Lagoons and lawyers: Pretoria 'beach' residents unhappy with changes

20 September 2021 - 18:29
The Blyde Riverwalk Estate in Pretoria has an exclusive lagoon with free access for permanent residents only. File photo.
The Blyde Riverwalk Estate in Pretoria has an exclusive lagoon with free access for permanent residents only. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

There is trouble brewing in paradise, as homeowners living at Pretoria's “beach” are clashing with the property developers over new regulations within The Blyde Riverwalk Estate. 

Balwin, one of SA’s largest property companies, invested R4.2bn for the estate, a residential development in Pretoria East that boasts its own giant private beach. There are about 200 short-term rental apartments in the property and more than 900 owner-occupied or long-term rented apartments.

But the latest issues stem from disgruntled homeowners taking issue with the homeowners' association (HOA) members, who they say are taking unilateral decisions adversely affecting them. The leading disagreement is the decision to introduce new short-term lending terms.

A representative for Balwin would not be interviewed, saying, that “due to the ongoing engagement with the owners of short-term rental apartments, the HOA and Balwin unfortunately have to decline the interview opportunity at this point in time”.

That's a big pool

The Blyde Riverwalk Estate has a 1.5ha lagoon which holds 35-million litres of water, a remote controlled Kreepy Krauly and 2,700 tons of beach sand.

Despite this, they did send a joint statement which TimesLIVE was told had been issued earlier.

The meeting between the clashing parties, or their representatives, took place on Monday after some residents protested outside the gates of the complex.

Reuben Phala from LN Motimele Attorneys, which is representing disgruntled owners, outlined the nature of the dispute.

He said the rules of the complex state that short-term lending, such as Airbnb or other holiday letting, would be allowed upon approval of the HOA. Once approved, the HOA and short-term lending (STL) members would sign a contract – “the STL1" – which was a list of regulations governing the process. 

Phala said that on July 23, the HOA decided to terminate STL1 and introduce STL2 - which had “adverse terms such as double levies, a R2,500 deposit ... and blocked access [to some facilities] for short-term lending guests”.

“Owners took issue with this and wrote a letter through their attorneys. This letter was ignored until the matter was referred by owners to CSOS [Community Schemes Ombud Service] for urgent relief,” said Phala.

He said invested parties were not given the opportunity to contribute to STL2 and that they were “forced to sign” the contract or the complex would block access to their guests.

According to Phala, while the matter was still at CSOS, the HOA further introduced a R250 a person access fee.

“Thus if a family wants to swim or use the lagoon they now need to pay R250 per person if they exceed the allocated two coupons the HOA gives. This further adds to the restrictions and costs the HOA members face. The result is cancelled bookings and huge costs for STL members.

“While we tried talking to the HOA the initial response was that of disregard and blatant arrogance in that the HOA, which is largely Balwin staff members, simply dismissed whatever members said and simply used their majority to push the decisions they want, irrespective of consequences,” he said.

Another contentious issue short-term lenders are concerned about is the proposed building of a hotel by Balwin at the estate. Phala said the HOA was seemingly pushing the argument that The Blyde was a residential area. But he said the majority of people raising concerns were sold properties for investment purposes, chiefly short-term and long-term lending.

“There is a hotel in the HOA and a hotel [Balwin] seeks to build. This on its own negates the fact that STL by these members is an issue given that the current hotel and the impending hotel will in essence be short-term lending as it is the nature of hotels. Thus the members feel that they are being unfairly pushed out of business to create space for hotels. This they argue is unfair competition on the part of the developer,” he said.

TimesLIVE was not able to take these claims to Balwin and The Blyde, as they have refused to comment on the matter until after the meeting. 

Balwin did send a memo titled “joint statement on short-term rentals and lagoon access at The Blyde”, written on behalf of the HOA and Balwin Properties.

According to the document, permanent residents have been complaining about “the unruly conduct that has become the norm” of short-term lenders.

“Balwin has been inundated with complaints from residents regarding overcrowding of the lagoon area by guests from short-term letting apartments, as well as the fact that residents do not feel safe and secure within the development, which is of great concern for all stakeholders.

“The HOA engaged on several occasions with representatives of the short-term letting apartment owners. Despite the best efforts of the HOA, the engagements failed to reach common ground and new rules pertaining to short-term letting were put in place during July,” the document states.

Balwin said they found that access to the residence and the lagoon areas was being abused and therefore introduced an increase on the fee for all visitors, guests and short-term guests from R100 to R250.

The developers said a meeting on October 11 would see a vote on the prohibition of short-term letting within the development.

Phala said this was the first time he had seen the memo.

“That letter is filled with inaccuracies. Members are preparing to respond,” he said.