Syndicates running the property hijacking operation in the inner city of Johannesburg have turned the practice into a multi-million rand business.
According to a property consultant, who asked to remain anonymous, syndicates are making up to R10-million a month.
The consultant, who currently has eight buildings under seizure belonging to different owners, said that over the past three years a syndicate had discovered how easy it was to make money from hijacking buildings.
“Subsequently some splinter groups had formed and were copying the hijacking tactics,” the consultant said.
The syndicate, which is highly organised, monitors all the empty buildings around the inner city. It then sends in bus-loads of armed gangs into vacant buildings, threaten guards with firearms, then starts renting rooms out at between R500 and R600 a month.
They collect rent for six to eight months knowing that the legal system is slow and, by the time the owners obtain eviction orders, they have enjoyed the benefits of the rents. They then simply walk away, leaving the tenants on the streets.
It is believed that the head of the main syndicate is the brother of a well-known politician, who works with his wife who is an attorney.
They usually go in just before a weekend as in the case of Registry House, which was invaded on the Thursday before the Easter long weekend, knowing that nothing would be done for at least a few days.
“This gives them time to get organised and start advertising,” he said.
They demand an upfront deposit of a month’s rental so, in a building of 300 rooms, such as in Registry House, the perpetrators make R300 000 in just the first month. They then collect rent at about R180 000 a month and continue doing so until the owners obtain eviction orders.
Thereafter, they abandon ship with their illegally-gotten gains, leaving behind the people on the street, often with damaged and stolen furniture and goods,” said the consultant, who also said he gets constant death threats from building hijackers.
Another tactic is to “plant” people inside buildings as tenants who systematically start destroying the building.
“They break pipes, smash windows, damage doors and start inciting tenants, playing the race card. They tell tenants that the white owners are not interested in them and are exploiting them,” he said.
“After a few months, they form a tenants’ committee, with the perpetrators as self-appointed leaders and they get signing powers on the accounts.”
“The leaders start doing cosmetic repairs to show their intent in the first month and thereafter they carry on collecting rentals without doing anything else, before disappearing. At the end of the day, the owner is left with the costs of eviction and of repairs,” he said.
The costs of obtaining an eviction order ranges from R200 000 to R360 000 depending on the number of people who have to be moved.
Several leaders have been arrested and are awaiting trial, but there are breakaway gangs now operating alone using similar methods.
“It is the quickest and easiest way of making millions of rands. They are making the city ungovernable. The city’s law enforcement unit is doing its best but it is strapped for cash and is unable to do evictions which cost hundreds of thousands of rands,” said the consultant.
“We know that Mayor Amos Masondo has good intentions of cleaning up the inner city and we are supporting him by investing in buildings and renovating them but we are being blocked at every attempt.
“Until these ring-leaders are arrested and locked away, the city will never be regenerated”.
SA Police Service (Saps) spokesperson, sergeant Sanku Tsunke, said if trespassing charges are laid, they would be followed up. He said the Saps also assisted the sheriff in carrying out the eviction when asked to do so.