Melanie Veness: PCB CEO
Earlier this week, I had a call from a very frustrated local property development manager, requesting some assistance with a matter, and after listening to what he had to say, I can appreciate his fuming. I would be, in his shoes.
He manages a development in the city centre for an outside investor. He tells me that one of the tenants that rents a business premises in the complex, has not paid his rent or his electricity or water account since December last year. They followed the appropriate procedures when the tenant fell into arrears and the account was eventually handed over to attorneys for collection, who in turn submitted the matter to the Pietermaritzburg Magistrates Court for judgement in early February. They were allocated a particular magistrate in accordance with court procedures, who, according to my member, has delayed the matter continually and unjustifiably. He says that his attorney has been meticulous with regard to his follow ups and has swiftly answered any query that has arisen, and, since I know how tenacious and pedantic this particular gentleman is, I have to say, that I am happy take his word for this. He makes the point that the matter is a very simple matter, and yet more than five months later, no progress has been made. In fact, last Friday they were told by a senior magistrate that the matter now has to be re-submitted.
This is completely unacceptable in itself, but what makes it particularly unpalatable is that, in the interim, the tenant continues to trade and to use electricity and water, which the property manager is prohibited by law from disconnecting. To add insult to injury, said tenant upsets the other paying tenants by disregarding the complex rules, in particular by allowing employees to stay on the premises overnight and then to wash in the communal restrooms, that are then left in an unacceptable state. This draws continuous complaints from the cleaning staff, whose wages he is not contributing to.
The “tenant” was properly vetted before being offered a lease, and is not without means. I understand that he lives in a gated community and travels overseas regularly, but he seems to treat paying his lease as optional, and, it seems, that he does so with impunity.
The property development manager quite justifiably ended his tirade by asking why any sane investor would consider investing in South African real estate if such a routine and simple matter such as the collection of arrears is so difficult, drawn out and biased towards the debtor? And he’s right. Why would they, if their rights are not respected by our legal system? And why do our court officials seem to have so little regard for the consequences of their failure to act? Perhaps more accountability is needed?