ABU DHABI //Time is running out for the tenants living in illegally subdivided villas in Abu Dhabi Gate City.
Yesterday, the municipality delivered notices to residents of the waterfront compound that said the walls between the apartments will be removed on July 3. However, a court appeal on the legality of the partitions is still ongoing.
The new villas were ruled illegal by the municipality in February. The property developer, Nevada Building and Construction, appealed against the decision in court and lost the case in March, but was allowed to file another appeal. That decision is expected in June.
Jihad Kazzaz, a spokesman for Nevada, said the July 3 deadline was not a surprise.
"If the municipality comes before the court makes a decision, we have the paper to stop demolition," Mr Kazzaz said.
"But if we don't win the case, the tenants will know they have to move out by July, and they will get their money back."
Nehro Mohammed Haggag, an advocate based in Abu Dhabi, said the tenants can stay in their apartments until judges at the appeals court issue a verdict.
If need be, another appeal can then be filed at the Court of Cassation, but residents would not be allowed to stay while waiting for that decision.
Nevada would have to apply for an injunction at the Judicial Department and then take it, along with copies of the appeal documents, to the municipality to stop demolition.
The villas are part of a two-phase development project that includes nearly a dozen buildings. Each three-storey villa contains seven flats that rent for between Dh85,000 and Dh180,000 a year. All of the tenants have moved in since December.
Residents living in the second part of the development moved out earlier this year, because electricity was never properly wired to the flats. More than 10 families have moved out since a demolition crew first arrived on the development in February.
Removing the partitions is part of the municipality's clampdown on buildings with illegal subdivisions, which it says can cause safety hazards and are in violation of the city's building codes.
"We take these actions only when we feel these houses are dangerous for the citizens who are staying there," a municipal official said on Sunday. "We know there are families here, and we take the human factors into consideration and we put it at the top of our priorities but if additions are not approved by the municipality, we remove them."
Nevada representatives insist the partitions are legal and were approved by the municipality before residents moved in.
Despite the looming deadline, residents said they do not plan to move until the court issues a ruling on the appeal.
Adam Ruttan, a business educator from Canada, said he paid Dh110,000 on a lease that ends in February. If he is forced to move out in July, he expects to lose the rest of his prepaid rent and the cost of kitchen renovations he made when he moved in.
"I don't think there is any chance I'll get my money back," said Mr Ruttan, who lives in the flat with his wife. "But it's only prudent to start looking for other places to live until something is decided. It'll suck to be out Dh60,000, but we have to carry on with our lives."
Tenants said Nevada stopped communicating with them after the first municipal decision in February. Maintenance crews have stopped working, and the caretaker has been made redundant.
Still, many residents said they would be sad to leave.
"I wish I could stay. It isn't too far from the city, it's quiet, and we've all become close neighbours because of this experience," said Nabeel el Yakobi, a Palestinian with a young son.
But for Mr Ruttan, there is at least one bright spot in this "whole mess".
He said: "If they come to smash down the walls on July 3, I would take great pleasure in smashing them down myself."
* With additional reporting by Hassan Hassan