Organised thieves strip vacant houses
An organised group appears to be responsible for a series of break-ins at unoccupied homes and others displaying "for sale" or "sold" signs in Pietermaritzburg.

The thieves stole geysers, taps, copper wire, airconditioners, sinks and other items.

The crime has been taking place in all residential areas of the city.

Homenet estate agent Thinus Scheepers was shocked at the extent of vandalism and theft at a house he sold in Pelham. The back door of the house was chopped to gain entry, the burglar gate broken and the house was "stripped".

"The airconditioners were removed and stripped, the ceiling was broken and the geyser stolen. The bathroom basin was also stolen, all the taps in the house were gone as well as all the pipes outside. The light switch casings were all removed and all the copper wire was stolen," he said.

The pool pump had also been destroyed.

"I think that maybe they (the thieves) stayed in the house while they were stripping it," said Scheepers.

He said the owner would have to spend thousands of rands refurbishing the house.

He advised home owners who had moved out of their houses to have guards protect the property. If the house was sold, the new owners should move in, even before the property had been transferred.

A house Magnum Properties estate agent Gavin Bloy was selling was also burgled.

"The geyser and kitchen sink were stolen," he said, adding that the thieves also broke the bathroom basin and removed all the light switch covers.

Bloy suggested that people put up curtains in empty houses, leave windows open during the day and perhaps install timer switches so that lights go on for a short while at night.

Johan Burger, of the Institute for Security Studies, said he suspected the break-ins were the work of an organised group.

He said the only remedies were to have people stay in the house or to have neighbours or a security company keep tabs on the place.

Police Superintendent Henry Budhram confirmed there had been a surge of burglaries at unoccupied houses in the past month.

"We are aware of several cases," he said, adding that each case was being investigated.

  • This article was originally published on page 5 of The Mercury on June 18, 2008