Woodstock woman faces eviction from home of 75 years

Property developer wants tenants out by August

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Photo of a woman
Brenda Smith, sitting at home, 128 Bromwell Street, where she has lived for 75 years. Photo: Rejul Bejoy

The residents of 120-128 Bromwell Street are facing eviction. An order of the Western Cape High Court has given them until 31 July to move out, with evictions authorised from 1 August.

Brenda Smith is 75 and has lived her whole life in No.128. Eighteen people live in her three-roomed house. She does not know what they will do if evicted. “We won’t get places, the rent is simply too high,” she says.

According to the Woodstock Hub, which took the tenants to court, they have not paid rent.

Residents concede that they have not paid rent for two years, but maintain that since the property was bought by the Woodstock Hub they have had no contact with these new owners. The first time they ever heard of the Woodstock Hub was when they received the first notice to appear in court.

Residents also say that unnamed people came to them in the past year offering substantial amounts of money if they moved out immediately.

The residents say they tried to reach the new owners, but were unable to find any contact information. They tried to find out from their local subcouncil, but were informed that service connections were still in the name of the previous owner. Because of limited resources, the residents gave up trying to make contact. Meanwhile, they have been footing the bills for maintaining the building.

The Woodstock Hub has no website or contact information. Trematon Capital Investments Limited, a large investment group based in Cape Town, lists The Woodstock Hub as a 50% joint venture. In its 2015 Investment report, Trematon notes “The Woodstock Hub continues to acquire properties in the Woodstock area in Cape Town with the intention to redevelop both residential, commercial and mixed-use properties.” No individual property is named.

The company registration names the directors as Trematon Capital CEO Arnold Shapiro, and chief financial officer Arthur Winkler. Another director of Woodstock Hub, Jacques van Embden, is the founder of Prime Residential Properties, a property developer that also owns “The Hub,” (not directly affiliated with The Woodstock Hub), a new apartment complex a block away from Bromwell Street.

Under South African housing law, tenants are entitled to the entirety of their lease agreement, regardless of any change in property ownership in-between. That means The Woodstock Hub would have to honour the terms of the original lease agreement.

Residents suspect the Woodstock Hub of deliberately avoiding contact with them in order to evict them and avoid dealing with the long-standing lease agreements.

Woodstock remembered

Smith fondly remembers the Bromwell Street community and Woodstock as a vibrant place, even under apartheid. Woodstock was one of the few neighbourhoods in Cape Town that escaped complete segregation. Due to its classification as a coloured community, people of all races were able to live close to the economic opportunities in the city.

Today, property listings and urban travel blogs often describe Woodstock as an untouched, historical neighbourhood with a “gritty charm”. However, the 2006 opening of the Old Biscuit Mill weekly market has spearheaded new and expensive developments in the area with little economic benefit for the long-standing residents.

Over the years, dozens of residents in areas such as Gympie and Cornwall Streets have been evicted. In September 2014, families on another section of Bromwell Street successfully challenged attempts to evict them.

Tenant say they didn’t agree

The Bromwell residents say originally they hired an attorney named Lyle Hendricks to stop the eviction. They say Hendricks repeatedly told them that the Woodstock Hub had money and they didn’t stand a chance; and that if they fought the eviction, the new landlords would immediately demand all the rent owing for the past year. Regardless, they instructed him to fight the eviction.

Resident Charnell Commando says, “We wanted to fight it, since there is nowhere else for us to go. Besides, I wanted to pay rent, but the owners were nowhere to be found. The previous landlord had always collected our money in person.”

In an email on behalf of Hendricks, Marcello Stevens attorneys said residents had agreed to a proposal submitted by attorneys representing The Woodstock Hub.

The 31 March court order claims to be an agreement between both parties. But the residents say that they had no warning and can only imagine that their lawyer made an agreement without their approval.

The closest thing to a concession to the residents is that the developer “abandons any claims for arrear rental … up to and including 31 July 2016”.

But the residents say they will fight the evictions and are planning to hire a new lawyer. The larger community of Bromwell Street has been holding public meetings to discuss options for a way forward. Reclaim the City, a Cape Town based housing rights organisation, has also mobilised to help the residents.

The Woodstock Hub declined to comment on the issue, saying it was an ongoing legal matter. Attempts to contact its attorneys at Marlon Shelevew & Associates were unsuccessful.

