'We are being taxed out of our homes'
December 04 2004 at 11:37AM
By Douglas Carew

Many Capetonians face being taxed out of their homes after the Constitutional Court dashed their last hope of overturning the city's new valuations. The court this week upheld the City of Cape Town's right to charge rates based on market-related property values.

Householders in areas where property prices have rocketed have to pay thousands of rands monthly in municipal rates.

Many who bought their homes years ago, when prices were lower, have limited incomes. Some are now pensioners and are simply unable to afford the new rates. They now have to sell up and move somewhere cheaper.

'I saved my whole life to pay off this house'

Guy and Anita Robertson of Camps Bay along with Jacqueline Truman-Baker of Bakoven launched a legal challenge to the new rating system in 2002.

The new system, which calculates rates on property values, resulted in the Robertson's bill more than doubling, from about R680 a month to R1 417 (excluding refuse and sewage), and Truman-Baker's reportedly increasing fourfold from R480 a month to about R2 000 (excluding refuse and sewage).

Their battle went through the Cape High Court and ended in the Constitutional Court on Monday, when the court ruled in favour of the city.

Truman-Baker and her ex-husband bought a bungalow for R10 000 nearly 40 years ago and the city has valued it at R2,5-million.

Truman-Baker, a 65-year-old retired librarian, said: "I get a miserable pension of under R2 000 a month. There are plenty of people who earn more than I do and who live in nice houses in Rondebosch and only pay about R400 a month. But I live in a bungalow and have to pay R2 000 because I live on the seaboard."

'It will break my heart if I have to leave'

Guy Robertson, a 64-year-old science teacher who has lived in his Camps Bay home for 35 years, said it had cost about R20 000 to build his house but the city calculated his rates on a valuation of R1,77-million in 2002.

"I saved my whole life to pay off this house, and cannot afford these extremely high rates. I just wanted to protect my own property, my house. In Zimbabwe they use illegal methods to take people's property, but here they use legal methods to force us out of our homes. I am very stressed because I don't know what is going to happen," he said.

Robertson said he would have preferred the legal battle to have been fought over the market-value principal rather than over a legal technicality about whether the city had acted constitutionally when introducing the new rating system.

"The reality of this new system is that if your house is valued at twice that of your neighbour's, which is possible in Camps Bay, you have to pay twice as much for the council to remove the rubbish from your bin than your neighbour does. It is a farce," he said.

Objectors who have been paying their old rates each month pending the outcome of the court case will now have to pay what they owe to the city plus interest.

Truman-Baker has sent a letter to the city asking how she can pay off the debt. "I would dearly love to keep the house. It will break my heart if I have to leave, but I see that on the cards and I am feeling very depressed."

Robertson said he would be forced to draw money from his retirement package next year to cover his legal costs and to pay the debt he owed the city.

"I won't sell now, but I don't know how long I will be able to pay these rates after I retire. I will then have to consider selling. Most of my long-time neighbours have already sold and moved away," he said.

The City of Cape Town welcomed the Constitutional Court's decision. Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo said: "The Constitutional Court's ruling is a victory for all the predominantly poorer families that have benefited from the introduction of fair and equitable property rates in Cape Town. This closes the chapter on the racially-determined system of property rates in Cape Town, where the previous six fragmented local administrations conducted their property valuations on differing valuation rolls, some more than 20 years old."

Councillor Saleem Mowzer, chairman of the city's tariff and rating political advisory committee, said: "The highest court in the country has not only confirmed that the city's legal basis for determining rates is valid, but has also confirmed that the city's authority to impose property rates flows from the constitution itself."

Mowzer said the city thanked all ratepayers for being rational and responsible by paying their annual property rates and municipal tariffs, which enabled the city to continue providing services and infrastructure to all Capetonians on an equitable basis.

* This article was originally published on page 1 of Saturday Argus on December 04, 2004