x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

No winners in villa service fee dispute

Developers need to craft a more equitable solution to the issue of unpaid service fees so that many tenants don't suffer the negligence of a few.

Should the many pay for the actions - or the inaction - of the few? That's the key question at four residential communities in Dubai, where plans have been announced to stop rubbish collection because of unpaid community service charges. As The National reported yesterday, this is the culmination of a long-running dispute between the developer, Emaar Properties, and villa owners with outstanding accounts.

In what the developer describes as a "last resort", it has put up "name and shame" boards at the entrances to three of its communities, and in the gymnasium of another. The villa numbers of owners who have not paid their service fees are displayed for all to see, with the aim of embarrassing them into making good.

Residents say the developer has threatened to cut rubbish collection at the communities if payments are not made. But as one resident put it, this could create a "health and safety crisis" and unfairly punish owners who already paid their fees but live next to someone who didn't. "Most people are away for vacation, so they will not know about these letters," said the resident, who gave her name only as Anne. "Those of us who remain will be treated to garbage piling up and rats running around."

Emaar's move comes just a few months after another Dubai developer, Nakheel, moved in a similar fashion to force payment of overdue fees by banning some residents from using certain facilities, including beaches. Last month, it briefly drained the swimming pools at one development.

There can be no doubt that villa and condominium owners who refuse to pay their service charges are in the wrong. But it is also wrong to punish those who have paid up, and the tenants whose landlords have not. A solution must be found that doesn't penalise residents for a situation over which they have no control, or hurt developers who have a right to recover debt.

With the assistance of the authorities, the involved parties should seek a tailored remedy, perhaps involving time payments or subsidised debt relief for owners who cannot pay due to genuine financial distress. The alternative - mounds of rubbish and locked gyms - helps no one.