Too rich to pay rates

Rates crusader strikes at purse of Joburg's elite and powerful.

Howick-based property rates crusader Rob McLaren is doing a fine job of making sure he is on fewer Christmas card lists by asking the City of Johannesburg to revalue just about every high-value property in Sandton - including homes belonging to the Chinese government and the family of Robert Mugabe.

McLaren has objected to 104 property valuations by the city-contracted firm Evaluations Enhanced Property Appraisals which compiled the General Valuation Roll (GVR) for 2018.

Evaluations - which landed the contract under questionable circumstances exposed by Noseweek (noses202; 203; 211; 212, 215 & 222), has, over the years, earned a reputation for massively undervaluing the homes of the rich and famous while loading steep increases on to the poor and struggling.

Much of this we know only because of the volunteer work done by lone crusader McLaren.

The 104 properties he identified most recently, were collectively valued at R23,956,435,000 by Evaluations. The intrepid Howick investigator reckons they should have been valued at three times more - in the region of R71,401,974,000.

Among these properties is Nelson Mandela Square, Nedbank's head office next door to the JSE, The Marc Towers Citadel, Sandton City and its Office Tower, FirstRand Towers, Benmore Shopping Centre and both the north and south JSE towers.

Depending on the category of building or property - be it farm, business or residential - and assuming all his objections and subsequent re-evaluations will be upheld, it could mean a further R600- million at the very least in rates collection for the city each year.

It is unlikely all will go in McLaren's favour but it is worth noting that his two most recent successes were for his objections to two of South Africa's most recognisable institutions - the Minerals Council of South Africa (formerly the Chamber of Mines) building in Main Road, Johannesburg and the Anglo American Platinum building at 55 Marshall Street.

55 Marshall Street

In the GVR 2018, the Minerals Council building was valued at R16,976,000 and that of Anglo American was R133,557,000. Thanks to McLaren's objection, the properties were revalued at R56,190,000 and R233,390,000 respectively.

McLaren, a Robin Hood of sorts, has several more feathers in his cap, among them the swanky and recently refurbished office block at 21 Girton Rd, Parktown, which was revalued from R27,137,000 to R84,376,000.

Just by getting those three landmark buildings reassessed, McLaren has ensured the council collects an additional R3.7 million in rates for the 2018/2019 financial year. Over the five-year period in which the general valuation roll applies, and with a minimal yearly increase of 6%, this could lead to a sizeable injection into city coffers from just three buildings.

Municipal Director of Valuations Piet Eloff confirmed the change in valuation in three identical letters bar the property details, sent to McLaren on 23 November.

"After reviewing the objection [raised by McLaren that the property was undervalued] and reasons provided... the municipal valuer's decision [was adjusted]." He said the decision could be appealed by no later than 11 January 2019.

Anglo and the Minerals Council were asked by Noseweek if they would object. Only Anglo replied: "...We will be objecting to the valuation as it exceeds the value that our property expert would ascribe to the property, given market related rentals in the area."

Another of McLaren's successes involves the property in Sandhurst, owned by the Hugh Roberts Family Trust. It was revalued from R34,144,000 to R96,000,000. The trust was scheduled to object in September but the outcome is not known to Noseweek.

McLaren's sleuthing through the highbrow streets of Johannesburg has also led him to make several fascinating discoveries. In an email he told Noseweek it was "common knowledge" that the Sandhurst house owned by the former first lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe, was bought for R47m in February 2017, as recorded in the Deeds Office.

"What has not been reported is that the Joburg municipal valuation for this mansion is only R25,759,000 at the fixed date of valuation on 1 July 2017" - five months after the sale for R47m.

McLaren said that despite the high profile of the property, his was the only objection to the municipal valuation.

"This mansion is in close proximity to two properties owned by the People's Republic Of China, namely 25 Killarney Road (Sandhurst Erf 26 ptn 2 ) which was valued at R34,557,000 and 24 Killarney Road (Hyde Park Ext 24 Erf 182) which was under-valued at R2,483,000 - to which I have objected.

"It is interesting that none of the residents in Sandhurst objected to this unfair municipal valuation," added McLaren. He wants the Mugabe mansion valued at R43m.

Noseweek first reported on McLaren's campaigning hobby in August 2016 (nose202). What is noteworthy is that back then, when he filed an objection to the valuation of the Oppenheimer family's sprawling Brenthurst Estate in Parktown, the family's legal representative expressed outrage that "an amateur enthusiast" should suggest their property was unfairly undervalued.

He set about persuading the Johannesburg Rates Appeal Board to throw the case out - which they promptly did - adding insult to injury by getting him lumbered with the R24,000 cost of the day's proceedings - an unprecedented decision.

But since then McLaren's successes have won him friends at city hall. Now they make special time for him should he come calling.

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Submitted by : Mo Haarhoff of Stellenbosch on 2018-12-22 21:31:48
Surely the initial low valuations could be considered political, since the DA has now more power in the city?
Submitted by : Greg Beykirch on 2018-12-21 19:51:20
Well done Rob McLaren.
Why don't all municipalities pay a commission to whoever generates a valuation increase, on objection?

Editor's Note
What a good idea! But it must not become personal. That could result in witch hunts amongst neighbours. A campaign for justice in taxation is the right way to go.


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