Businesses at Virginia Airport are outraged at eThekwini Municipality for “reneging” on their 10-year lease agreements, with some saying they signed new “legal and binding” leases earlier this year that the municipality had no choice but to honour.
Tenants that had not signed such leases expressed their concern and uncertainty over their future at the airport.
The municipality acknowledged yesterday that there was no guarantee the leases would be extended.
The parties have month-to-month leases.
The municipality said it hoped to have the new 10-year leases finalised in about a month.
Although it agreed in principle last year to renew the leases for 10 years, it has not done so.
It says “necessary processes” have to be completed first.
Shunnon Tulsiram, head of economic development and investment promotion for the municipality, said yesterday that the council had passed a resolution last year to extend the leases. The delay was because internal processes had not been completed.
“If it still needs to go through a process, then nothing is guaranteed. But there is a compelling case for the leases to be extended,” Tulsiram said.
The airport tenants are angry and have accused the municipality of not caring whether their businesses close.
One owner said he would be “silly” to think his business’s future at the airport would be “hunky dory” – although he had signed a new 10-year lease “on their paper with their terms and conditions”.
Although he had signed, the municipality had not, he said.
“I don’t know what they are doing. And it is pointless even trying to argue with them or to do anything about it because they’ll just close up shop – they don’t care,” he said.
Some business owners are standing by their signed leases, regardless of whether the municipality has signed them.
One of them is Daryl Mann, from Aero Natal, a business that has been at Virginia Airport for 39 years.
“They brought the new lease to my office to sign, left it with me, asked me to read over it and sign it if I was happy… they then collected it and took it back with them, and then did a complete about-turn and didn’t sign.”
Mann said the increased rental stipulated in the 10-year lease agreement had been in place for the past three months.
“They have been charging me the new rate, and banking my money.
“They have not said I have overpaid and that they’ll pass me the credit, so as far as I’m concerned they have accepted the new lease agreement.
“By doing this, they have shot themselves in the foot.”
Another operator, who has run a busness at the airport for 40 years, said the issue was “unsettling”. He also believed the new leases signed by some of the operators were legal and binding.
Justin Lowe, manager of King Shaka Aviation, said businesses could believe only what they “are led to believe”.
He said there was concern about the municipality’s month-to-month leases.
Tulsiram said the only way that changes could be made to the resolution to extend the leases would be for the whole council process to be started afresh.
Asked whether the delay with the leases was linked to a possible change to the resolution, Tulsiram said he had no indication that this was the case.
Rumours about Virginia Airport’s operations moving to the new King Shaka Airport have also raised the ire of the tenants. Although most of the tenants doubt there is any truth to the rumours, they spoke out strongly against such an idea, saying it would close their businesses.
One owner said that if the municipality tried to move them to the King Shaka Airport there would be a “long legal battle”.
However, municipal project manager Danny Thaver said a report commissioned about three years ago had found that moving the Virginia Airport operations to King Shaka Airport would not be feasible. - The Mercury