The brutal reality that now faces Knysna is that, although official statistics have still not been released, many people who lost their homes were tenants and did not have any insurance, reports the Knysna-Plett Herald.
Where does one find an affordable place to rent after the fires that ravaged the town more than a month ago completely destroyed the structure one used to call home? What do you do when your insurance doesn’t provide you with the means to rent another house?
These are the questions Sheldon King and his family, like many others directly affected by the disaster, have to now ask since that fateful Wednesday evening, June 7.
According to King, he realised he lost his home in Westford Bridge in the early hours of Thursday morning when his father André King accompanied him there.
The King family had moved into this home on June 1.
“We closed the coffee shop at about 10:00 that Wednesday morning as we heard flames were approaching our neighbourhood and we had two dogs at home. We weren’t able to get through though as the White Bridge was closed at that time.
“At about 14:00 my wife Jana, who works for the Knysna police, contacted a colleague who was busy checking homes in the same area to see if they could save the dogs. At that point they found our boerboel Sheila, and the house was still standing. Our border collie Blue was nowhere to be found,” said King.
King further told the tale of how, at around 6pm that evening, they received news that their home was still untouched, but that Blue was still missing. All the while he was moving with family and friends from one area to another as suburbs and the CBD were being evacuated.
“When my father and I eventually got to the house early Thursday morning, with him shining the car’s lights onto the house so that we could see, I got out of the car and just cried. My wife and two sons still haven’t been back there,” he said.
A moment of joy came two days later though, when Blue showed up at the shell of a home he used to know. “He had a slight injury to his paw, but besides that he was just blackened with ash and soot,” said King.
It was from that day that King and his family have been in search of a new place to call home.
“Looking for an available, affordable, child and pet-friendly home with the rental market already in shambles was always difficult before the fires, and we took the place [the now burnt house] immediately when it came up after weeks of looking. After the fires, the situation hasn’t improved at all. Prices are more or less the same, but the availability and finding a child and pet friendly home has become a bigger issue,” said King.
He said this was the family’s most pressing issue. “We have received awesome donations since, and have almost replaced all the items we need most – food and clothing from distribution centres and family, Gift of the Givers, Daniela Dotan from Ningmo Foods. The community in general has been wonderful. The issue remained finding a suitable home,” said King.
While sleeping on a “Christmas bed” for the first two weeks of their search, after which the King family moved back to the house they occupied before moving to Westford Bridge, they tried every possible route to find a new home.
“Two-bedroom homes were going for around R9 000 per month, while three-bedroom places ranged from R15 000 to R25 000 a month. We started thinking that perhaps we should look for something better in Sedgefield or Harkerville,” said King.
He said they used the internet, five different estate agents, and “friends who knew people who knew people” to search for a new home.
Search finally over
King since informed that he had found a suitable place to rent in Hunters Home. The search took them almost six weeks.
He reiterated the problem: “Our biggest problem was finding a place that would allow children and pets, which is extremely scarce. Does this town only want older retired people living in Knysna, people who wouldn’t contribute anything to the working class? What about children and animals?
King said they were “very fortunate” to find the place and sympathised with what other people are still going through.
As it was, he said, the place they have now rented came up via word-of-mouth and they immediately snapped it up, counting themselves very lucky to have found something. Even though it is more expensive than they would like, he said it is manageable because they are subletting a part of it.
Many people have expressed shock at what they perceive to be a massive increase in the price of properties available to rent after the fires. For those who were renting houses that were destroyed, the general feeling is that rental prices in Knysna have spiked and become unaffordable.
Tenants don’t benefit from building insurance, only content insurance, as the building insurance vests in the property owner. Many property owners have a measure of protection in that most policies contain the relief that accommodation will be provided by the insurance company until the house can be reoccupied. In some instances, this applies for a period up to two years and to a value that does not exceed a quarter of the total insured value of the property.
A perception has arisen that property owners, knowing or believing insurance companies are paying, are upping their rentals to take maximum advantage. Is this, in fact, the case? “No,” say most of our property rental agencies in Knysna.
Rentals in Knysna have always been at a premium and the agencies approached are in agreement that they have not experienced a major spike in rental increases. What they have noticed, as Hans Viljoen from Remax said, is that there has been an increase in available properties, as many “swallows”, knowing there is a shortage of rental stock, have instructed agents to let their houses to those in need. Viljoen states that the prices being asked by these people are in line with prices before the fire.
Knysna-Plett Herald compared rental property listings in Knysna before and after the fire and, as can be seen below, it would indeed appear that, in the main, there has been no radical increase in rental prices.
These are just some of the comparative figures (relating to monthly rentals):
A three-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-garage house was listed on May 30 for R15 000, at the same time as a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-garage house was listed for R20 000. After the fire, on June 30, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-garage house has been advertised for R18 000.
In April, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house was listed at R16 000 and after the fire, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom place was listed at R15 000.
In May, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom property was listed at R10 000 and another two-bedroom, two-bathroom was listed for R10 000 after the fire. In the same estate after the fire, a three-bedroom, one-bathroom furnished dwelling has been made available for three to six months, at R15 000.
Pezula Golf Estate listed a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-garage dwelling in March for R15 000, and after the fire a four-bedroom, three-bathroom dwelling has also been listed for R15 000. (A two-bedroom unit was listed in February for R13 500.)
Eastford and Kanonkop
Dwelling with three bedrooms and two bathrooms have been listed for R10 000 after the fire, and in Hunters Home a three-bedroom, four-bathroom home has been advertised for R16 000.
This does not say that there are not individual property owners out there who are trying to maximise the money they make, but the good news is that they seem not be dictating the rental prices and so far, there does not seem to be the spike that was anticipated.
What has, however, happened, and which has attracted comment on social media, is that certain guesthouses and holiday accommodation establishments have opened their rooms for weekly or monthly rentals to try and relieve the rental situation.
These prices are more closely related to their daily accommodation rates than to monthly rates. This is for fully furnished units and includes the linen, laundry and cleaning facilities that would be offered by accommodation establishments.
The sad fact remains, however, that there are very few available houses to rent at under R10 000 a month in Knysna, to accommodate families with children and pets.
– Caxton News Service