What to do about a derelict property in your neighbourhood

Private Property South Africa
Cath Jenkin

It’s an eyesore, it seems to attract criminal activity, and it’s bringing down your property value. What to do when there’s an unmaintained property in your neighbourhood?

Derelict properties in your suburb
An overgrown garden and dilapidated building across the road from your home is not just unsightly – it could present a range of health hazards and have a detrimental effect on your property’s value. In suburban neighbourhoods across South Africa, abandoned homes remain a thorn in homeowner’s sides, who often feel powerless to resolve the situation.

Before you buy
You may fall in love with a beautiful home, but we always recommend you get to know your neighbourhood before you sign that offer to purchase. Take a drive through the neighbourhood, to see if there are any vacant plots, rundown buildings, or similar. You may save yourself an arduous and worrying journey by going to find another property to fall in love with. Get to know people within the suburb and ask them about their experience of living in the area.

Health and safety hazards
Of course, a neglected swimming pool attracts a mosquito infestation and, if you happen to live close to a derelict property, this could present a health hazard to you in your own home. Moreover, an overgrown garden could provide an easy hiding place for opportunistic criminals too. An abandoned property can also become a hive of criminal activity, with homes being stripped of their furnishings and fittings, or vagrants using the property for shelter.

What to do when things go bad
If you have a derelict or abandoned property in your neighbourhood, remember that you have rights! Should you be concerned about a particular property, chat to your neighbours about the problem. If you’re concerned about it, your neighbours probably are too. If possible, contact the property owner to find out if they are aware of the problem – sometimes, tenants move out and the owner may not be aware of the state of their property.

Neighbourly help
If you are able to contact the homeowner, and it appears they are experiencing some financial difficulties, everyone benefits if they can help out wherever possible. Once you’ve ascertained that you can help your neighbour, and they’re willing to be assisted, see if you can pool together resources to get their garden cleared once a month, or create a community drive to help the homeowner out. Volunteer to help with gardening or lend your neighbour an hour or two of your DIY skills. You’ll be helping them, and your property value, so everyone wins.

Municipal assistance
If you’re not able to contact the property owner, and things seem out of control at the abandoned home, it’s time to alert the authorities.
eThekwini Ward 35 Councillor, Heinz De Boer, advises: “Dealing with a derelict property can be an extremely lengthy process, especially if the owner can’t be found. Contact your Ward Councillor who may be able to help with finding the property owner and remember that the municipal rates bill will build up for that property. That takes time, but once it happens, the municipality will act to recoup the debt. If you can find out what bank the bond is with, that could help speed up the process too, but that may take time.'

'If you’re concerned about the health hazards, contact your local Department of Health, and the Building Inspectorate. They will be able to assist with resolving problems and issuing fines where possible. The Land Use Management Department should also be able to help. But, it will take time, so contact your neighbours and make this a team effort to help where you can. Lastly, if you are concerned about criminal activity, keep your neighbours informed and call the police when you need to.”

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