New start for Cape Town's former drug den building

Tammy Petersen, News24

Cape Town - It was once one of the most notorious blocks of flats in the CBD. Now, it has finally been removed from the City of Cape Town's list of problem buildings.

Senator Park, previously a drug dealing and prostitution hotspot, was one of the first buildings identified after the adoption of the Problem Building by-law in 2010, said mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

The building itself had been stripped of its doors, windows, light fittings and fire safety equipment.

Despite being unfit for occupation, many of the apartments were occupied by illegal tenants who refused to allow the owners access.

Senator Park was prioritised owing to its location and the extent of the criminal activity taking place, Smith said.

"People were being mugged and even held ransom in this vicinity. Human remains were on one occasion found in a freezer in one of the units.

"The lifts were all out of order as the occupants damaged them in a bid to slow down police as they made their way to the upper storeys during raids," he said.

An eviction order was executed in mid-2011. All occupants, except for five families, were removed from the premises.

But instead of going quietly, tenants opened the taps inside the units and locked the gates behind them, leading to extensive damage caused by the subsequent flooding.

A developer then moved on site to refurbish the building.

An inspection in 2013 by the Problem Building Unit found that while progress had been made, there remained a number of by-law violations, Smith said.

After the inspection on Monday, managing agent Leonard Lowings of L&V Property Services was handed a certificate of compliance to confirm the building would be removed from the list.

When the building was at its worst state, Lowings said units were selling for R240 000.

"Our most recent sale was worth R890 000 for a 40m2 unit. In essence, this [action] has increased the value of the flats by 600%," he said.

Lowings said they were in the process of renaming the building 66 on Keerom to rid it of the negative public image associated with the once notorious Senator Park.

Smith said the Problem Building Unit had a case-load of 652 complaints in various stages of investigation.

"Of those, 171 cases have been declared problem buildings in terms of the by-law," he said.

The aim was to get property owners to act in a manner that mitigated the risks associated with their dwelling or plot and to opt for a cooperative approach before approaching the courts, Smith added.

"However, one of our biggest challenges continues to be tracking down property owners who have absconded. In such instances, the case virtually grinds to a halt.

"We do apply to the courts to take corrective action where necessary, but that too is a time-consuming exercise and we are not always guaranteed that the costs will be recouped from the owner."