire, we had to hire trucks to remove some of the things [fire debris] ourselves. It was so expensive," she says.

"How can I pay rent if I haven't got water? Water isn't a luxury; it's a necessity," she says.

She says residents are prepared to resume paying their rent if the water is reconnected.

If she is evicted at the end of May, Fielies says she will be forced to squat with her grandchildren in abandoned buildings in Woodstock.

Another resident, Desire Ling, 50, is a single parent who has lived in Albert Road all her life. "I was born here and still live here with my children, but nothing has changed. We have been doing our own maintenance on our homes for years now. Mr Patel has done little to nothing here," she says.

When GroundUp visited the Albert Road property last week, piles of charred rubble still stood in the two burnt out shops in the block. One of the gutted shops, which shares an adjoining wall with Ling's lounge and bedroom, had no doors, windows or a roof and was filled with dirt.

Ling says the fire that occurred on 13 June 2015 was "very traumatic for everyone".

"My family and a lady living upstairs had to vacate our homes. I lived in another lady's lounge for about ten months and the lady upstairs moved to her daughter's place.

"When we moved back, Mr Patel told us to fix the place ourselves. Then, the second fire happened at the shop next door last year. I was affected again. Luckily, no one got hurt. I did what I could, but it became very expensive and I'm a single mother, so it's hard," she says.

Ling says the property was billed around R320,000 for water by the municipality.

"Mr Patel came here six months after the fire happened to view the damage. We told him that we had a rat infestation because of the rubble next door. That is when he told us to fix up the place ourselves. No maintenance has been done for all the years we've been living here," she says.

Ling has been served with a separate eviction notice. She says her legal aid lawyer had pleaded for more time. Ling is due back in court on 29 May.

Ebrahim told GroundUp that the version put forward by residents is "untrue" and that it would be tested by the court.

"It is common that continuous failure to pay rent leaves landlords in a position where they have to fork out tens of thousands of rands for water and municipal accounts abused and run up by tenants who enjoyed the use thereof, but refuse to pay for it," he said.

"We cannot comment further on the matter until a decision is made by the courts," he said.

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