R21m in Joburg backdated 'refuse recalculation' bills to be challenged in court – Moneyweb

The City of Johannesburg (CoJ) and its contracted refuse collector Pikitup are set to face a high court challenge to a R21 million backdated refuse recalculation bill on almost 100 accounts.
The application is to be brought by the Johannesburg Property Owners and Managers Association (JPOMA), which believes the recalculation and backdated amounts to be both invalid and unlawful in terms of the city’s own bylaws.
The punitive amount was arrived at by a recalculation of refuse backdated to 2018 on 93 different accounts.
Angela Rivers, general manager of JPOMA, a non-profit organisation which represents the interests of property owners and managers and more than 150 000 tenant households in Johannesburg – who collectively pay more than R80 million to the city every month – said one of their members has already obtained an interim interdict against the CoJ.
Rivers said JPOMA is in the process of launching an application that will challenge the lawfulness of the CoJ’s conduct.
“The court application has not yet been lodged. We are in the process of finalising the application, which includes further applicants that have expressed an interest in joining the application,” she said.
The other applicants considering joining the court action have not been named.
Attempts to obtain comment from the SA Property Owners’ Association (Sapoa) were unsuccessful.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
Rivers said the R21 million recalculated bill and the number of accounts affected by this process “is the tip of the iceberg”.
“These back-billed charge[s] continue to grow month-on-month as more members are coming forward when they see this on their account.
“Instead of engaging our members to find an equitable resolution, the CoJ is employing strong-arm tactics to bully owners into signing admissions of debt or face disconnection of other services, unrelated to refuse collection,” she said.
Rivers said the accounts of the association’s members impacted by the city’s actions affect 7 333 separate dwellings in the inner city that house lower- and middle-income tenants.
She said many of these tenants are economically vulnerable and unable to settle three-and-a-half years’ worth of “questionable backdated fees”.
Rivers added that as CoJ completes its backdating process, more and more of these tenants will be presented with refuse bills they cannot pay, severely compromising the affordable rental market.
She said the recalculations emanated from a ‘revenue enhancement project’ initiated by the City of Johannesburg through its Legogo Team.
This resulted in the classification of the affected properties being changed without consultation with the owners, or due and consistent consideration of how properties and their refuse requirements are differentiated, she said.
Rivers said JPOMA believes this resulted in blatantly incorrect classification in many of the cases, with vague or no substantiation offered.
She said properties valued at less than R350 000 are not liable for these fees and claims the CoJ is attempting to attach a cost to every single unit, regardless of value, and to backdate claims for refuse that was already removed and paid for.
Urban development objectives ignored?
Rivers said the affected JPOMA members include several emerging black entrepreneurs, who in many cases will be forced to either downsize or liquidate should the retroactive charge go through.
She added that most of the affected buildings fall within the Urban Development Zones (UDZs) that were demarcated for tax incentives by the government as part of the national economic policy initiative designed to invigorate inner city nodes.
Rivers said JPOMA members have been active participants in the City Improvement Districts (CIDs), which were formed in the mid-1990s to stave off the degradation and dilapidation that plagued the inner city.
“Instead of valuing our members doing the work that CoJ should be doing, it is trying to squeeze more water from the stone,” she said.
Rivers said JPOMA members, for instance, voluntarily contribute more than R630 000 per month to private companies to clean and secure the public spaces in the inner city, which the city has failed to do over a number of years.
Read: Living off trash: SA’s waste pickers reclaim the streets
She said CoJ’s action means that owners are held accountable for the past accounts of tenants who in many instances have since moved out of the various properties, which means costs cannot be defrayed.
“The knock-on effect will be that there will be a reduction in quality housing supply in the inner city, limiting Johannesburg residents’ ability to work and live in close proximity, as was the explicit intention behind creating the UDZs in the first place.
“This shortsightedness will lead to the city actually losing paying tenants, as these people will move to informal accommodation where no services are paid for.
“No one wins in this situation.”
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