Dilemma over non-compliant commercial buildings


City of Harare spokesman, Michael Chideme

Cyril Zenda

THE Harare City Council has intensified efforts to ensure that commercial property owners comply with safety requirements by demanding that the owners make their properties’ certificates of occupation available for inspection.
A certificate of occupation is a document issued by engineers within local authorities confirming that the properties comply with set safety standards.
All public building should comply with the highest civil, structural as well as fire management (among other) standards to avoid disasters that could occur if any of these standards are not strictly adhered to.
The city recently issued public notices, asking all commercial property owners to make available for inspection the occupation certificates for their properties and that those whose certificates had expired should seek their renewal.
Indications are that several commercial properties in the city may not be fully compliant with the safety requirements although this could not be verified with the city spokesman, Michael Chideme, who had not responded to questions sent to him in July this year.
The Financial Gazette was particularly curious to establish the status of the headquarters of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, formerly known as Quantum Mahachi House, an eight-floor structure whose external staircase on the western wing was never completed.
Experts say failure to complete the staircase puts the occupants in grave danger in cases of emergencies when the use of elevators and or the internal staircase is discouraged.
“I am looking into the matter, I will update,” Chideme said when he acknowledged receipt of written questions from the Financial Gazette.
However, as of this week, Chideme had not been able to furnish this newspaper with the requested details, including how much owners whose properties were operating without valid occupation certificates would be fined.
Quantum Mahachi Building, situated at Number 1 Nelson Mandela Avenue, was curiously sold to the Ministry of Justice for US$6,3 million in 2010 by Michael Mahachi, the former chairman of a Commission that ran the city for more than five-years, in a deal that later turned out to be irregular at law.
It is unclear whether Mahachi’s position as Harare Commission chairperson could have had a bearing on the property being put to public use despite glaring shortcomings.
The City of Harare has also refused to issue the Celebration Centre Church building in Borrowdale with a certificate of occupation arguing that the mammoth structure was constructed without municipal approval and has been operating illegally since 2006.
The city’s fire department maintains that certain material used to construct the gigantic auditorium rendered the building a fire hazard, as they do not meet model-building by-laws, which is a set of construction standards on safety.
“Once that process (of complying with the set building standards) is done, the owners will be issued with a certificate of occupation.
“The work involves a fire rating assessment of the building material to establish how long it takes to evacuate the 3 000-seater building in the event of a fire,” the city’s corporate communications division was quoted in the media as saying last year.
“We therefore condemned the building and issued a notice that the building was in use at owner’s risk. The city has not issued the owners with a certificate of occupation.”
It was suggested by the city’s fire department that the church erects a plaque at its entrance warning members of the public to enter at their own risk.
Of late, the City of Harare has been razing down illegally built structures in the capital, until the courts ordered a halt to the demolitions.