ABU DHABI // Until about a month ago Majed Ali Mahmoud was living in a flat large enough to accommodate his family of six.
Now the Palestinian accountant shares a cluttered one-room flat with his wife and four children. His water comes from a hose snaked through his villa from a tap outside. And two giant holes where walls used to be are now covered by doors, a wardrobe, and other makeshift partitions.
Rubble and the remnants of what used to be a seven-flat building litter Mr Mahmoud's yard and giant piles of dirt line his front walkway at the villa near 29th Street and Muroor Road.
Cases like the Mahmoud family's are increasingly common as the municipality demolishes illegal structures. When walls are built illegally, as they were in Mr Mahmoud's villa, the municipality cuts power to the building and takes down whatever is in violation of the city's building code.
Typically, the municipality informs the building's owners of the violations, but not the tenants. That can leave residents like Mr Mahmoud with little or no notice.
"The municipality sent workers to knock down all the added rooms outside the villa and all the partitions inside," Mr Mahmoud, 42, said. "Before we knew it, we all shared one room."
Tenants living in an eight-flat villa near 25th Street and Muroor Road said they came home from work one Sunday this month to find a notice that the electricity would be turned off that night. Within the week, the partitions had been demolished and all the residents forced to move.
Kumaresa Palamiappam, the maintenance supervisor for Seven Hills, the firm that manages the eight-flat building, insisted that residents had been notified two weeks before. The partially demolished structure will be cleaned and handed over to the owner.
"We know that we made the proper plan, but the municipality said they never approved," Mr Palamiappam said.
At a newly constructed compound in Abu Dhabi Gate City, meanwhile, more than 40 families have been caught at the centre of a court battle between the municipality and the property's developer. Twice, demolition crews have come without notice to remove the six villas' so-called illegal partitions.
But these villas are a far cry from the hastily constructed multi-room flats that the municipality says are health and safety hazards. Rather than flimsy wood partitions, this compound's walls are concrete. The three-storey, seven-flat villas have central elevators and staircases and were evidently meant to be subdivided from the beginning. In fact, the building's blueprints, which were submitted to the municipality, clearly mark the locations of the walls.
"That's why there are so many people here," said Joel Ericson, one of the residents. "These are normal people with families. These are nice, spacious, attractive, not-cramped flats."
The municipality did not respond to requests for comment. However in December a municipal official said villa inspections would increase this year, as the city looks to weed out illegal subdivisions.
"People are putting up villas for rent and using them for a large number of tenants, dividing it into different partitions, which is always unsafe," the official said. "It causes danger to residents, and it not only affects the residents of the villas but also the neighbours."
The municipality is not responsible for ensuring that displaced tenants have new accommodations, nor does it reveal why some villas are selected for demolition. Residents at several properties said they believe they are targeted when a complaint is filed with the municipality.
A common refrain among suddenly evicted residents is a worry about having lease money they paid upfront returned to them. Mr Mahmoud said he has no plans to leave his place until he sees a refund.
"I paid Dh50,000 for this year, and my lease isn't up until October," he said. "These partitions were already here when I moved in. The landlord hasn't even offered to return our money."
The developers for the Abu Dhabi Gate City property have had their phones off since Monday. Residents said they had staked out the developer's office since Monday but so far, no refund cheques have been issued.
* With additional reporting by Manal Ismail