Photo of a buildingThe houses of 120-128 Bromwell Street. Photo: Rejul Bejoy
TOPICS:  Housing

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I find it totally disturbing that land that belongs to the descendants of indigenous people should be taken away from them in this age of our democracy. The face of Cape Town has already been changed because of gentrification and this unworthy trend seems to be heading towards the southern suburbs. Enough is enough. The case to defend the rights of indigenous people should be taken to the Constitutional Court so that legislation can be rewritten to prevent Cape Town from becoming another empty first world paradise, with locals doing the labour for wealthy foreigners, and still being removed into slum druglands on the Cape Flats.

I can't imagine how this lady will be able to cope or survive if she and her family should be thrown out and moved to a place like Blikkiesdorp or somewhere similar. It would be like taking an old rose bush and replanting it into foreign soil. It will just die.

Dear Editor

This is the latest in a long chapter of gentrification which is becoming the cancer of Woodstock and Walmer Estate. The point is that if people have stayed in a dwelling all their lives, and are in their autumn years, where do they go? Development without compassion is just old-fashioned greed at the expense of the most vulnerable.

The City is equally guilty, pumping up property rates so much so that the retired and the elderly can no longer afford them. There has to be measures in place to protect the old and indigent, who have nowhere to go, but who for decades have stayed in these places.

Sadly, I'm not confident that anyone in Council or government will really take notice. Too much money to be made, and who cares if a few old geezers end up in the street?

Dear Editor

We only see rich outsiders coming to a area they want and taking it, as if to say: :Our money will buy what we want and we will get rid of any "elements" (residents) wey don't want or need."

Pushing up property sales to make it that much harder for the old residents to buy in their neighbourhood they grew up in. The city council has been affording these parasitic investors to build and evict as they see fit.

The truth is you don't need apartheid,You need money and lots of it to buy Woodstock out from under the age old residents going door to door offering bribes and sleepy business tactics to gain their end result. The biscuit Mill being the first of many reasons they targeted Woodstock.Our houses, our parking, our lives disrupted by greed filled individuals.

First they took District Six and now they taking Woodstock. No questions asked. Soon we will be no more and all they will have is yet another Dewaterkant and Bo-Kaap. Gentrification is real and it's happening right under our noses. We are too blind to see it! It's time to fight back.

Proudly Woodstock Resident.

Dear Editor

It is very sad, disturbing and traumatizing to an entire family to be forced out of a home without warning.

Anyone who has a house or money seem to be able to do with the poor who are renting from them whatever they feel like.
I feel that law enforcement should be implemented whereby officials are to do detective work in finding out what condition and high rentals people are living in.

Most people are being evicted due to greedy landlords so that they can get new tenants in at much higher rentals. Most average people only earn around R4000 to R5000 a month, but when looking for a place are expected to pay ridiculous rentals such as R6000 and R7000, and to add fuel to the fire, must have three months deposit.

Law should be brought in that landlords are not allowed to charge more rentals than what the average household is able to afford.

I feel for this lady and I sincerely pray and hope that she be granted an excellent lawyer pro bono.
She should be allowed to stay in her home until her end. She is already 75, forcing her out truly is the height of cruelty and injustice all for the sake of an already rich fat cat being greedy so even if they have to snatch the food from this poor defenseless lady.

Instead it is their duty to look after the poor and elderly, not kick them.

Dear Editor

"Under South African housing law, tenants are entitled to the entirety of their lease agreement, regardless of any change in property ownership in-between. That means The Woodstock Hub would have to honour the terms of the original lease agreement."

What are the terms in the original lease agreement?

Dear Editor

Too many people are being evicted or kicked out of Cape Town illegally, forcefully or by way of unreasonable property rate hikes for the benefit of the elite and developers.

Cape Town, Bo Kaap, Woodstock and Walmer Estate residents and owners have been the hardest hit by 'The City of Cape Town' in their vexatious but successful attempts to retain the City exclusively for the rich, having absolutely no regard for the constitutional rights of indigenous people and the poor.

The 'City of Cape Town' has blatantly violated people's constitutional right to affordable and mixed housing and pushed them into apartheid designed slum housing in crime-ridden areas where their safety is compromised daily. This has to stop! Our justice system has to provide legal representation to the affected people to challenge these gross human rights violations in the same manner it affords accused persons in criminal matters!

Dear Editor

We live in a day and age where there is no compassion. The property market in Cape Town is becoming more and more disgusting. Developers push up prices as to what value they sucked out of their thumbs that morning. Average Capetonians cannot afford to live anywhere comfortably. I'm all for the improvement of suburbs but not at the expense of people such as Brenda. Middle to upper income earners in SA cannot even afford to buy in these new developments.

The government needs to start capping foreigners from buying and start regulating the property market to allow for South Africans not only to afford to rent, but also to buy. It seems one has to have over R50 000pm joint income to even buy a house in locations like Salt River/Woodstock.

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