New commune proposals cause for concern

The newly published proposals for communes in the City of Johannesburg give cause for concern and could open the way to abuse if they are not properly policed.

So says Gerhard Kotzé, CEO of the ERA South Africa property group who points out that the proposals provide for an increase in the maximum number of individuals that may live in an approved commune, from the four allowed at present to 10.

The proposals are contained in the Draft Residential Commune Policy document published this month by the City of Johannesburg and are already being talked of as a blueprint for other metros.

The need for affordable, high-density student and worker accommodation is clear, says Kotzé. “On the other hand, though, there appears to be a growing number of illegal communes that often go hand-in-hand with higher crime rates, vehicle congestion, urban blight, poor sanitation, the activities of slum lords and other problems.

“Currently communal living in the City of Johannesburg is regulated by no less than 13 different town planning schemes, and different town planning processes are applied to achieve the same use in terms of communal living.

“And while Residential 1 zoning in most of those town planning schemes does allow for the erection of buildings that can be used for communal accommodation, this does not enable the use of a dwelling house for a commune as a primary right. So as the new proposals point out, the need to regulate communes further is apparent.”

What is more, the policy objective is to improve the decision-making process on which the commune applications are evaluated, assessed and finalised, in order to ensure adherence to the Housing Act and Rental Housing Act; to set standards for properties to be used as communes; to provide safe, affordable and varied housing in line with the National Building Regulations; and to provide management strategies for all premises used as communes.

“And there is nothing in that with which anyone could quibble. Nor do I have an issue with the fines that would be applied for failing to comply, amounting to 7,5% of the value of the property in question annually, pending court processes,” Kotzé says.

“As always, though, the devil is in the detail and my issue is with enforcement. While I certainly don’t advocate a kind of ‘commune police’, clearly there will have to be zero tolerance of any breaches of the new regulations or we could risk a situation where, as in the collection of municipal rates and taxes, there is allegedly no respect for legal process, thus inviting abuse.”

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