The City of Johannesburg (COJ) has warned citizens to be vigilant against property thieves as the festive season approaches.

Speaking to eNCA news channel on Tuesday, Lucky Sindein, spokesman for the city’s Forensic and Investigation Services Group, said it was a peak period for syndicates to target properties as most people were away.

“Remember, people come to Johannesburg to buy assets and in December we visit our families. They will come and pretend to be full owners. They have connections all over the city, police officers, etc.”

“They work with government officials. When they come to you, they present legal documents and trick the tenants into thinking they are the rightful owners,” he said.

Sindein added that because it’s been an issue for some time, it’s one of the items his administration really focused on when it took office in 2016.

READ ALSO: Operation Buya Mtheta in Joburg nabs 13 property thieves

He said his department did an audit to find out how many properties were seized, how many were owned by the city, and they tracked down those owned by private owners who are no longer in the city.

“If you travel around downtown Johannesburg, you will see many abandoned buildings whose owners cannot be found. Some of them are untraceable because, for example, the building is worth 3 million rand, but the rates and taxes owed are 6 million rand,” he said.

“Thus, the owners would abandon these buildings because they do not see the value. To go back and repair these properties. So what we’re doing as a city, working with other departments, we’re tracking down the owners and trying to vacate the buildings that need to be renovated,” Sindein said.

In addition, he emphasized that property theft is a problem not only in the city, but also in wealthy suburbs and towns.

He also thanked the citizens who have faith in the heritage department by seeking help from the COJ after the police failed them.

“We will win this war, it will take time, but we will get there,” he said.

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