ABU DHABI // Clarity is on the way for tenants who fear they may be living in illegally partitioned homes.
New bylaws to be introduced this week provide specific guidelines on housing occupancy and residential unit sizes.
Among the new rules are that no more than six unrelated adults may live in one independent villa; no more than three people may occupy a single bedroom in a flat, and each must have at least 14 square metres of space; and no more than two people may occupy a studio.
There are no restrictions on individual families in villas, and children under 18 and household staff are exempt. Flats in commercial villas - legally subdivided buildings with multiple apartments - will be considered individually.
The new bylaws complete the implementation of a 2011 law prohibiting communal living.
They will be enforced in part through Tawtheeq, the municipality's property regulatory initiative.
When property owners register their tenancy contracts with the municipality, as is now required by law, occupancy will be monitored.
"We will track occupants," said Ali Al Hashimi, Tawtheeq project manager for the capital. "We will not allow leasing to occupants that surpass the allowed number in the residential unit."
The bylaws are intended to reduce the number of labourers living in accommodation that is often unsafe and illegally subdivided.
The municipality's campaign over the past two years to rid the capital of illegal partitions has left several families homeless or squatting in partially demolished homes.
"The phenomenon we are facing now is that several people are renting out villas to two and three and four families," Mr Al Hashimi said. "This is not allowed."
At least half a dozen families are still living in illegal flats in Abu Dhabi Gate City even after the municipality reduced interior walls to rubble in December. A fire that consumed one of the flats three weeks ago started after candles were left unattended while power and water were shut off to the development.
In September, more than 20 families in Al Nahyan Camp received eviction notices while the municipality launched an investigation into subdivisions on the development's first floor.
In March, tenants in an eight-flat villa near 25th Street and Muroor Road were forced out of their homes only a week after receiving notices about illegal walls.
Residents are sometimes caught in the middle of a battle between a property owner and the municipality, and often the only notice they receive is a flyer posted on the door a week before the power supply is cut off.
"We are a third party, and no one is taking care of us," said one resident at the Abu Dhabi Gate City development. "No one here explained the rules to us."
Ahmed Al Mazroui, director of the external centres department at the municipality, said residents were responsible for ensuring their units are not illegally partitioned.
Blueprints were available at the municipality for all buildings registered there, Mr Al Mazroui said. "Prior to the notarisation of a lease contract, the department inspects the residential unit in question to ensure that no modifications have been conducted.
"If the inspection reveals that the unit has been modified, the lease contract cannot be issued and this is how residents can find out whether the unit in question contains illegal partitions."
Mr Al Hashimi said this approach was fine in theory, but "almost impossible" in practice. "The idea is correct, but the implementation is not. There is absolutely no way we will go to inspect every single unit. We don't have the human resources or manpower."
Residents who suspect buildings in their neighbourhoods are illegally subdivided or are violating the new occupancy regulations are urged to contact the municipality.
Tenants forced out of their homes are entitled refunds from property owners, though dozens of affected residents have struggled to bring owners and developers to court.
Mr Al Hashimi said the municipality and government complaint lines would help. "These customer care numbers will help to understand what is allowed and not allowed."
The Abu Dhabi Government number is 800 555, and the number for the municipality is 800 22 220
Awareness campaigns and regular inspections will also be part of the municipality's efforts to enforce the new bylaws.