x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Tenants should not pay for infractions

If the capital's drive to beautify ended with punishing owners for illegal buildings it might have been deemed a unanimous success. The trouble arises when tenants are not given ample recourse to fight their evictions.

Last week, Joel Ericson was given only 30 minutes to say goodbye to his new waterfront villa. "We only learnt a half an hour before they came what they were planning," the tenant and father said. "That's not enough time." Now his villa at Abu Dhabi Gate City, which officials say is illegal, is scheduled for partial demolition.

The practice of subdividing villas and flats in violation of building codes has been condemned by city regulators with good reason. While these units may fetch more rent in total, many of the structures present fire and safety risks for the people who live there. And yet, as The National has reported, more often than not it is the tenants themselves who suffer most when inspectors take action.

If a building is illegally subdivided, it is the owner or property manager who is at fault. It goes without saying that renters should not pay for landlords' infractions. More transparency is need to ensure people get what they pay for and, in cases when flats are illegal, are given ample time to leave and recoup the rent and deposits. Giving a father and his infant 30 minutes to pack up is not only inhumane, it is terrible planning that does a disservice to the city.

The capital's ongoing campaign against illegal housing practices is sorely needed - illegal subdivisions are still common. The drive has already succeeded in bringing a level of standardisation to residential building codes. If anything, more enforcement is needed.

The trouble arises when tenants are caught in the crossfire. In Mr Ericson's case, the Municipality could have avoided the situation simply by giving more notice. More transparency is needed across the board so that tenants know what they are getting in to when they rent a home. In the recent case, neighbours even set up a "human barricade" to defend their homes from work crews, a totally unnecessary confrontation.

Last June, municipality officials said inspections were meant to "discourage investors who are seeking to make windfall profits at the expense of tenants by exploiting their needs for accommodation".

This was the correct direction for a vital programme. As the city's campaign continues, it would do well to revisit the commitment to protecting the public with consistent and transparent enforcement of housing regulations.