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Tighter rules on the use of flammable cladding will be brought in after the fire that gutted Dubai's Tamweel Tower. Pawan Singh / The National
Tighter rules on the use of flammable cladding will be brought in after the fire that gutted Dubai's Tamweel Tower. Pawan Singh / The National
The residential tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers on fire during the blaze which left hundreds homeless. Kaveh Kashani / AP Photo
The residential tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers on fire during the blaze which left hundreds homeless. Kaveh Kashani / AP Photo

Aggressive changes to UAE fire-safety code after hundreds left homeless

Stricter testing of cladding used on high-rise towers will soon be introduced to the federal Fire and Life Safety code after the Tamweel Tower blaze that left hundreds homeless a week ago.

DUBAI // Aggressive testing of cladding used on high-rise towers will soon be introduced to the federal Fire and Life Safety code after the Tamweel Tower blaze that left hundreds homeless a week ago.

"I understand that the new code will be more stringent and widen the number of applicable standards. Tests from here on will be more aggressive," said Andy Dean, general manager of Exova Certification and Inspection.

"Codes are continuously updated because building requirements change and knowledge and performance of materials change so the codes are a moving target."

Meanwhile, owners of apartments in the Tamweel building, who met yesterday to elect a new owner's association, said they would be refunding tenants.

One non-resident owner, who declined to be identified, said: "After what people have been through, it's the least landlords could do."

Videos of the Tamweel fire showed the aluminium panels burning off and the debris falling to the ground, similar to what happened in fires at residential towers in Dubai's Tecom area last month and in Sharjah in April.

Mr Dean was among experts asked by Dubai Civil Defence to review new additions to the code, which was issued in July last year and has been rolled out across the country.

Civil Defence officials in every emirate now follow fire safety guidelines in the code and carry out checks on potentially flammable material on building construction sites.

"Trade and industry experts were asked for suggestions, some of our comments may be accepted and this is entirely up to the Civil Defence," said another safety expert, who did not want to be identified.

The new additions are expected to provide more clarity on the flammable low-density polyethylene or the thermo-plastic core between the aluminium sheets.

"The panels should be tested appropriately and thoroughly," Mr Dean said. "What happened in the past is that the tests have been lighter tests that donít challenge the core ...† what we are really interested in is how the core holds up.

"I have been a staunch supporter of solid aluminium panels Ė no core of anything, just aluminium all the way through.

"The problem is with panels with a plastic core, because plastic burns very readily. Fire-rated aluminium panels have a mineral core. The additions will have more details about the requirements for fire-rated materials."

When contacted, Civil Defence asked for more time to provide details.

The newly appointed chairman of the ownerís association, Surendra Nayar, said it was not in the associationís remit to rule on whether owners needed to issue repayments.

"It's a personal matter," Mr Nayar said. "It's not something we've agreed a consensus on." It is unclear whether there would be any legal recourse should landlords decline to pay. A spokesman for the Real Estate Regulatory Authority was unavailable.

But many of the owners present at the meeting said they would be prepared to reimburse tenants.

Mr Sheikh, who declined to give his full name, said he would be reimbursing tenants in the two properties he leased out.

"It would be an extra financial burden but it is the moral thing to do," he said.

Tenants who rented apartments in Tamweel Tower said they were hoping to claim back money paid in advance to their landlords.

Bassem Fakhry, who lived on the 31st floor, said he still had a cheque for Dh47,000 due to be cashed next week.

"I haven't been able to speak directly to the landlord yet but Iím hoping heíll do the decent thing and return the cheque," Mr Fakhry said. "Once I get the cheque, I'll be able to rent a new place."

Joseph Joseph, a tenant on the 27th floor, said he still had one month left on his Dh150,000 contract and hoped he would be entitled to a refund.

"This is the priority now, to get our money back," Mr Joseph said.

Owners were not told when they would be able to move back in. "There is no time frame," said Mr Nayar. "We will not know until the police, civil defence and insurance company file their reports."

The owners' associationís insurance policy covers the cost of 30 days alternative accommodation for displaced residents, on a reimbursement basis. But it is unclear what will happen after that.

"I donít know whether to sign a contract for a yearís rent now," said one resident owner.

"If I pay, they might suddenly open this apartment again in a month."

Tamweel, the developer of the building, said mortgage repayments for apartments would be frozen as of November 18.

The process of inspecting apartments for insurance claims will begin tomorrow.

The coverage is believed to involve the restoration of the building to its state at the time of handover. But contents of apartments are not covered.

Few people had taken out contents insurance.

Ilham Laullami, who owned an apartment on the 24th floor, said the thought never crossed her mind. "It's something you never expect to happen," she said. "You feel so safe in Dubai."

mcroucher@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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