Nightmare for mall tenants

27 July 2011 - 02:17 By CHARL DU PLESSIS
The Core, in Sunninghill, Johannesburg Picture: LEBOHANG MASHILOANE
The Core, in Sunninghill, Johannesburg Picture: LEBOHANG MASHILOANE

A Johannesburg mall that offers "a food, fitness and shopping experience" has delivered somewhat less - one of its restaurants was flooded with sewage just hours before its official opening.

Now, four years later, only five of The Core shopping centre's 25 shops in Sunninghill remain occupied, with some tenants claiming that they were duped into moving into the mall before a certificate of occupancy had been issued.

Alfie Rebelo, who took out a loan against his home and threw his life's savings into opening a restaurant in the mall, said he had been ruined. He signed a lease with RFC Development for a shop in 2006 after he was told that the development would include a gym, a string of restaurants, and shops that would service an office block above the mall. He was told that about 6000 people passed through the mall each day.

"That never transpired."

Rebelo said he was asked by RFC owner and landlord Jacqui Meyer to host a party for builders and contractors.

"That day, just before the guests were supposed to arrive, the ceiling in the passage adjacent to the kitchen collapsed and flooded the shop with sewage," he said.

Rebelo's comment is among a litany of complaints about the eerily quiet shopping centre. These include water leaks and cracks caused by the "shifting building".

A 61-year-old tenant, who refused to be identified, said a toilet on the floor above his premises used to "leak urine into my shop".

In October 2008, an eviction order addressed to the owner, tenants and occupants forced shop owners to evacuate the building because no certificate of occupancy had been issued.

Rebelo said he asked Meyer for a certificate of occupancy but one was not produced.

Meyer denied the allegations, saying that RFC Development had complied with the regulations and tenants had been fined in their personal capacity. "We actually had a temporary occupation certificate," she said.

But a subsequent document shows that a certificate of occupancy for the entire complex was issued only in February 2009, when some businesses had been operating for more than a year.

On Monday, forensic investigator Chad Thomas, who represents five former tenants, laid a charge of fraud, involving about R12-million, against RFC Development at Sandton police station.

In his sworn statement, Thomas said the tenants he represented "were led to believe that RFC Development, in particular Jacqui Meyer, had complied with legislation and bylaws relating to the approval of plans submitted for The Core".

Meyer said that a large number of shops were unoccupied because they were being converted into offices. Meyer did not respond to requests for further comment last night.

The Johannesburg metro did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.